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Old English Online

Lesson 9

Jonathan Slocum

The Seafarer, with other poems including The Wanderer in lesson 8, is found in the Exeter Book, a latter 10th century volume of Anglo-Saxon poetry. The poem is an elegy, characterized by an attitude of melancholy toward earthly life while, perhaps in allegory, looking forward to the life to come.

As with The Wanderer, authorship of The Seafarer is unknown and the time-frame is uncertain; it may have originated a half century before the Exeter Book was compiled, but much clumsy modification is apparent. This is not due to problems with the book itself, as it is undamaged and the penmanship is clear. Whether some corruption is due to secondary Christian influence is not known, though it seems quite possible.

Reading and Textual Analysis

Whether a dialogue or a monologue, the poem presents two views of life at sea. Gordon, in his Anglo-Saxon Poetry (op. cit., p. 84), characterizes the debate on one side as "a dialogue in which an old sailor tells of the lonely sufferings of life at sea, and is answered by a youth who urges that it is the hardness of the life which makes it attractive," vs. the other side as "a monologue in which the speaker tells of his sufferings, but also admits the fascination of the sea." Either way, the transcendant message exposes "the fleeting nature of earthly pomps and joys."

Various parts of this poem, some included in our selection, display signs of textual corruption, disturbing the grammar and poetic structure and making some sections quite difficult to understand. Our selection includes lines 1-43, found on pp. 152-153 in: Charles T. Onions, ed. (1959), Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader in Prose and Verse, 14th edition, Oxford: Clarendon.

Mæg ic be mē sylfum         sōðgied wrecan,
sīþas secgan,         hū ic geswincdagum
earfoðhwīle         oft þrōwade,
bitre brēostceare         gebiden hæbbe,
gecunnad in cēole         cearselda fela,
atol ȳþa gewealc.

  • mæg -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class V; 1st person singular present indicative of <magan, mæg, magon, meahte> may, be able to -- can
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • be -- preposition <be> at, by, near -- about
  • -- 1st person pronoun; dative singular of <ic> I -- my-
  • sylfum -- reflexive pronoun; dative singular of <self> self, same -- self
  • sōðgied -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <sōð-gied> lit. true tale -- (a) true tale
  • wrecan -- strong verb, class V; infinitive of <wrecan, wræc, wræcon, wrecen> wreak, force; tell, utter -- tell
  • sīþas -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <sīð> journey, voyage -- (of) voyages
  • secgan -- weak verb, class III; infinitive of <secgan, sægde, sægd> say -- speak
  • -- adverbial conjunction <> how -- how
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • geswincdagum -- noun, masculine; dative plural of <geswinc-dæg> day of toil -- (in) days of toil
  • earfoðhwīle -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <earfoð-hwīl> lit. hardship-time -- a time of hardship
  • oft -- adverb <oft> often, frequently -- often
  • þrōwade -- weak verb, class II; 1st person singular preterite of <ðrōwian, ðrōwade, ðrōwad> endure, suffer -- endured
  • bitre -- adjective; accusative singular feminine of <bitre> bitter, sharp -- bitter
  • brēostceare -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <brēost-cearu> anxiety, heart-care -- sadness
  • gebiden -- strong verb, class I; past participle of <gebīdan, gebād, gebidon, gebiden> remain; await; experience; attain -- experienced
  • hæbbe -- weak verb, class III; 1st person singular present of <habban, hæfde, hæfd> have, possess -- have
  • gecunnad -- weak verb, class II; past participle of <gecunnian, gecunnade, gecunnad> know; try, test, make trial of -- known
  • in -- preposition <in> in, into -- on
  • cēole -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <cēol> keel (of a ship) -- a ship
  • cearselda -- noun, neuter; genitive plural of <cear-seld> place of sorrow, care-place -- places of sorrow
  • fela -- indeclinable adjective <fela> much, many -- much
  • atol -- adjective; accusative singular neuter of <atol> dire, repulsive -- dire
  • ȳþa -- strong noun, feminine; genitive plural of <ȳð> wave -- of the waves
  • gewealc -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <gewealc> rolling, tossing -- tossing

        Þǣr mec oft bigeat
nearo nihtwaco         æt nacan stefnan,
þonne hē be clifum cnossað.

  • þǣr -- adverb <þǣr> there, where -- where
  • mec -- 1st person pronoun; accusative singular of <ic> I -- me
  • oft -- adverb <oft> often, frequently -- often
  • bigeat -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person singular preterite of <begietan, begeat, begēaton, begieten> get, acquire -- kept
  • nearo -- adjective; accusative singular feminine of <nearu> narrow; full of hardship -- an anxious
  • nihtwaco -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <niht-waco> night-watch -- night-watch
  • æt -- preposition <æt> at, against -- on
  • nacan -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <naca> boat, ship -- of a ship
  • stefnan -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <stefn> stem; prow, stern -- the prow
  • þonne -- adverb <þonne> then, when -- when
  • -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- it
  • be -- preposition <be> at, by, near -- beneath
  • clifum -- noun, neuter; dative plural of <clif> cliff -- the cliffs
  • cnossað -- weak verb, class II; 3rd person singular present of <cnossian, cnossode, cnossod> drive, pitch -- drives

        Calde geþrungen
wǣron fēt mīne         forste gebunden,
caldum clommum;         þǣr þā ceare seofedun
hāt(e) ymb heortan;         hungor innan slāt
merewērges mōd.

  • calde -- adjective; dative singular masculine of <ceald> cold -- cold
  • geþrungen -- strong verb, class III; past participle of <þringan, þrong, þrungon, þrungen> throng, crowd, press -- pressed
  • wǣron -- anomalous verb; 3rd person plural preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- were
  • fēt -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <fōt> foot -- feet
  • mīne -- 1st person pronoun; used as adjective; nominative plural masculine of <ic> I -- my
  • forste -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <forst> frost -- by the frost
  • gebunden -- strong verb, class III; past participle of <bindan, bond, bundon, bunden> bind, tie -- bound
  • caldum -- adjective; dative plural masculine of <ceald> cold -- (in) frigid
  • clommum -- noun, masculine; dative plural of <clom> bond, fetter; grasp -- fetters
  • þǣr -- adverb <þǣr> there, where -- where
  • þā -- definite article; nominative plural of <se, sēo, ðæt> the -- ...
  • ceare -- noun, feminine; nominative plural of <cearu> care, grief, sorrow -- sorrows
  • seofedun -- weak verb, class II; 3rd person plural preterite of <seofian, seofade, seofad> sigh, lament -- sighed
  • hāte -- adjective; nominative plural feminine of <hāt> hot, fervid -- hot
  • ymb -- preposition <ymbe> at, around -- around
  • heortan -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <heorte> heart -- (my) heart
  • hungor -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <hungor> hunger -- hunger
  • innan -- preposition used as adverb <innan> in, within -- within
  • slāt -- strong verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <slītan, slāt, sliton, sliten> slit, tear -- gnawed
  • merewērges -- adjective <mere-wērig> sea-weary -- a sea-weary
  • mōd -- noun, neuter; nominative singular of <mōd> mood, mind -- mood

        Þæt se mon ne wāt,
þe him on foldan         fægrost limpeð,
hū ic earmcearig         īscealdne sǣ
winter wunade         wræccan lāstum
winemǣgum bidroren         ...

  • þæt -- demonstrative pronoun; accusative singular neuter of <sē, sēo, ðæt> that -- ...
  • se -- definite article; nominative singular masculine of <se, sēo, ðæt> the -- the
  • mon -- strong noun, masculine; nominative singular of <monn> man, person -- man
  • ne -- adverb <ne> not -- not
  • wāt -- preterite-present verb, class I; 3rd person singular present indicative of <witan, wāt, witon, wiste> know, observe -- does ... know
  • þe -- relative particle <þe> that, which, who -- ...
  • him -- 3rd person pronoun; dative singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- to whom
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- on
  • foldan -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <folde> earth, ground -- earth
  • fægrost -- adverb; superlative of <fæger> fairly, beautifully -- most happily
  • limpeð -- strong verb, class III; 3rd person singular present of <limpan, lamp, lumpon, lumpen> befall, happen -- (everything) happens
  • -- conjunction <> how -- how
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • earmcearig -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <earm-cearig> miserable, lit. wretched-caring -- wretched
  • īscealdne -- adjective; accusative singular masculine of <īs-ceald> ice-cold -- an ice-cold
  • -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <> sea, lake -- at sea
  • winter -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <winter> winter, year -- winter
  • wunade -- weak verb, class II; 1st person singular preterite of <wunian, wunode, wunod> dwell, live, remain -- spent
  • wræccan -- weak noun, masculine; genitive singular of <wrecca> wretch, exile -- of exile
  • lāstum -- noun, masculine; dative plural of <lāst> track, footprint -- in the paths
  • winemǣgum -- noun, masculine; dative plural of <wine-mǣg> dear-, lit. friend-kinsman -- kinsmen
  • bidroren -- strong verb, class II; past participle of <bedrēosan, bedrēas, bedruron, bedroren> bereave, deprive of -- bereft of

bihongen hrīmgicelum:         hægl scūrum flēag.

  • bihongen -- strong verb, class VII; past participle of <behōn, behēng, behēngon, behongen> hang round -- behung
  • hrīmgicelum -- noun, masculine; dative plural of <hrīm-gicel> icicle -- with icicles
  • hægl -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <hagol> hail -- the hail
  • scūrum -- noun, masculine; dative plural of <scūr> shower -- in showers
  • flēag -- strong verb, class II; 3rd person singular preterite of <flēogan, flēag, flugon, flogen> flee, fly -- flew

Þǣr ic ne gehȳrde         būtan hlimman sǣ,
īscaldne wǣg,         hwīlum ylfete song:

  • þǣr -- adverb <þǣr> there, where -- there
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • ne -- adverb <ne> not -- no(thing)
  • gehȳrde -- weak verb, class I; 1st person singular preterite of <gehīeran, gehīerede, gehīered> hear (of) -- heard
  • būtan -- preposition <būton> without, except for -- but
  • hlimman -- strong verb, class III; infinitive of <hlimman, hlamm, hlumon, hlummen> roar, resound -- roar
  • -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <> sea, lake -- the sea
  • īscaldne -- adjective; accusative singular masculine of <īs-ceald> ice-cold -- ice-cold
  • wǣg -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <wǣg> wave, billow -- billow
  • hwīlum -- noun, feminine; dative plural of <hwīl> while, time -- sometimes
  • ylfete -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <ilfetu> swan -- of a swan
  • song -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <song> song -- the song

dyde ic mē tō gomene         ganetes hlēoþor
and huilpan swēg         fore hleahtor wera,
mǣw singende         fore medodrince.

  • dyde -- anomalous verb; 1st person singular preterite indicative of <dōn> do, make -- made
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • -- 1st person pronoun; dative singular of <ic> I -- my own # "for myself"
  • -- preposition <> (in)to -- for
  • gomene -- noun, neuter; dative singular of <gomen> pastime, pleasure, entertainment -- amusement
  • ganetes -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <ganot> gannet, goose -- the gannet's
  • hlēoþor -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <hlēoðor> song, sound -- song
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • huilpan -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <hwilpe> curlew? water-bird -- the water-bird's
  • swēg -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <swēg> noise, sound -- call
  • fore -- preposition <fore> for, before -- for
  • hleahtor -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <hleahtor> laughter, jubilation -- the laughter
  • wera -- noun, masculine; genitive plural of <wer> man -- of men
  • mǣw -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <mǣw> mew, sea-gull -- mew
  • singende -- strong verb, class III; present participle of <singan, sang, sungon, sungen> sing, compose -- singing
  • fore -- preposition <fore> for, before -- for
  • medodrince -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <medu-drinc> mead-drink -- mead-drink(ing)

Stormas þǣr stānclifu bēotan,         þǣr him stearn oncwæð
īsigfeþera;         ful oft þæt earn bigeal
ūrigfeþra.

  • stormas -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <storm> storm, tempest; attack -- storms
  • þǣr -- adverb <þǣr> there, where -- there
  • stānclifu -- noun, neuter; accusative plural of <stān-clif> stony cliff -- stony cliffs
  • bēotan -- strong verb, class VII; 3rd person plural preterite of <bēatan, bēot, bēoton, bēaten> beat, pound, strike -- pounded
  • þǣr -- adverb <þǣr> there, where -- where
  • him -- 3rd person pronoun; dative plural of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- to them
  • stearn -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <stearn> tern, sea-swallow -- sea-swallow
  • oncwæð -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person singular preterite of <oncweðan, oncwæð, oncwǣdon, oncweden> answer, reply to -- replied
  • īsigfeþera -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <īsig-feðera> lit. icy-feathered -- with frosted wings
  • ful -- adverb <ful> fully, completely -- ...
  • oft -- adverb <oft> often, frequently -- often
  • þæt -- demonstrative article; accusative singular neuter of <se, sēo, ðæt> that -- ... # the referent is highly uncertain
  • earn -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <earn> eagle -- the eagle
  • bigeal -- strong verb, class III; 3rd person singular preterite of <begiellan, begeall, begullon, begollen> yell, scream, screech -- screamed
  • ūrigfeþra -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <ūrig-feðera> lit. dewey-feathered -- dewey-winged

        Nǣnig hlēomǣga
fēasceaftig ferð         frēfran meahte.

  • nǣnig -- contraction; adverb <ne> not + adjective <ǣnig> any -- no
  • hlēomǣga -- noun, masculine; genitive plural of <hlēo-mǣg> lit. protector-kinsman -- protective kinsmen # corrupt text?
  • fēasceaftig -- adjective <fēasceaftig> poor, destitute -- the poor
  • ferð -- noun, masc/neut; accusative singular of <ferð> mind, soul, spirit -- in spirit
  • frēfran -- weak verb, class I; infinitive of <frēfran, frēfrede, frēfred> cheer, comfort -- cheer
  • meahte -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class V; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <magan, mæg, magon, meahte> may, be able to -- might

For þon him gelȳfeð lȳt         sē þe āh līfes wyn
gebiden in burgum,         bealosīþa hwōn,
wlonc and wīngāl,         hū ic wērig oft
in brimlāde         bīdan sceolde.

  • for þon -- conjunction <for þon> because, therefore -- because
  • him -- 3rd person pronoun; dative singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- ...
  • gelȳfeð -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular present of <gelīefan, gelīefde, gelīefed> grant; believe, trust -- trusts
  • lȳt -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <lȳt> little, small number -- little
  • -- demonstrative used as 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <sē, sēo, ðæt> he, she, it -- he
  • þe -- relative particle <þe> that, which, who -- who
  • āh -- preterite-present verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <āgan, āh, āgon, āhte> have, possess -- has
  • līfes -- noun, neuter; genitive singular of <līf> life -- life's
  • wyn -- strong noun, feminine; nominative singular of <wynn> joy, delight -- joy
  • gebiden -- strong verb, class I; past participle of <gebīdan, gebād, gebidon, gebiden> remain; await; experience; attain -- experienced
  • in -- preposition <in> in, into -- in
  • burgum -- strong noun, feminine; dative plural of <burg> enclosure, stonghold -- cities
  • bealosīþa -- noun, masculine; genitive plural of <bealu-sīð> peril, calamity. lit. harm-journey -- (with) perils
  • hwōn -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <hwōn> trifle -- few
  • wlonc -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <wlonc> proud -- proud
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • wīngāl -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <wīn-gāl> intoxicated, lit. wine-gay -- intoxicated
  • -- conjunction <> how -- how
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • wērig -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <wērig> weary, exhausted -- exhausted
  • oft -- adverb <oft> often, frequently -- often
  • in -- preposition <in> in, into -- in
  • brimlāde -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <brim-lād> path of the sea, lit. sea lane -- the sea lane
  • bīdan -- strong verb, class I; infinitive of <bīdan, bād, bidon, biden> bide, endure, remain -- remain
  • sceolde -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class IV; 1st person singular preterite indicative of <sculan, sceal, sculon, scolde> shall, ought to -- must

Nāp nihtscua,         norþan snīwde,
hrīm hrūsan bond;         hægl fēol on eorþan,
corna caldast.

  • nāp -- strong verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <nīpan, nāp, nipon, nipen> grow dark, obscure -- grew dark
  • nihtscua -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <nihts-cūa> night's cover -- night's shadow
  • norþan -- adverb <norðan> from the north -- from the north
  • snīwde -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <snīwan, snīwde, snīwed> snow -- it snowed
  • hrīm -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <hrīm> rime, hoar-frost -- hoar-frost
  • hrūsan -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <hrūse> earth, ground -- the soil
  • bond -- strong verb, class III; 3rd person singular preterite of <bindan, bond, bundon, bunden> bind, tie -- bound
  • hægl -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <hagol> hail -- hail
  • fēol -- strong verb, class VII; 3rd person singular preterite of <feallan, fēoll, fēollon, feallen> fall, flow -- fell
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- upon
  • eorþan -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <eorð> earth -- earth
  • corna -- noun, neuter; genitive plural of <corn> corn, grain -- of grains
  • caldast -- adjective; superlative of <ceald> cold -- the coldest

        For þon cnyssað nū
heortan geþōhtas,         þæt ic hēan strēamas,
sealtȳþa gelāc         sylf cunnige;

  • for þon -- conjunction <for þon> because, therefore -- therefore
  • cnyssað -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person plural present of <cnyssan, cnysede, cnysed> beat, strike -- it strikes
  • -- adverb <> now -- now
  • heortan -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <heorte> heart -- of the heart
  • geþōhtas -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <geðōht> thought -- the thoughts
  • þæt -- subordinating conjunction <þæt> that -- that
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • hēan -- adjective; accusative plural masculine of <hēan> abject, depressed, miserable -- the humble
  • strēamas -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <strēam> stream -- streams
  • sealtȳþa -- strong noun, feminine; genitive plural of <sealt-ȳð> lit. salt-wave -- of sea waves
  • gelāc -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <gelāc> tumult, commotion -- the tumult
  • sylf -- reflexive pronoun <self> self, same -- (my)self
  • cunnige -- weak verb, class II; 1st person singular present subjunctive of <cunnian, cunnode, cunnod> seek, explore, experience -- (should) test

monað mōdes lust         mǣla gehwylce
ferð tō fēran,         þæt ic feor heonan
elþēodigra         eard gesēce.

  • monað -- weak verb, class II; 3rd person singular present of <manian, manode, manod> warn, exhort, admonish -- urges
  • mōdes -- noun, neuter; genitive singular of <mōd> mood, mind -- the mind's
  • lust -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <lust> lust, desire, pleasure -- desire
  • mǣla -- noun, neuter; genitive plural of <mǣl> time, occasion -- times
  • gehwylce -- indefinite pronoun; instrumental singular masculine of <gehwylc> each, every one -- at all
  • ferð -- noun, masc/neut; accusative singular of <ferð> mind, soul, spirit -- the spirit
  • -- preposition <> (in)to -- to
  • fēran -- weak verb, class I; infinitive of <fēran, fērde, fēred> go, travel -- travel
  • þæt -- conjunction <þæt> so/in order that -- so that
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • feor -- adverb <feor> far (from) -- far
  • heonan -- adverb <heonon> hence -- hence
  • elþēodigra -- adjective used as noun <elðēodig> alien, foreign, strange -- of foreigners
  • eard -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <eard> home, land -- the land
  • gesēce -- weak verb, class I; 1st person singular present of <gesēcan, gesōhte, gesōht> seek, desire -- seek

For þon nis þæs mōdwlonc         mon ofer eorþan,
ne his gifena þæs gōd,         ne in geoguþe tō þæs hwæt,
ne in his dǣdum tō þæs dēor,

  • for þon -- conjunction <for þon> because, therefore -- because
  • nis -- contraction; adverb <ne> not + anomalous verb; 3rd person singular present indicative of <is> be, become, exist -- is not
  • þæs -- adverb <þæs> so -- so
  • mōdwlonc -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <mōd-wlonc> haughty, lit. mood-proud -- proud
  • mon -- strong noun, masculine; nominative singular of <monn> man, person -- a man
  • ofer -- preposition <ofer> over, across -- on
  • eorþan -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <eorð> earth -- earth
  • ne -- adverb <ne> not -- nor
  • his -- 3rd person pronoun; genitive singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- his
  • gifena -- strong noun, feminine; genitive plural of <giefu> gift, favor -- of ... gifts
  • þæs -- adverb <þæs> so -- so
  • gōd -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <gōd> good, excellent -- generous
  • ne -- adverb <ne> not -- nor
  • in -- preposition <in> in, into -- in
  • geoguþe -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <geogoð> youth, youngster -- youth
  • tō þæs -- adverb <tō þæs> so -- quite so
  • hwæt -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <hwætt> bold, valiant -- bold
  • ne -- adverb <ne> not -- nor
  • in -- preposition <in> in, into -- in
  • his -- 3rd person pronoun; genitive singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- his
  • dǣdum -- noun, feminine; dative plural of <dǣd> deed, action -- deeds
  • tō þæs -- adverb <tō þæs> so -- quite so
  • dēor -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <dēor> brave, valiant -- valiant

        ne him his dryhten tō þæs hold,
þæt hē ā his sǣfōre         sorge næbbe,
tō hwon hine Dryhten         gedōn wille.

  • ne -- adverb <ne> not -- nor
  • him -- 3rd person pronoun; dative singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- to him
  • his -- 3rd person pronoun; genitive singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- his
  • dryhten -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <drihten> lord, prince, ruler -- lord
  • tō þæs -- adverb <tō þæs> so -- quite so
  • hold -- adjective <hold> gracious, favorable -- gracious
  • þæt -- subordinating conjunction <þæt> that -- that
  • -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • ā -- adverb <ā> always, ever -- never # negative sense from næbbe, below
  • his -- 3rd person pronoun; genitive singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- his
  • sǣfōre -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <sǣ-fōr> sea-voyage -- sea travel
  • sorge -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <sorg> sorrow, grief, distress -- anxiety
  • næbbe -- contraction; adverb <ne> not + weak verb, class III; 3rd person singular present subjunctive <habban, hæfde, hæfd> have, possess -- has # negative used above
  • tō hwon -- interrogative pronoun; instrumental singular of <tō hwon> why -- to what end
  • hine -- 3rd person pronoun; accusative singular masculine of <hē, hēo, hit> he, she, it -- him
  • dryhten -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <drihten> lord, prince, ruler -- the Lord
  • gedōn -- anomalous verb; past participle of <gedōn> act, do, bring to pass -- bring
  • wille -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular present indicative of <willan> wish, be willing -- will
  • Lesson Text

    Mæg ic be mē sylfum         sōðgied wrecan,
    sīþas secgan,         hū ic geswincdagum
    earfoðhwīle         oft þrōwade,
    bitre brēostceare         gebiden hæbbe,
    gecunnad in cēole         cearselda fela,
    atol ȳþa gewealc.
            Þǣr mec oft bigeat
    nearo nihtwaco         æt nacan stefnan,
    þonne hē be clifum cnossað.
            Calde geþrungen
    wǣron fēt mīne         forste gebunden,
    caldum clommum;         þǣr þā ceare seofedun
    hāt(e) ymb heortan;         hungor innan slāt
    merewērges mōd.
            Þæt se mon ne wāt,
    þe him on foldan         fægrost limpeð,
    hū ic earmcearig         īscealdne sǣ
    winter wunade         wræccan lāstum
    winemǣgum bidroren         ...

    bihongen hrīmgicelum:         hægl scūrum flēag.
    Þǣr ic ne gehȳrde         būtan hlimman sǣ,
    īscaldne wǣg,         hwīlum ylfete song:

    dyde ic mē tō gomene         ganetes hlēoþor
    and huilpan swēg         fore hleahtor wera,
    mǣw singende         fore medodrince.

    Stormas þǣr stānclifu bēotan,         þǣr him stearn oncwæð
    īsigfeþera;         ful oft þæt earn bigeal
    ūrigfeþra.
            Nǣnig hlēomǣga
    fēasceaftig ferð         frēfran meahte.

    For þon him gelȳfeð lȳt         sē þe āh līfes wyn
    gebiden in burgum,         bealosīþa hwōn,
    wlonc and wīngāl,         hū ic wērig oft
    in brimlāde         bīdan sceolde.

    Nāp nihtscua,         norþan snīwde,
    hrīm hrūsan bond;         hægl fēol on eorþan,
    corna caldast.
            For þon cnyssað nū
    heortan geþōhtas,         þæt ic hēan strēamas,
    sealtȳþa gelāc         sylf cunnige;

    monað mōdes lust         mǣla gehwylce
    ferð tō fēran,         þæt ic feor heonan
    elþēodigra         eard gesēce.

    For þon nis þæs mōdwlonc         mon ofer eorþan,
    ne his gifena þæs gōd,         ne in geoguþe tō þæs hwæt,
    ne in his dǣdum tō þæs dēor,
            ne him his dryhten tō þæs hold,
    þæt hē ā his sǣfōre         sorge næbbe,
    tō hwon hine Dryhten         gedōn wille.

    Translation

    I can tell a true tale about myself, of voyages speak, how in days of toil I often endured a time of hardship, experienced bitter sadness, have known on a ship places of sorrow, much dire tossing of the waves. Where an anxious night-watch often kept me on the prow of a ship when it drives beneath the cliffs. My feet were pressed cold, bound in frigid fetters by the frost; where sorrows sighed hot around my heart; hunger gnawed within, a sea-weary mood. The man does not know, to whom everything happens most happily on earth, how wretched I spent an ice-cold winter at sea in the paths of exile bereft of kinsmen... behung with icicles: the hail flew in showers. There I heard nothing but the sea roar, ice-cold billow, sometimes the song of a swan: I made for my own amusement the gannet's song and the water-bird's call for the laughter of men, mew singing for mead-drinking. Storms there pounded stony cliffs, where sea-swallow replied to them with frosted wings; often the eagle screamed dewey-winged. No protective kinsmen might cheer the poor in spirit. Because he trusts little who has experienced life's joy in cities, with perils few, proud and intoxicated, how often I must remain exhausted in the sea lane. Night's shadow grew dark, from the north it snowed, hoar-frost bound the soil; hail fell upon earth, the coldest of grains. Therefore it strikes now the thoughts of the heart, that I the humble streams, the tumult of sea waves myself should test; the mind's desire urges at all times the spirit to travel, so that I seek far hence the land of foreigners. Because (there) is not a man on earth so proud, nor of his gifts so generous, nor in youth quite so bold, nor in his deeds quite so valiant, nor to him his lord quite so gracious, that he never has anxiety (about) his sea travel, (or) to what end the Lord will bring him.

    Grammar

    41. The Anomalous Verb dōn

    The text in lesson 2 introduced the 3rd person singular preterite indicative form dyde of the anomalous verb dōn 'do, make'. The preterite dyde is found also in this lesson text, along with the related infinitive gedōn 'act, do, bring to pass', and the plural preterite dydon is found in the following lesson. Forms of dōn are reflected in the following table:

    dōn   Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative
    1 Sg. Pres.        
    2 Sg. Pres.   dēst    
    3 Sg. Pres.   dēð      
    Pl. Pres.   dōð   dōn   dōð
                 
    1 Sg. Pret.   dyde   dyde    
    2 Sg. Pret.   dydest   dyde    
    3 Sg. Pret.   dyde   dyde    
    Pl. Pret.   dydon   dyden    

    The present participle is dōnde, and the past participle is gedōn. The modern English forms do, did, and the so-called "King James English" forms dost, doth, are descended from forms of dōn.

    42. Reflexive Pronouns

    Various forms of the pronoun self appear in our lesson texts, including sylf and sylfum in this lesson and other forms in lessons 5 and 7. However, reflexive pronouns equivalent to modern English 'myself', 'yourself', etc., had not yet developed in Old English. Instead, forms of the personal pronouns ic, ðū, and hē, hēo, hit might be used without self in a reflexive sense (for example in dyde ic mē in this lesson text); or in some instances one of these might be followed by a form of the [separate] pronoun self (for example mē sylfum in this lesson text); or sometimes a form of self appears alone (for example sylf in this lesson text), leaving the question of "who?" up to the hearer/reader of the text.

    43. Weak Adjective Declension

    The declension of an OE adjective can be either weak (a.k.a. definite) or strong (a.k.a. indefinite), depending on context. This is unlike noun inflection, in which a noun itself belongs to either a weak or a strong declension category. Weak adjective declension rules, which employ fewer distinct inflectional endings, tend to be used in the following situations:

    1. the adjective follows a demonstrative or possessive pronoun; or
    2. it is in the vocative case (used for direct address); or
    3. it is a comparative or superlative form; or
    4. it is used in poetry.

    These rules are not applied with absolute consistency, but they do represent strong tendencies. The gender, case, and number of an adjective depend on those of the noun it modifies. (Adjectives have no inherent grammatical gender.) Verb participles are declined like adjectives; and ordinal numerals, in particular, are inflected using weak adjective declension with but two exceptions.

    The following table illustrates weak adjective declension using OE gōd 'good, excellent', which appears in our lesson text; the endings in this declension can be seen to parallel those in the n-stem weak noun declension (lesson 8, §36) where, among other things, plural forms do not vary with gender.

    Weak   Sg.Masc.   Sg.Fem.   Sg.Neut.   Plural
    Nom/Voc.   gōda   gōde   gōde   gōdan
    Gen.   gōdan   gōdan   gōdan   gōdena
    Dat.   gōdan   gōdan   gōdan   gōdum
    Acc.   gōdan   gōdan   gōde   gōdan

    Spelling Notes

    Adjectives ending in -h (e.g. hēah 'high', wōh 'wrong', not shown) are inflected with contraction, including but not limited to loss of -h (e.g. hēan, genitive plural wōna). The ending -an may be spelled -on; the genitive plural ending -ena may be spelled -ra; the dative plural ending -um may be spelled -un or -on.

    44. Strong Adjective Declension

    When the "rules" for weak adjective declension (1-4 in §43) do not apply, strong declension is used. The forms again depend on the gender, case, and number of the noun being modified; however, they also depend on the stem-vowel of the adjective itself (review §32 in lesson 7 for the meaning of "stem"). There are only two strong declension categories to which an adjective stem can be assigned:

    1. a-stems, o-stems, and some u-stems; or
    2. ja-stems, jo-stems, wa-stems, wo-stems, i-stems, and the remaining u-stems.

    The adjective gōd 'good, excellent', which appears in our lesson text, belongs to the first category; we use it to illustrate the 1st strong adjective declension. The adjective gearo (also spelled gearu) 'prepared, ready', which appears in the text for lesson 3, is used to illustrate the 2nd strong adjective declension.

    Strong 1   Masc.   Fem.   Neut.
    Nom.Sg.   gōd   gōd   gōd
    Gen.Sg.   gōdes   gōdre   gōdes
    Dat.Sg.   gōdum   gōdre   gōdum
    Acc.Sg.   gōdne   gōde   gōd
    Ins.Sg.   gōde       gōde
    Nom.Pl.   gōde   gōda   gōd
    Gen.Pl.   gōdra   gōdra   gōdra
    Dat.Pl.   gōdum   gōdum   gōdum
    Acc.Pl.   gōde   gōda   gōd
    Ins.Pl.   gōdum   gōdum   gōdum

    Spelling Notes

    The ending -re may be spelled -ere; the ending -um may be spelled -on or -an. The nominative/accusative plural, either feminine or neuter, may be spelled gōde. The ending -ra may be spelled -era.

    Strong 2   Masc.   Fem.   Neut.
    Nom.Sg.   gearo   gearo   gearo
    Gen.Sg.   gearwes   gearore   gearwes
    Dat.Sg.   gearwum   gearore   gearwum
    Acc.Sg.   gearone   gearwe   gearo
    Ins.Sg.   gearwe       gearwe
    Nom.Pl.   gearwe   gearwa   gearwe
    Gen.Pl.   gearora   gearora   gearora
    Dat.Pl.   gearwum   gearwum   gearwum
    Acc.Pl.   gearora   gearora   gearora
    Ins.Pl.   gearwum   gearwum   gearwum

    Spelling Notes

    The feminine forms gearore may be spelled gearre; similarly, the genitive plural forms gearora may be spelled gearra.

    45. Spelling Variation

    As noted previously, several times, OE spelling was never fully standardized -- although King Alfred did make an attempt to do so. Rather, words were spelled as they sounded, which presents both benefits and drawbacks to those studying the language. We present a table below that may help the reader find an unknown word if it doesn't appear, as originally spelled, in a dictionary. This table does not attempt to help the reader parse & remove inflectional endings, other affixes, or ablaut effects -- that task is addressed throughout these lessons. Instead, the table below suggests "equivalent spellings" -- letter sequences that may be substituted for one another because OE scribes made such substitutions based on fine details of the sounds they heard.

    Each row lists, left to right, "equivalent spellings." There is no significance to the order of elements right of the '=' sign; the rows are alphabetized, top to bottom. The entries in this table are drawn, with augmentation, from Henry Sweet (1896, op. cit.) who notes, "unaccented vowels are disregarded."

    a   =   æ   ea                
    æ   =   a   æg   e   ea        
    æi   =   æig   æg                
    æo   =   ea                    
    b   =   f                    
    c   =   g   h                
    ce   =   c                    
    ch   =   c   h                
    ci   =   c                    
    cs   =   sc   x                
    ct   =   ht                    
    d   =   ð   þ                
    dd   =   ðd   þd                
    ds   =   ts                    
    e   =   æ   ea   eg   eo   ie   y
    ea   =   æ   a   eo   gea   i    
    ei   =   e   eg                
    eo   =   e   ea   geo   i   ie   oe
    eu   =   eo   eow                
    ew   =   eow                    
    f   =   w                    
    fn   =   mn                    
    g   =   h   w   x            
    ge   =   g                    
    gg   =   cg                    
    gi   =   g                    
    gu   =   geo                    
    h   =   c   g                
    hs   =   sc   x                
    i   =   eo   g   ie   ig   ige   y
    ia   =   eo                    
    ig   =   i                    
    io   =   eo                    
    iu   =   eo   geo                
    iw   =   eow                    
    k   =   c                    
    m   =   mn   n                
    nc   =   cen   cn   ng            
    ng   =   gen   gn                
    o   =   a   og                
    oe   =   e   æ                
    ps   =   sp                    
    pt   =   ft                    
    qu   =   cw                    
    sc   =   s                    
    sce   =   sc                    
    sci   =   sc                    
      =   st                  
      =   st                  
    t   =   ð   þ                
    th   =   ð   þ                
    ð   =   þ                    
    þ   =   ð                    
    u   =   f   ug   v   w        
    uu   =   ū   w                
    v   =   f                    
    weo   =   wo   wu                
    wi   =   wu                    
    wo   =   weo                    
    wu   =   w   weo   wo   wy        
    wy   =   weo   wi                
    x   =   cs   hs   sc            
    y   =   e   i   ie   yg