Susanne Gaertner: The Seafarer 39-67 
       (EN2009, Pre-Conquest English II, 2001)

Translation Policy

In the following translation of The Seafarer I have attempted to lend my version the aura of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse with its constant and steady rhythm that creates a sense of coherence in each line and thus makes the poem easier to grasp for its audience. However, I am aware of the fact that modern English language shows a different structure of grammar and syntax with regard to the lack of inflections limiting arbitrary word order without obscuring the meaning of a sentence, or the more elaborate use of articles, conjunctions and prepositions, etc. Therefore it is true that it is almost impossible to capture the succinct and direct style of Old English language which in its simplicity and flexibility at the same time naturally draws the audience's attention to the main ideas of each line. Notwithstanding that, I have tried to create an alliterative poem based on modern English language, paying also attention to the rhythmical, special feature of the conjunction 'foržon' which serves as an indicator of the paragraphs within the poem by introducing a rhythm of four unstressed syllables before the first alliterative syllable.

As for the form of the poem I decided to present it in the layout of one flowing stanza without paragraphs, stanzas and divisions, since in view of the original context of a society based upon oral tradition the visual presentation on paper seems secondary to me, insofar as this simple form appears to me to have had only the practical purpose of reading it aloud fluently.

Furthermore, I aimed at mainly preserving the grammatical structure and syntax of the original poem, exceptions being words added to smoothen out the translation.

Moreover, I tried to convey the meaning and connotations of the original by images, partly borrowing the authentic metaphors and partly by paraphrasing, interpreting and translating the original ideas into new pictures and images.

Finally, the vocabulary mainly relies upon words derived from Germanic origin as far as this intention was compatible with the maintenance of the alliterative rhyme.

Some annotations:

39 - spirit: as the essence of human life standing for man in general.
secular sphere: the word 'earth' in the original occurs in a passage which is concerned with man in society and civilisation, the very place the seafarer dismisses and renounces in favour of a spiritual and transcendental existence--this idea is sought to be foreshadowed in the expression 'secular world', implying the spiritual opposition to it.

40 - so unspoilt by scare: interprets the OE 'youth' as the state of being naļve and showing a childish, natural trust and belief in everything; therefore young people are more audacious, impetuous and ready to risk something.

41 - bravely alive: association of 'alive', vitality, activeness with the original 'quick in deeds'.

49 - the glorious farewell of the world: interpretation of 'onetteš' as conveying a sense of decadent abundance and degeneration.

50 - the fervent soul: expressing a sense of utmost passion of the soul which is the 'heart of an eager mind'
flees: result of an irresistible and powerful inner urge and impulse that drives the seafarer away, also conveying his anticipation of an 'escape' from this world.

51 - heart of passion: replacing the personal pronoun 'he' plus the relative clause by reiterating the idea of 'heart' as the seat of emotions and passions from the previous line.

53 - downcast carol: warning of inauspicious events juxtaposed to 'carol', per definition a merry song--this oxymoron is to emphasise the paradox of the seafarer's inner desires, his projection of the mundane world's pleasures he renounces upon his aim of an existence removed from physical substance and desires.

54 - sun...dark shadow: 'sun' (associative of 'summer') as an allegory of happiness is juxtaposed to 'dark shadow' expressing sorrow, melancholia, hopelessness. This contrast is to highlight the binary opposites, happiness and sadness like light and darkness.

55 - falling upon: device to smoothen out translation.

56 - favourite of worldly fortune: blessed with comfort.

57 - fleeing feet: metaphorical image for going into exile.

58 - bound soul: image of unexpressed and repressed thoughts and emotions that is also implied in the OE 'hrežerlocan' (enclosure of the heart) which I have only translated with 'breast' in its place.

60 - ocean-ways of the whales: picture of the 'homeland' of whales, a constant wandering in the sea, moreover creation of a Modern English compound noun, a characteristic feature of Anglo-Saxon language.
is washed: active sentence construction of the original (OE: 'turns') is here turned into a passive one again reflecting the idea of an inner urge, a driving force behind the seafarer's mental processes and physical actions.

61 - flies back: image of the mind as a 'solitary flier' (l.62) which I translated with 'lonesome soul'.

62 - joyful mercy: in view of the following development of the poem I interpreted the 'joys of the lord' in religious terms.

63 - fleeting and dead on the fields: OE 'transient on the land' refers again to society and civilisation as opposed to the seafarer's entering into spiritual eternity on the ocean--'fields' therefore is a microcosmic metaphor of civilisation, a circle of birth and death like the seasons on a field.


The Seafarer 39-67

As for that no spirit so bold is in that secular sphere,
so richly bestowed, so unspoilt by scare,
so bravely alive, so beloved by his lord,
that he ventures on a voyage without vexation,
about what the lord would want.
His heart forgets the harp, the honour if receiving a ring,
the embracing warmth of the wife, all worldly bliss;
all these desires denied but the dazzling sound of the waves,
longing still befalls him who is bound to the sea.
Groves bring forth blossoms, beauty comes upon the town,
flowery meadows flourish, the glorious farewell of the world.
From all this the fervent soul flees into its fate,
a heart of passion that longs to depart far on the paths of the ocean.
The cuckoo also cautions with a downcast carol,
the sign of the sun sings, a dark shadow
it forbodes falling upon the feelings of the heart. He fails to understand,
the favourite of worldly fortune, what some fellows endure,
whose fleeing feet have carried them furthest away.
But yet now my bound soul breaks out of my breast,
my swift spirit surges with the sea-tide,
over the face of the earth; it flies back again to me
unbridled and insatiable, the screaming lonesome soul;
it eagerly whets the wandering heart on the whale's path,
into the realm of endless water. For indeed to me warmer is
the joyful mercy of the lord than this mortal life,
fleeting on the world's fields. My feeling believes not
that earthly wealth endures forever and ever.

Page created by Dr Jennifer Neville
Last updated 16 March 2001