It is dangerous to be right when established authority is wrong. Voltaire

The Seafarer

Translation & Immortality

In any contemplation of The Seafarer, these two topics persistently obtrude. The work requires translation. Or do I mean interpretation ? The seafarer is promised immortality when the raptor preys. "Bless thee, seafarer, thou art translated !"

Below are three versions of a piece by Jorge Luis Borges, a memoir of a man named Funes. Sadly, I don't have Spanish, which is partly why I've mounted the French version. Interestingly, Andrew Hurley has a note (indicated by the asterix) on the title he gives his version. ".... it must be the brave (or foolhardy) translator who dares change such an odd and memorable title" as Funes the Memorious. Hurley also mentions the French translation. Penguin 2000, page 176.


Andrew Hurley appends many notes to his versions. Sample at left. However, if forced, on pain of excruciating torture, to make a choice of an English version of Borges' Funes, I would go for Irby. It was most disconcerting to read "speak" in Hurley's first sentence. Why didn't he say "utter" ? He could have simply titled his version Funes, or Memory.

Note from a translation forum: "What concerns is the fact that professional translators apparently can't protect themselves against someone taking a translation of theirs, adjusting a word here and there and then claiming copyright to it, hiding behind the fact that it is based on the same original. It's what happened to one translator with a translation of a Norwegian play - the new claimant did not even have a word of the original source language !"

See here, John Irons again. See again, Pound's use of Iddings, here. Just to rub it in, once again: Pound's understanding of Anglish was precisely nil. What, one wonders, was his understanding of Hindi or Chinese ?

Reckless of that, my thought is thrown
beyond my heart's cage now. My mind is cast
upon the sea swell, over the whale's world
widely to course creation's coast:
then comes a keening call ---
Anon the raptor wails on wing
that steels the naked soul to start
beyond the billows on the death-way
God's visions are to me more vivid
than this dead life loaned out on land
I know its leasehold will not last
Still three things twist man's mind
until the day his doom is sealed
age, illness or some stroke of hate
will seize sense from him
So any noble spirit will aspire to earn
an everlasting epitaph of praise
for good deeds done on earth, bold blows
dealt at the Devil and against fell foe
before his passing, that posterity
delights enjoyed for ever by the brave
among the angels may prolong

There is a strong sense in which the heaven promised to the Anglo-Saxon depends on his performance in this world, and that, in truth, his only immortality will come from the name and reputation that he leaves. The enemy varies.

The earliest language from which the modern languages of Denmark and Norway, Sweden, and eventually England, slowly evolved, was spoken in what is now Scania, formerly Scedenig, or Scedeland, the coast, at the southernmost tip of the Swedish peninsula, upon which Sceaf, the Moses of Scandinavia, was originally cast. This coast is what is now the province of Skåne, although the Angles must have populated much of the rest of modern southern and central Sweden as well. The suspicion is that the name "Angle" derives not from the improbable German word eng, meaning "narrow", but from the Scandinavian deity Yngve. Of the languages originally, or at some reasonably early time, spoken in the countries listed, Swedish is the one which has been the least susceptible to change during the last 1,500 years, give or take a few centuries. It is therefore the most appropriate modern language via which to penetrate the language of the Anglians.

The several words below have been seriously misunderstood by the great majority of translators, ever since the first attempt by Benjamin Thorpe in 1842. Omitting the three in brackets, the remaining words have direct equivalents in modern Swedish, but rarely in modern English. As given below, beneath their Anglish originals:

anfloga, eft, gomene, holma, [hreþer], hrusan, [hweteð], hyge, mæg,
onwæl weg, [
sefa], sceata, scurum, siþas, slat, sorge, unwearnum, wongas

anflygare, efter, gamman, holme, grus, håg, må
val väg, sköte, skura, sätt, slet, sörja, ovärn, vång

The validity of these equivalents will immediately be recognized by any fluent speaker of Swedish, but will obviously escape English-speaking monoglots. Let us be accurate.

About time to wind this up. I would like to repeat the point that the "an" of anhaga in The Wanderer means "one"; and the "an" of anfloga in The Seafarer means "on". This is immediately apparent to Swedish speakers, and congenitally hidden from Anglo-American speakers.


Extra Credentials

Some Reading

R.L.S.Bruce-Mitford1968 The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial; Chapter X: The Swedish Connection; BM
Helen Clarke, Editor1979 Iron and Man in Prehistoric Sweden; Jernkontoret
Ohthere & Wulfstan1984 Two Voyagers at the Court of King Alfred, 890 AD; Sessions of York.
Robert Engstrom,
Scott Michael Lankton,
Audrey Lesher-Engstrom
1990  A Modern Replication of the Pattern-Welded Sword of Sutton Hoo, page 1:
 "High quality bog iron in the järnbärarlands of Sweden"
 Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.
David J. Burns2015 A Short Comparison of Place-Names in England and Sweden.

Message of the Seafarer

Had The Seafarer been accurately translated from the outset
its burden of conversion would have been immediately apparent.

essays & papers
fidelity, integrity and truth.
angel-names or angle-names
homes of the angles
anglo-saxon text        manuscript
annotation         other versions         main index
a summing up
mail here

The aim of the translation on this site is to achieve the closest fidelity to its original, in both manner and meaning.

An edition was published in June 2005, limited to 125 copies: ISBN 0-9550 126-0-0

The published text has since been repeatedly and substantially revised on this site

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2018

all rights reserved

Some Maxims

Eric Gerald Stanley 1975  "In one view ... the history of scholarship is a history of error".
Cyrus Herzl Gordon1982  "Scholars belong to guilds held together by common opinions, attitudes, and methods. As a rule, innovation is welcome only when it is confined to surface details and does not modify the structure as a whole."
Daniel P. Reid?  "The pain of a new idea is one of the greatest pains in human nature. People find it easier to believe an untruth they've heard a thousand times than a fact they've never heard before."
Albert Einstein1879
  "Der Horizont mancher Menschen ist ein Kreis mit Radius Null: das nennen sie dann Standpunkt."
  "Mediocre minds cannot understand it when a man does not submit to hereditary prejudices, but honestly uses his intelligence."
Alfred Russel Wallace1823
  "Truth is born into this world only with pangs and tribulations, and every fresh truth is received unwillingly. To expect the world to receive a new truth without challenging it, is to look for one of those miracles which do not occur"
George Orwell1938 "The concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history."
Alexander Fraser Tytler
Lord Woodhouselee
  "The greatest historical heresy that a writer can commit, in the eyes of many English readers, is to tell them the truth."
Arthur Schopenhauer 1851  "The truth ... is that to the dilettante the thing is the end, while to the professional as such it is the means; and only he who is directly interested in a thing, and occupies himself with it from love of it, will pursue it with entire seriousness. It is from these, and not wage-earners, that the greatest things have come."
  "All truth passes through stages. 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident."
James Spedding 1808
  "When a thing is asserted as a fact, always ask who first reported it, and what means he had of knowing the truth."
William Blake1792 "Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will ignore you."
Marshall McLuhan1951 "The very character of bureaucratic administration automatically screens out all those who are capable of doing any other sort of work. An administrator in a bureaucratic world is a man who can feel big by merging his nonentity in an abstraction. A real person in touch with real things inspires terror in him."
Helen Morales2009  "A scholarly myth can spread 'like a computer virus' until it becomes accepted historical fact."
T.H. Huxley 1931  "Every great advance ..... has involved the absolute rejection of authority."
  " I have been obliged to content myself through life with saying what I mean in the plainest of plain language, than which, I suppose, there is no habit more ruinous to a man's prospects of advancement."
  "It is not who is right, but what is right, that is of importance."
Benzion Netanyahu 1966  "The conclusions I have arrived at in these researches differ so widely with commonly held views, that I do not delude myself with the hope that they will be easily accepted. No doubt they will encounter, apart from fair criticism, that opposition which seems to be the fate of every new idea."
Otto Jespersen1938  "Very little has been done hitherto to investigate the exact shades of meaning in Old English words."
E.Bruce Brooks.  "Much of the literature of translation is not about errors in translation; it is about errors in understanding the original."
John Stanley Beard1998  "In my view Anglo-Saxon should be regarded as a distinct language ancestral to modern English rather than as an early form of English. If we are to follow linguistic fashion abolishing Anglo-Saxon in favour of Early English to be logical we must now call Latin Early Italian. Early [Old] English for Anglo-Saxon is contrary to common sense.
James Fenton2002  "Some people think that English poetry begins with the Anglo-Saxons. I don't. Anglo-Saxon is a different language, which has to be learnt like any foreign language. Anglo-Saxon poetry is somebody else's poetry."
David Burns 2002  "Historians seem to dismiss, or not wish to pursue" the link between Swedish and Anglo-Saxon.
ANSAX-L letter 2007   "There is of course nothing 'Old English' about Beowulf, and that includes the language, which is immeasurably closer to modern Swedish than it is to modern English. Use of the term 'Old English' as replacement for 'Anglo-Saxon' is profoundly misleading."
David Burns2015   "That the small neck of land, with few villages, round Angeln [in Denmark], with both its name and the majority of its place-names, should then become unpopulated, seems far-fetched, especially in view of the thousands of places in Sweden which are admirably placed [for Anglian origin]." "At least 150 places in modern Sweden begin Angel -, Engel- or Ingol-."     See here. Or here.
John Bright1855  "The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings."
Galileo Galilei 1633  "Eppur si muove"

In The oral text of Ezra Pound's "The Seafarer", in the Quarterly Journal of Speech, 1961, Vol 47:2, 173-177, J.B.Bessinger notes that Ezra's "poem has survived on merits that have little to do with those of an accurate translation".