unwearnum is the dative case of a singular, strong, masculine adjective. Anyone unwearnum is in an unguarded, unwary or defenceless situation.

The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly -- and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

Spring is coming and the ice will break
And I can't linger for a woman's sake

..... at my back I alwaies hear
Times winged Charriot hurrying near

Them birds goin' fishin' is nothin' but souls o' the drowned,
Souls o' the drowned, an' the kicked as are never no more

..... the sound of the outward bound
Makes man a slave to his wandering ways

The wayward wind is a restless wind ..... A restless wind that yearns to wander

When you hear the trumpet blast
Then you know you're home at last.

Down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
The gull's way, the whale's way, where the wind's a whetted knife

When you hear the trumpet clear
You can say goodbye to fear.

What is a woman that you forsake her
To go with the old grey Widow-maker ?

more about unwearnum

When I know the time is right for me
I'll cross the stream. I have a dream.

Accuracy is measured by the extent to which users of a translation get the same meaning from it that its source had.

Has any verse composition ever been translated more inaccurately, more frequently, than The Seafarer?

The Anglo-Saxon addresses himself to anyone embarking on a one-way voyage, for reasons either of age, illness or impending death, or for whatever other reason. Sooner or later this applies to us all; we are all embarked on a one-way voyage towards an unknown destination. The speaker may be thinking of himself, or of his audience. In either case he, or they, will inevitably be vulnerable when crossing this final bar, and are advised to make preparations. "Get yourself prepared for judgement day" reduces the seafarer's message to six words, and these can be persuasively presented to open-eared listeners.

It seems that the word unwearnum was ludicrously rendered as das heisst gierig (eager, greedy, covetous) by Richard Schuchardt, in a thesis titled Die Negation in Beowulf, published in 1910 and uncritically followed by not quite everybody else ever since. The grammatical fact is that unwearn, as perfectly well understood by Heinrich Leo, is an adjective, strong and singular, and appears here, not as an adverb, but in what Ida Gordon called the dative case of attendant circumstances. It indicates a defenceless, unwary, or uncautious person. Uncautious warrior was perceptively suggested, as applicable to the unfortunate Hondsciō in Beowulf, by J.J.Conybeare in 1826, soon 200 years ago

Note. December, 2013. In actual fact, the initial reason this page was drafted was in order to point out that the very first mistranslation of unwearnum as "irresistibly" --- unwiderstehlich --- was perpetrated by C.M.W.Grein, as early as 1857. Amazingly followed by countless sheeple ever since. Grein also got anfloga wrong, translating it Einsamfliegende. On the other hand, he did get węl weg right, translating it Todesweg. I said all this a long time ago, here, but there's no harm in repeating it. "What I tell you three time is true", said Carroll's Bellman, when hunting the Snark. I may say it again. Curiously, in his Dichtungen der Angelsachsen stabreimend übersetzt, erster Band, Grein chose unversehens for unwearnum, in Beowulf, line 741, which is about as accurate as could be asked for.

So why might this person be uncautious, unprepared, unaware, unwary, unguarded, defenceless, or, better, vulnerable? Because, sooner or later, he will be set upon by the Bird of Death, the anfloga, the approaching, attacking flier. This anfloga is absolutely not, at least not in the immediate instance, the seafarer's own, personal, disembodied, flying alter ego, although the banshee and the valkyrie are, of course, in the final analysis, merely figments of man's fevered fantasy.

"The greater the labour, the fewer the people who understand and appreciate it". Paul Valéry, 1871 - 1945.

Translation Two
more on translation

Always keep firmly in mind that Anglo-Saxon is NOT "Old English". The language is no more English than Latin is "Old Italian".
A far, far better terminological replacement for "Anglo-Saxon" would be "Old Scandinavian".

Try Wikipedia on this matter: "Proto-Norse (also Proto-Scandinavian, Primitive Norse, Proto-Nordic, Ancient Nordic, Old Scandinavian, Proto-North Germanic and North Proto-Germanic) was an Indo-European language spoken in Scandinavia that is thought to have evolved as a northern dialect of Proto-Germanic over the first centuries AD. It is the earliest stage of a characteristically North Germanic language, and the language attested in the oldest Scandinavian Elder Futhark inscriptions, spoken ca. from the 3rd to 7th centuries (corresponding to the late Roman Iron Age and the early Germanic Iron Age). It evolved into the dialects of the Old Norse language at the beginning of the Viking Age.

Hm. 3rd to 7th centuries. AD, that is: not that ludicrous and idiotic CE, equally offensive to all religions and peoples everywhere. Aren't those the centuries when the Scandinavians, and the North Germans, moved into Britannia and started calling themselves Jutes, Angles and Saxons ? Check Beowulf for the great variety of names they called themselves before they heard the sound of the outward bound, and emigrated.

Hugely significant excerpt from Beowulf, done into Swedish & Icelandic.

Because the Anglo-Saxons spoke, and wrote, Old Scandinavian
their language is far better understood by Modern Scandinavians than by Modern Anglophones.
Or, for that matter, by Modern Germans.

unwearnum translates into Modern Swedish as värnlös, which means "defenceless".
unwearnum translates into Modern Icelandic as óvaran, which means "unaware, unwary".


was defenceless

For the cover of his 1995 Student Edition of Beowulf, George Jack aptly used an image from Öland, Sweden.
He nevertheless came up with "unrestrainedly" for unwearnum. Page 71.


was unaware

Here is another mash-up of The Seafarer's central crux, compared with the very similar rendering, or rending, on the previous page.

And now my spirit twists
out of my breast,
my spirit
out in the waterways,
over the whale's path
it soars widely
through all the corners of the world --
it comes back to me
eager and unsated;
the lone-flier screams,
urges onto the whale-road
the unresisting heart
across the waves of the sea
Name withheld [53/55 words]
Anglo-Saxon text [35 words]


Indeed my mind now twists
from my breast,
my spirit
joins the sea's flowing,
wheels widely
over the whales' land
and the folds of the earth
and returns to me
keen and hungering;
that flier shrills,
urges my unresisting heart
onto the whale-path
over the waves of the sea.
Name unknown [49 words]
Anglo-Saxon text [35 words]

B here makes use of A exactly like Pound exploited Iddings.

Foržon nu means neither "And now" nor "Indeed". In this context foržon implies "yet": Swedish ändå. Hyge, Swedish håg, means neither "spirit" nor "mind", but "thought". Hweorfeš means "turns", or "throws", not "twists". Ofer means "beyond", not "over". Modsefa means "state of mind". "Sea flowing" for mereflode is better than "water way". "Land" must be the very last environment dominated by whales. "Wheels" is not too bad for hweorfeš, although I can't exactly see thought "wheeling". For eoržan sceatas see here. Cymeš eft does not mean "comes back": click here. Stuff the DOE. Eft is cognate with English "after", "afterwards" or "thereafter", See dictionary for Coleridge's "eftsoons". "Hungering" is no better than "unsated" for "greedy". Would a starving man be called "greedy"? For anfloga see above. Hweteš cannot mean "urges". Węl weg means "death-way", not "whale-road" or "whale-path". Hrežer means "wraith" before it means "heart". For unwearnum see above. Gelagu does not mean "waves". Nor does holma mean "waves", either.

Enormous liberties are taken in these, and almost all other translations, but they are thoughtless liberties. Lazy, dull and shoddy.
Most mistakes came early in the poem's translation history; and have then been repeated until they've become almost ineradicable.
A common characteristic of the translators has been their virtually congenital monolingualism. Foreign languages simply sound funny to them.
A good illustration of word-for-word translation is The Awful German Language, by Mark Twain, 1880. Hilarious: just like Pound.
Why didn't Ezra favour us with a word-for-word "poetic" translation of Mein Kampf?

In A Few Don'ts by an Imagiste, March 1913, Pound advises: "Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, or to try to conceal it." Decency ? Ezra Pound ?

"Every great advance ..... has involved the absolute rejection of authority." Thomas Huxley"

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." T.H.Huxley, Autobiography, p 1, Lectures & Essays, Watts, published 1931.

"A" is the same as the letter "A"
Ludwig Wittgenstein

commentaries: one, two, three [more than 60 other versions], four, five, six
annotation       essays & papers       main general index

Cambridge Old English Reader
Pound Note Four
Seafarer Fidelity: and Veracity
more and more on unwearnum
Seafarer Birds
Seafarer: meaning, purpose, form, belief

"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." B.N. September 30, 1965. From the foreword to The Marranos of Spain, from the Late 14th to the Early 16th Century, by B.Netanyahu, New York, American Academy for Jewish Research, 1966.

"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." Forgotten Scripts, p 35, by Cyrus H.Gordon, 1982. Also his Foreword, p x.

E.Bruce Brooks. "Much of the literature of translation is not about errors in translation; it is about errors in understanding the original."

top: graphic images courtesy William Blake

© Charles Harrison-Wallace, 2013