Smithers has been largely disregarded because he happened to have been right.
So was Galileo. But Galileo's views could be either falsified or verified.
Smithers is presumably still non grata to the current guild of chauvinistic Anglo-Saxonists.

"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"
Cyrus H.Gordon. Forgotten Scripts, 1982, page 35.

Anne Klinck & Hugh Magennis
New Brunswick; and Queen's, Belfast

Anne Klinck BA, MA (Oxford), MA (McGill), MA, PhD (UBC). Anne Klinck's field is Medieval English and language studies; she also has a strong secondary interest in classics. Her critical edition and genre study, The Old English Elegies, was published by McGill-Queen's University Press in 1992 and in paper-back, with a supplementary bibliography, in 2001. The first reason she features on this page is because Hugh Magennis, in his Introduction to Anglo-Saxon Literature, 2011, has this to say, p 153, "Anne L. Klinck [is] the editor of what is now the standard collected edition of the 'elegies'." There are other reasons; of which more below.

At a conference in Leeds, on Wednesday, 13 July, 2005, I found myself a member of a panel entitled "Seafaring in Old English". The two other panel members were Todd Preston, of Lycoming College, Pennsylvania, speaking on "Nautical Terminology in Anglo-Saxon Poetry", and Hugh Magennis, of the Queen's University, Belfast, speaking on "Aloneness and Community in The Seafarer".

My fellow-panellists, both strictly professional, though both unusually pleasant and engaging, delivered papers whch were far better prepared than my own, which became a somewhat ex tempore chat. I'd entitled it "Looking back and summing up," intending it to summarise what The Seafarer was about, but in the event I reverted to merely looking back at my own previous paper, from 1996. In fact, I think my opening sentence was: "unwearnum cannot possibly mean 'irresistibly'".

Following a most agreeable conversation with Professor Magennis, he graciously accepted my gift to him of the 2005 version of the poem. Perhaps I'd hoped for some critical notice of this interpretation, but any such expectation was not to be realised. Below is the initial abstract of my chimerical paper.

Looking back and summing up: The Anglo-Saxon literary composition, called for the last two centuries The Seafarer, might be described as a reflective verse narrative prepared for oral address by a learned man in the early evening of his life. It is a monologue, in which he looks back and sums up the nature of the human condition. This paper will similarly set out to summarise, and invite agreement on, conclusions reached over the past decade, from what has mainly been an interpretative approach to the poem's structure and meaning.

No doubt everyone supplying an interpretation of The Seafarer believes their own version superior to the rest. Why would s/he otherwise cast it on the waters ? But then again, does anyone care in the slightest, or give a tinker's cuss ? What was lost when the library at Alexandria went up in flames ? Who cares ? Does it matter ? Is cultural knowledge of any significance whatsoever ? Who weeps for the millions of biological species, once living on this earth, but now extinct ?

Nevertheless, following the endorsement by Magennis, in 2011, of Klinck's account of the "Old English Elegies", I was very surprised to discover, via the internet, mention of my 1996 paper linked with her publication. At first I assumed that the 2001 issue was a thorough revision of her 1992 edition. In fact, the 2001 paperback merely contains a supplementary bibliography of additional relevant papers that have appeared since 1992 and before 2001.

However, it has amused me to take a look at what she had to say about The Seafarer and its vocabulary in 1992, substantially predating my 1996 paper.         So, see below.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, "it means just what I choose it to mean --- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master --- that's all."

Humpty Dumpty said: "I can explain all the poems that ever were invented --- and many that haven't been invented."

"Impenetrability! That's what I say!"

When an Anglo-Saxon word is interpreted by a translator, it means just what he chooses it to mean. Especially if his name is Ezra.

Anglo-Saxonists are reviewed by their peers. Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet, is said to have said: "We know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong."

Comments from here.

Despite the mastery of the Anglo-American Humpty Dumpty Anglo-Saxonists, foržon nu does not mean "so that but now", nor "wherefore now"; although "wherefore" gets closer. Hweorfeš does not mean "roams", "burst" or "moves"; it means "turns" or "is thrown" (cast). Hrežer does not mean "breast"; its closest English equivalent is "wraith". Ofer means "beyond". (My bonnie lies over the ocean --- not on or above it.) Ežel implies "domain". Eoržan sceatas does not mean "the surfaces of the earth". The phrase refers to the womb-like earthen tomb to which man returns, when he dies. Eft means "then". Gielleš means "yells"; possibly "screams" or "shrieks", but nothing less. Hweteš means "sharpens" (steels). Węl means, most emphatically, "death". (Valhalla, the death hall, was modelled on the Roman Coliseum.) Holma cannot possibly mean "seas": it probably means "skerries", ie islets of a coastal archipelago.

Moreover, unwearnum cannot by any cogent stretch mean "irresistibly".
Because unwearnum means "defenceless", anfloga means "on-flier".

More comments.

The two opening words of The Seafarer, namely, Mæg ic, are extremely frequently translated "I can". This is wrong, and occasionally its wrongness is realised, and the issue is dodged. In my first draft I dodged it myself. Interestingly, before spiralling off into his baffling journey's jargon, Pound began correctly, with "May I". This opening can hardly be other than an echo of Psalm 19, Verse 14: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, rendered in the King James Bible as: Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight. Here is an alternative opening line, in the King James vein, for this site's Modern English version: clickety click.

On page 161 Klinck quotes Mitchell, Old English Syntax, 1985: "Magan + infinitive does not express a wish in OE". She goes on to say that "Strictly, none of the occurrences of magan in OE render the modern operative 'may' ... " but she then adds that "Maeg ... expresses something stronger than possibility; it indicates what is desired and expected". This applies also in Deor; and Mitchell appears to me to be simply wrong, and Raffel, unusually, to be right. In this context "May I" is virtually interchangeable with "Let me". In Deor, the refrain could effectively be translated, "That passed, let this do likewise." Mitchell, along with Homer, must occasionally be allowed to nod. Click. ("Have no respect for the authority of others." Bertrand Russell.)

Mæg ic is in fact identical with Swedish må jag, and German möge ich.:   May I.     "I can" can definitely be permanently canned.       Here's a recap on sceata, this time from Beowulf, lines 750-753, compared with Wickberg's Swedish translation, 1889. Swedish sköte does not remotely mean "regions": the word means "lap, bosom, womb".       Shakespeare called Falstaff's final destination: "Abraham's bosom".

Sona þæt onfunde       fyrena hyrde
þæt he ne mette       middangeardes
eorþan sceata       on elran men
mundgripe maran

Snart kunde illdådens herde märka,
Att han ej träffat uti midgård,
På jordens sköte, hos någon annan
starkare handtag.

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

Of what possible value is a critical study of a poem when the original text is only imperfectly understood ? The language spoken by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who came to Britain after 400 AD was Old Scandinavian, a language which stretched from Uppsala and the western home of the Weder-Geats, down through Geatland, Svealand, Daneland, and along the North Saxon coast. During the next 400 years, in Britain, this language evolved into Anglo-Saxon. It also evolved in Scandinavia. It was, however, not written down in Scandinavia, to any extent. After 1066, the language in Britain changed dramatically. Not so, in Scandinavia. The best guide to the intrinsic meaning of Anglo-Saxon words is therefore their present cognates in Swedish, Danish and Frisian. These cognates can then be translated into contemporary English to ascertain the truer meaning of the Anglo-Saxon. Fairness to Klinck's glossary requires noting that it dates from as long ago as 1992.

Word in Seafarer Gloss in Klinck Swedish Cognate Correct English
anfloga solitary flier anflygare onflier
bearn son barn child
begeat, begietan take hold of, come upon bege, begå take to, commit (to)
brucan enjoy bruka make use of, wear out
eft afterwards, again efter after, NOT again
geomor mournful, sadness jämmer moan, wail, whine
gielleð cry, shrill sound gala (cock) crow, yell
gifre eager, greedy ivrig eager, NOT greedy
gomene enjoy-, entertainment gamman merriment
holm, holma sea holm, holme islet, skerry, knoll ?
hrusan ground, earth grus gravel
hyge mind, thoughts håg inclination, mind
mæg can may, let
meotod, metud ordainer, god mätare (n) measurer, (mete out)
sceat corner, fold, tract sköte lap (of body & earth)
siþas journey, experience sätt, sed way, manner, custom
slitan cut, tear slita wear out, exhaust
unwearnum irresistibly ovärne unwares
wlitigað grows beautiful litr (Old Norse) shines, effulges, lightens
wong plain, place vång meadow, mead
wrecan recount, narrate, tell vräka heave (out), expel
yð, yða wave yta surface, plane, superficies

There are of course often cognates of Anglo-Saxon words present in Modern English but they nearly always incorporate some serious shift in meaning, or distortion, of the original sense. For instance, Ida Gordon suggests "wreak" as a cognate of wrecan, which she glosses as "utter, recite". Maybe, but this seems to me either a misunderstanding, or confusion with "work". Can "wreak" come to mean "utter" ? See Ayto on "work" , "wreck" and "wrought".

"Very little has been done hitherto to investigate the exact shades of meaning in Old English words." Otto Jespersen, Growth and Structure of the English Language, Chapter 3, § 52; 1938.     Since 1938, and well before, the structure of Anglo-Saxon studies has needed modification --- as a whole. Wholesale. From end to end and top to bottom.

See: The Ritual Use of Wetlands during the Neolithic: a local study in Southernmost Sweden, by Lars Larsson.
In Wetland Archaeology & Environment, edited by Lillie & Ellis, 2007.


Icelandic dictionary extracts from G.T.Zoëga..

What, exactly, is a "Field of Heaven" ? Could it be the same as jordens sköte ?
Could "fen" derive from  wong, of common descent from Skt panka, mud ? (Partridge, 1958).
Whatever else, wongas certainly does not mean "plains"

"To this day, green, wet corners, flooded wastes, soft rushy bottoms, any place with the invitation of watery ground and tundra vegetation, even glimpsed from a car or train, possess an immediate and deeply peaceful attraction."       Seamus Heaney, quoted by John Carey, in What Good are the Arts ? 2005, p 112.     The quote, I discover, comes from Preoccupations, 1980.

skaut ? quarter ? corner ? lap ?
See Cleasby-Vigfusson on vættvangr: it seems vætt does not mean "wet", though vangr may be "fen".

Click for another anfloga.

On to Something Else
Howlett's Seafarer Analysis
go to page one            go to page two
more on wongas
more thoughts on form & structure
back to "this version: structure"
on to Roberta Frank
back to Greenfield
Hollander & Gradon
seafarer essays and papers
back to site version
back to main index
themed images

" ... 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 such as these, and not from wage-earners, that the greatest things have always come."

Arthur Schopenhauer, 1851

Gide said: "Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again."                            

Le traité du Narcisse. 1891, or 1892; second paragraph.

.Bradley S.A.J: Anglo-Saxon Poetry. 1982
Klinck A. The Old English Elegies, 1992, 2001
Magennis H: The Cambridge Introduction to Anglo-Saxon Literature, 2011
Marsden R.: The Cambridge Old English Reader, 2004

Marshall McLuhan

"Publish or Perish is the beanery motto".
See Wikipedia on Publish or Perish.
"to get published you must be dull, and stupid and harmless"
"teachers are unable to be critics of their own world"
"teachers distrust any of their number who has ideas"

"publish profusely: just make sure you say nothing unwelcome. Tread on no toes."
Remember, your career is important to you.

Reckless of that, my thought is thrown
beyond my heart's cage now.

mail here

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2014, 2018
all rights reserved

"Brief and powerless is man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure, doom falls pitiless and dark."
Bertrand Russell
Thanks, Bertie. I really like that.