Modern Version stanzas 8-14; Anglo-Saxon lines 27-52


The lines divide as follows: stanza 1 MV = lines 1-6a AS; 2 = 6b-8a; 3 = 8b-12a; 4 = 12b-16; 5 = 17; 6 = 18-25a; 7 = 25b-26; 8 = 27-30; 9 = 31-33a; 10/11 = 33b-38; 12 = 39-43; 13 = 44-47; 14 = 48-52; 15 = 53-55a; 16 = 55b-57; 17 = 58-62a; [centre] 18 = 62b-64a; 19 = 64b-67; 20 = 68-71; 21 = 72-80a; 22 = 80b-85; 23 = 86-93; 24 = 94-99; 25 = 100-105; 26 = 106-107; 27 = 108; 28 = 109-116; 29 = 117-122a; 30 = 122b-124/5. Click on numbers for transportation.

(g): General overview of stanza. (e): Excerpts and echoes from many sources. (s): Specific points that attracted attention during translation. (a): Ambiguities, puns, homonyms, multiple meanings, reinforcements, sliding syntax, mainly in the MV.



forþon him gelyfeð lyt | se þe ah lifes wyn
gebiden in burgum | bealosiþa hwon
wlonc and wingal | hu ic werig oft
in brimlade | bidan sceolde                   (30)



That fine fellow, carefree in his cups
set snugly up in town, cannot conceive
the load I hauled along the sea-lanes


One issue in these lines is the sense-emphasis given to wlonc and wingal. Gordon remarks that the phrase was "evidently an alliterative formula and need not imply any disapprobation". I doubt that in this context. Where put to use, an "alliterative formula" is no different from any unattached single word, whether monosyllabic or compound, and gets its character from its neighbours.


Domine, ...... verumtamen justa loquor ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur? Jeremiah 12. I. Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? ibid. AV.

See also Pope Gregory (590-604), eg Moralia in Job; Book V: [here]

These toylsome passages I undertooke,/And gave out coyne/But now these hounds no other pay affords/Than shifting, scornefull lookes, and scurvy words. John Taylor, the water-poet; A Kicksie-Winsie, 1619. [A traveller might place out a sum of money on condition of receiving high interest on his return. The borrower would gamble on his not returning. The more hazardous the journey, the greater the interest. John Taylor, the "water-poet", put out in this manner, but on his return was unable to obtain the interest. Hence his satire entitled "A Kicksie-Winsie". Robert Nares, Glossary of the Works of English Authors, 1859.]

Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must/Disappointment all I endeavour end?/The sots and thralls of lust/Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,/Sir, life upon thy cause. Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1889.

You load sixteen tons and what do you get?/Another day older and deeper in debt. Merle Travis, Sixteen Tons, 1947.

The Romans were unimpressed by Celtic culture largely because it was not based on town life --- the very basis of civilisation as the Romans defined it. Kevin Flude, In Their Own Words, Citisights of London, 1991.


forþon: See SSAS .

gelyfeð lyt:

ah lifes wyn:

gebiden in burgum:


wlonc and wingal:

hu ic werig oft in brimlade:

bidan sceolde:


along: spatial, and temporal "a long" (time).


nap nihtscua | norþan sniwde
hrim hrusan band | hægl feol on eorþan
corna caldast


The dark night deepens, northern snow
hardens the soil and hail hits earth
like cold corn



Light thickens/Good things of day begin to droop and drowse/Whiles night's black agents to their preys do rouse. William Shakespeare, Macbeth: 3.2.50, 1606.

Fast falls the eventide;/The darkness deepens;/Lord, with me abide. H. F.Lyte, 1793-1847, Hymn: Abide with me.

Out of the night that covers me,/Black as the pit from pole to pole,/I thank whatever gods may be/For my unconquerable soul. W.E.Henley, Invictus, 1875.

To feel how swift how secretly/The shadow of the night comes on...... Archibald MacLeish; You, Andrew Marvell, 1930.


nap nihtscua: a root meaning of "to grow dark" for nipan, whence nap, as stated by Bosworth-Toller (genip, "darkness"), seems dubious. Does "night-shadows grow dark" really sound right? The word appears to be kin with "neap", as in "neap-tide", "nip", Sw näppa (untranslatable, but cognate with AS naepen "scarcely") and näpen (small, fine, dainty), and the underlying sense would seem to be "pinch, constrict, close in". The "nipping" air in Hamlet (I iv 2) is cold, but also midnight. "Neap" is defined as the low tide when the rise and fall are least: from AS nep in nep flod "neap-flood"; etym doubtful; says Cassell Concise; "of obscure origin" says Partridge.

norþan sniwde:

hrim hrusan band: discussed in SSAS.

hægl feol on eorþan :

corna caldast:


The dark night deepens: 1) dark (noun) deepens the night; 2) night deepens the dark (noun); 3) dark (adjective) night deepens (intransitive). But, unless the note on nap is entirely wrong, the AS sense might be "night shadows close in". Suggestion also that the dark night deepens the northern snow.


                                      forþon cnyssað nu
heortan geþohtas | þæt ic hean streamas
sealtyþa gelac | sylf cunnige                   (35)
monað modes lust | mæla gehwylce
ferð to feran | þæt ic feor heonan
elþeodigra | eard gesece


Yet my heart hammers now, yearning anew
wanting the steep salt-water road
longing with lust to roam rough seas, alone
to seek out some far foreign shore
The mood to wander mills within my mind



13. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14. For they that say such things, declare plainly that they seek a country. 15. And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned: 16. But now they desire a better country, that is an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11, AV.

The Mind, that Ocean where each kind/Does streight its own resemblance find;/Yet it creates, transcending these,/Far other Worlds, and other Seas. Andrew Marvell, The Garden, 1681

Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone. William Wordsworth, The Prelude, 3. 62; ll. 62-63 on Isaac Newton inserted 1832 or 1839.

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?/Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know. A.H.Clough, 1819-1861.

Some corner of a foreign field. Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915; The Soldier, 1914.

Neither loose imagination/Nor the mill of the mind/Can make the truth known. W.B.Yeats, An Acre of Grass, Last Poems, 1936-1939.

My heart beat like a hammer. Mitchell Parish, Stars fell on Alabama.


forþon: See SSAS.

cnyssað nu heortan geþohtas:

hean streamas: hean matches Latin altus --- the high seas are the deep. Hence "steep", to work both ways. See Guthlac & company. For streamas cf Sw ström; the word means "currents", major forces of water, rather than "streams", minor rivers.

sealtyþa gelac:

sylf cunnige:

monað modes lust mæla gehwylce: "mill" for mæla; at first "mull" was tried, but jettisoned in spite of its several attractions.

ferð to feran: See Unferð. This phrase is the subject of fairly detailed discussion under The Meaning of Ferð.

þæt ic feor heonan

elþeodigra eard gesece:



forþon nis þæs modwlonc | mon over eorþan
ne his gifena þæs god | ne in geoguþe to þæs hwæt             (40)
ne in his dædum to þæs deor | ne him his dryhten to þæs hold
þæt he a his sæfore | sorge næbbe
to hwon hine dryhten | gedon wille


But none on earth may be so proud
so prodigal or yare in youth
nor so express in action
nor smiled on by so mild a master
that he embark with unconcern
what end for him the Master may intend


Those who favour the "clerical interpolation" theory of the poem's composition ignore the clear transition from temporal to spiritual, occurring here as early as lines 40-43, with the double implication of dryhten. See a.


ealle his þing gegaderode se gingra sunu, and ferde wræclice on feorlen rice; and forspilde ðar his æhta lybbende on his gælsan. AS New Testament; Luke 15.13, 995 AD.

The Prodigal Son: The younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. The younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country. Luke 15.11, AV.

What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and in moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel. Shakespeare; Hamlet, II.ii.316, 1600. But it could be punctuated thus: What piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties, in form and in moving! How express and admirable in action! How like an angel!

"It is difficult to think of a man as infinite in 'form'. On the other hand express is appropriate for 'form' (as in 'the express image' of Hebrews 1.3) and shows indeed a turn of thought characteristic of Shakespeare. From L. exprimo, expressus, to press out, the word refers to the clear impression made by a die or seal and so to the faithful reproduction of an original. Hence it describes a man as not only well designed but well executed, and so sustains the idea of a 'piece of work', which can inspire the wonder that leads on to 'admirable'." Harold Jenkins, The Arden Shakespeare, Hamlet, Methuen 1987, p.469.

Master: Fall to't, yarely, or we run ourselves aground. Boatswain: Heigh, my hearts! cheerly, cheerly, my hearts! yare, yare! Take in the topsail. Tend to th'master's whistle. Shakespeare; The Tempest, I.i.3, 1611. See here.

Boatswain: Our ship is tight and yare and bravely rigg'd, as when we first put out to sea. ibid. V.i.224

Kent: I have a journey, sir, shortly to go;/My master calls me, I must not say no. Shakespeare; King Lear, V. iii.

In what torn ship soever I embark,/That ship shall be my emblem of Thy ark;/What sea soever swallow me, that flood/Shall be to me an emblem of Thy blood. John Donne, A Hymn to Christ, at the Author's last going into Germany, 1633.

No sadness of farewell/When I embark. Alfred Tennyson, Crossing the Bar, 1889.


forþon: See SSAS.

nis þæs modwlonc mon over eorþan:

ne his gifena þæs god: All translators, without exception, struggle with this phrase. "Prodigal" struck me as a happy solution.

ne in geoguþe to þæs hwæt:

ne in his dædum to þæs deor:

ne him his dryhten: for dryhten cf Sw drott, now, roughly, "king, ruler". Hellquist implies the word connotes followers, hence, primarily, "leader"; whereas modern "master" contains a strong suggestion of expertise. Nevertheless, although not used in any other version, "master", because of its wide application, especially nautical, seems to offer the best rendering in this context.

to þæs hold: cf Sw huld; "kindly, gracious" as well as "loyal". Ett hult leende; a "benign smile", with implications of softness, mildness.

þæt he a his sæfore sorge næbbe: See SSAS.

to hwon hine dryhten:

gedon wille:


Master/master: 1) one with control or authority; 2) captain or officer of a ship. Not infrequently used of God (the Son): "In the Steps of the Master" etc. The major, most pointed double meaning in the AS text, often noted by commentators.


ne biþ him to hearpan hyge | ne to hringþege
ne to wife wyn | ne to worulde hyht                   (45)
ne ymbe owiht elles | nefne ymb yða gewealc
ac a hafað longunge | se þe on lagu fundað


He will not heed the harp though
and is not gladdened by gold rings
nor woman's winning ways
and wants no worldly joys
only the rolling oceans urge him on
the wave play pulls him and impels



Man delights not me; no, nor woman neither, Shakespeare, Hamlet, II ii 318, 1600.

What is a woman that you forsake her/And the hearth-fire and the home-acre/To go with the old grey widow-maker? Rudyard Kipling, Harp Song of the Dane Women, 1906.


to hearpan hyge: See SSAS.


wife wyn:

worulde hyht:

ne ymbe owiht elles nefne ymb yða gewealc:

hafað longunge:

se þe on lagu:

fundað :


wants: 1) lacks; 2) desires


bearwas blostmum nimað | byrig fægriað
wongas wlitigað | woruld onetteð
ealle þa gemoniað | modes fusne             (50)
sefan to siðe | þam þe swa þenceð
on flodwegas | feor gewitan


Then blossom decks the bower's bough
the bothie blooms, the sea meads gleam
the wide world racks the restless mind
of him who on the full flood tide
determines to depart



Under the blossom that hangs on the bough. Shakespeare; The Tempest; V.i.88, 1611.

Where he the huge Sea-Monsters wracks,/That lift the Deep upon their Backs. Andrew Marvell, Bermudas, 1681.

I met a lady in the meads. John Keats, La Belle Dame sans Merci, 1819.

The world's great age begins anew/The earth doth like a snake renew/Her winter weeds outworn. Shelley, 1792-1822, Hellas.

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep/Moans round with many voices. Alfred Tennyson, Ulysses, 1833.

I warmed both hands before the fire of life;/It sinks, and I am ready to depart. Walter Savage Landor, 1775-1864.

The great sun just departing: then blood-red grew the west/And the fowl flew home from the sea-mead, and all things sank to rest. William Morris, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung, 1876, Book 2, last line. Also, Book 1: The green meads of the sheep.

The herds are shut in byre and hut/For loosed till dawn are we. Rudyard Kipling. The Jungle Book. 1894

Yet, when the signs of summer thicken,/And the ice breaks, and the birch-buds quicken,/Yearly you turn from our side, and sicken --- Rudyard Kipling. Harp Song of the Dane Women.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/Drives my green age. Dylan Thomas, Collected Poems, 1934-52.


bearwas: bower(s). Sweet (SDAS) gives bearo, bear(o)wes: "grove, wood"; bearwe: "basket, (wheel)barrow". (cf Scanian Sw. rullebör, "roll-barrow"). Associations cluster round the words "bow, bough, bower, bower-bird"; "arbour, dwelling".

blostmum nimað: nimað: "takes", cf Ger nehmen; decks. Used here partly for the salty flavour. "Decks" resembles "takes", but means "covers".

byrig : "Bothy, bothie; a rough kind of cottage; [etym. doubtful; cp booth.]" Cassell. "Byre; a cowhouse. [OE byre, a hut; prob. var. of bur, bower.]" Cassell. Quirk, Adams, Davy: "dwellings". J.B.Bessinger: burg (byrig) "stronghold, fortress, town, city". Sweet's SDAS, 1896: byrig "dative of burg"; "burg, plural (!) byrig, burg: fortified town, city". Can "city" really be right? G.D.Hansson has byarna livas: "the villages burgeon", which is surely better. Ida Gordon gives byrig as the plural of burh, and notes (p.37) "that burh was used of the dwelling of any man above the rank of peasant". It seems quite wrong to translate byrig as "cities" (R.K.Gordon), let alone as "berries" (EP), which is just crackers. (Fred Robinson excuses Pound by pointing out that his "berries" derive from byrigberge, "mulberry", found just below byrig, in Clark Hall's Concise AS Dictionary. Byrigberge would seem to mean "berry-berries". Pound's "homophonic technique failed him here": Brooker.) What was a city to an Anglo-Saxon? London, Rome, Miklagård? Byrig to me suggests "byre", a kind of hut, ie "bothie": cognate also with Sw bod "shed/shop"; cf the chieftains' booths at the Althing in Njal's Saga. The bothie would have had a turf roof, which grew green and put out flowers in the spring. Not the hovel of later ages; but a farmhouse shared, up to a point, with animals. "Bothies bloom" might be better than "bothie blooms". How does a bothie bloom? See here [click].

fægriað : "grow fair"; hence "bloom", cf Sw fägring: "den sommartid nu kommer/med lust och fägring stor." Uncertain if fægriað is plural or singular; could byrig also be either dative or genitive singular of burh? The construction might then be "it grows fair of (at?) the dwelling".

wongas: Sweet gives: wang: "field, place, plain". "Plain" is wrong. For Sw vång Våra Ord gives (sydsv) gärde, inhägnad (åkerjord) (jfr fälad): fsv. vanger, isl vangr, no vang: gärde, fält, but also slätt(?); gemensam germ. ord med grundbet. "böjning, krökning". If the fundamental sense is of something (eg, land, a cheek) "bowed" or "crooked/curved", then it is hardly slätt, let alone a "plain". See SSAS.

wlitigað: gleams. Linked with "light": "lightens/shines/effulges". cf Viktor Rydberg: Undersökningar i Germanisk Mythologie; p.498, "The common meaning of the (Old Norse) word litr is something presenting itself to the eye without being tangible to the hands. The Gothic form of the word is wlits, which Ulfilas uses in translating Greek prosopon --- look, appearance, expression ... Beautiful women have a "joyous fair litr" (Havamal 93). An emotion has influence upon the litr, and through it on the blood and the appearance of the outward body."

woruld onetteð: racks, goads. "Hots up". Sweet SDAS: "hastens, is brisk (cf EP); wd: be too quick for". onhatjan: "grow hot". Sw hetsa. "Eggs on".

ealle þa gemoniað: woruld onetteð ealle þa gemoniað: "the wide (ealle) world racks".

modes fusne: the mood drives; "determines to depart". Fusne; cf Sw fösa, "drive, push; impel". Våra Ord: fösa is "of unexplained origin". Clark Hall gives fus "striving forward; brave, noble; ready to depart, dying"; fusnes "quickness". Dylan Thomas seems to be echoing the Anglo-Saxon more than the Latin fusus "spindle"; although the fuse-wire is presumably his immediate image.

sefan to siðe:

þam þe swa þenceð:

on flodwegas:

feor gewitan:


racks = rack or wrack. Innumerable meanings. This very fine word took some finding. Thank you, Andrew Marvell, most perfectly poised poet of the English language. Its substantive meanings include: frame(-work), toothed bar, instrument of torture, scudding cloud(s), ruin (rack or wrack, and ruin), rush or collision, horse's gait, effects unit for a guitar, sediment (dregs of wine etc), set of antlers (N. Amer.), a bed (N. Amer. informal). These nouns convert to verbs: rack rent (oppress by raising rent, stepwise, I dare say), deteriorate (from Anglo-Saxon wræc, "vengeance", cf "wreak"), torture, rack or wrack with pain or guilt or distress, rack or wrack one's brain or nerves, drive before the wind, stretch or reach (for): cf Sw räcka, vräka, vrak, Ger recken, etc. Two main ideas appear to converge in this sound: the framework for holding and storing, and a sense of wreckage implied by torture, exile and reckless motion, the swift ejection. What exactly Marvell had in mind, when stating that God wracks the huge sea-monsters, may never be known.



annotation introduction

Modern Version stanzas 1-7; Anglo-Saxon lines 1-26

MV stanzas 8-14; AS lines 27-52:  MV stanzas 15-20; AS lines 53-71

MV stanzas 20-24; AS lines 72-99:  MV stanzas 25-30; AS lines 100-125

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