A number of words in The Seafarer, which it is advisable to translate accurately, in order to obtain an accurate translation of what the poem is actually saying, are the following (and let us be accurate):

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

"Anyone who thinks that a discipline of knowledge [whether Old English studies or anything else] survives and thrives primarily because of the codification and rigid maintenance of certain types of content and methodological protocols, sadly does not see that it is those few often isolated [and even lonely] figures who are willing to give birth to what Foucault called 'monstrous thought' who actually move a discipline forward and keep it 'alive'." Eileen Joy.

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

The Seafarer

from the Anglish

Arms of Essex and Middlesex
The arm of the Angle was a seax.

A Summing Up

Since, to paraphrase Mr Humphries, I sense the shadow of seniority hanging over me, the time has come to summarise the observations scattered on this website. For those lacking the mental stamina to ingest the many pages setting out my notes and arguments, as indexed here, my concise conclusion is that Modern Swedish offers a far better conduit than Modern English to comprehensive penetration of the language spoken in Anglo-Saxon England.

In order to avoid being a bore, the secret of which is to tell everything, I shall try to restrict what follows to essentials. Those who sense boredom in the offing are advised to close the page, and read no further. They have already been told all they need to know. However, there may be some who require a cursory explanation for the above assertion. So, here goes.

It is a well-recognised truism that all languages spoken today in modern Britain have been imported, either up from the west coast of Europe, or from eastern parts. It is obviously incorrect to name these languages Old Cornish, Old Welsh, Old Irish, Old Scots, or Old English; since this merely obscures their original identity. Ignoring Latin, and Norman French, the most recent of these languages was that spoken by the Angles, a people remembered today in the English province of East Anglia.

Although genetic evidence appears to suggest that settlers from Scandinavia had been arriving in the British Isles for many centuries earlier, let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the presence of these Angles or Anglians dates from about 300 AD onwards. Confusion now enters the narrative, since they were almost universally referred to, by the Cornish, Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Romans, as Saxons. A land identifiable as Saxony did not exist until the late 6th century, and these people, mainly Angles, certainly did not refer to themselves as Saxons. However, a Saxon, from the point of view of the Cornish, Welsh, Irish, Scots or Romans, was a person, wherever he came from, who brandished a seax.

There is one mention, in a Roman source datable to 408 AD, of the eastern and southern coast of Britain as the "Saxon" shore. It has been conjectured that this refers to attacks on the coast by seax-wielding pirates. Had these supposed pirates been Goths, Franks or Spaniards, however, it would have been remarkably unlikely for the coastline to have been called the Gothic, Frankish or Spanish shore. The reason the coastline dotted with Roman forts was called the Saxon shore is because the forts were manned and maintained by foederati, loosely and widely called Saxons, though mainly consisting of men who knew themselves to be Angles. Sometimes these Angles are also called East-Danes, but they hailed from what are now the provinces of Skåne, Blekinge, Halland and Småland, in what has since become modern Sweden.

By the time of the reign of Alfred, 871-899, further confusion had entered the narrative. This additional confusion can be attributed to the accounts of the rabid Gildas, c 520, the Venerable Bede, 731, and the voyager Ohthere, 890. It is worth noting that the stories of Bede and Ohthere were composed anything up to 500 years after the first arrival of the Angles in Britain. Gildas is an individualistic kettle of fish, whom it's useful to ignore. Bede was an English-born Angle; Ohthere was from Hålogaland, the northernmost province of Norway. Bede wrote that the Angles had been located between the Jutes [he meant the Goths, as corrected by Simeon of Durham, 1129], and the Saxons. As noted, the "Saxons" had no very precise location until after 550 AD. Ohthere, in 890, is credited with with the first known mention of Denmark as a separate country. On his voyage from Kaupang in Norway to Hedeby in Schleswig-Holstein he assigns the entire landmass to his port, or left-hand side, to Denmark, or Denamearc. This today is the country known as Sweden.

The proposition, which the above narrative is edging towards, is that 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 proposition 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, to repeat the conclusion of my opening paragraph, the most appropriate modern language via which to penetrate the language of the Anglians.

The seventeen words (at least) listed above and 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 not 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. One or two of the words are a little tricky. "Val" needs a comment, since here it means "death", as in valplats ("battlefield"/"death place"), not "whale", or the Swedish word for "choice". It is, of course, the "val" of the valkyrie and Valhalla: "the death chooser", and the "Death Hall". There's an ambiguity, since kora (kyrie) means "choose". English interpreters, following Thorpe, thought wæl sounded like "whale" so they blithely emended the manuscript by adding an "h". It is stupefying to realize that this memorial to linguistic incompetence has already lasted 266 years.

About time to wind up this summing up. Before I do, I would like to make 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 English speakers. It should also be noted that the very worst and most peculiar interpretations of The Seafarer, by Ezra Pound and Burton Raffel, are also the most popular. In America, at any rate. The purported translations of this poem have been so repeatedly faulty that a signally different composition has evolved, which fails to convey what the original author was saying, and does not deliver his meaning.


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
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."
Walter Bagehot1826
  "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".