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while ignorant of this game I find this image irresistibly apt

unwearnum is the dative case of a singular, strong, masculine adjective.
Anyone unwearnum is in an unguarded, unwary, defenceless state.
anfloga means attacking flier.

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

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

more and more about unwearnum

"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".

Here is another mash-up of The Seafarer's central crux, compared with the very similar renderings, or rendings, on another 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, but bent as hell [49 words]
Anglo-Saxon text [35 words]


And yet now my spirit roams beyond the enclosure of the heart,
my thought of mind, along with the sea-flood,
travels widely over the whale's haunt
over the world's expanse; it comes again to me
eager and greedy; the solitary flier yells,
incites the spirit irresistibly on the whale's path
over the sea's expanse.
Name withheld, 2000 AD. [54 words]
Anglo-Saxon text [35 words]

B makes use of A exactly like Pound exploited Iddings. It's positively comic.
C is an improvement, but still imperfect

Foržon nu means neither "And now" nor "Indeed". In this context foržon implies "yet": Swedish ändå. C's "and yet now" is quite good, although "and" is redundant. Hyge, Swedish håg, means neither "spirit" nor "mind", but "thought". C misses with "mind". Hweorfeš means "turns", or "throws", not "twists". "Travels" seems weak, "roams" perhaps better. Ofer means "beyond", not "over". Good for C. Modsefa means "state of mind". "Sea flowing" for mereflode is marginally better than "water way", with "sea-flood" positively literal. "Land" must be the very last environment dominated by whales. "Haunt" is very OK. "Wheels" is not too bad for hweorfeš. Perhaps thought can be said to "wheel", after all. For eoržan sceatas see here. C's "earth's expanse" is just wrong.: but other two try hard with "corners" and "folds". Cymeš eft does not mean "comes back": click here. Stuff the DOE. Eft is cognate with English "after", "afterwards" or "thereafter", and simply means "then". See dictionary for Coleridge's "eftsoons". "Hungering" is no better than "unsated" for "greedy". Would a starving man be called "greedy" ? Anglo-Saxon grędig seems to me closer to German gerade, meaning "straightway", or "directly". For anfloga see above. Hweteš cannot mean "urges" or "incites". 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, ignorant 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, or strange, to them. Like Anglo-Saxon sounded to Ezra Pound. His language never sounds strange to a native speaker. 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, that great translator, favour us with a word-for-word "poetic" translation of Mein Kampf ? But let us not be unfair to Ezra. He was a hugely important literary figure.

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.

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

"But the truth is that the dilettante treats his subject as an end, whereas the professional, pure and simple, treats it merely as a means. He alone will be really in earnest about a matter, who has a direct interest therein, takes to it because he likes it, and pursues it con amore. It is these, and not hirelings, that have always done the greatest work." Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788 - 1860

"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
A Stab at 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, 2015