‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Friday, 8 March 2019


[Below is my translation of the OE poem The Seafarer. The image above is ‘Contact’, an installation by the Japanese art collective 目 (pronounced ) presently in the Mori Art Museum.]

May I by my self         reckon a strong song,
share my sea-travels, speak         of struck sufferings,
weary weeks         of wakeful worrying,
how burdens of bitterness         brought me low. 
Aboard my craft I knew         crowds of cares:
a wrangling wavewash         often worked me
nervy nightwatches         navigating the ship
lest we be cliff-crashed.         Cold-throttled
were my feet,         frost-fixed,
cold clasped me,         and cares seethed
hot in my heart,         hunger slating my innards
marineweary mood.         Most men never know it.
A fellow on farmland?         Fine things befall him!
But I, always illstruck         on an icecold sea,
wasted my winter         down the ways of exile,
bereft of fine kinsmen,      
hung heavy with icicles         harangued by hail.
Nothing to hear         but the howling sea
and its icecold surge.         A swan's song
was all my company;         gannets' calls
and curlews' cries         came to me as a comfort:
seamews' moans         instead of mead-drinking!
Storms beat the stonecliffs         where the terns sang
icy-feathered;         eagles' fanfares
gleaming-feathered.         No glad-kinsmen
made this mourning         man more comfortable.
Little does he realise,         life's lucky-one
abiding in some borough         far from all bad things,
proud, tipsy on wine,         whilst I'm punchdrunk
stunned on the sealanes         stuck solid.

Nightshadows enlarge.         Snow gnarls from the north;
ice seals the soil;         hail is sown on the ground,
glacial grains.         How grievous now are
my heart's hard thoughts,         and these high streams
my sole struggle         are self-selected.
Months mark my desire,         measuring when next
I again unfurl sails         heading far from here
to the stranger's land         that I set out to seek.
For there is no man so         majestic on earth,
none so generous with gifts,         no juvenile so juiced-up,
no longshanks so lionhearted,         none so loved by his lord,
but that as soon as he sails         anxiety assaults him:
dreading what his lord         might do with him.
No harp's glissando         nor gifts of rings,
nor the winning of wives         nor worldly glory,
nor anything else either         except ocean's agitation.
But he's driven by wanting,         at war with the waves.

Forests blossom         burghs become fairer,
the wolds look wonderful,         the world renews
and all is urgent.         So the eager soul
is inspirited to sail out,         and sets itself to
follow the floodways         as a far-traveller.
It's the cuckoo's counsel,         her melancholy call:
summer's ward sings         a prophecy of sorrow and
bitterness in the breast.         The bloke back-home barely knows,
(though a celebrated soldier!)         what others suffer
those that wander wide         through exile's wilderness.

While my soul writhes         under my ribs,
my spirit soars         skimming the saltwater 
over the whale paths         wandering wide,
to all earth's corners,         coming back to me
eager, still greedy,         a gabbling one-flier,
urging the whale-way         on the unresisting heart
over heaving seas.         Hotter for me the
delights of the Lord         than this dead life,
brief on earth's bosom.         I do not believe
that all this earth-wealth         ultimately endures.
One of three things         through it all
is destined to         dissolve all dubeity:
illness or old-age         or the edged-sword's hate
will dig out the soul         from those doomed-to-die.
It's this way for all of us:          afterwards, eulogies and
love from the living         the best last words,
this one's works          before he went his ways:
wealth in a world         at war with fiends,
his daring deeds         defying those devils,
heirs yet unborn         will be in awe of him,
and his after-fame         will abide with the angels
always and ever,         the honour of eternal life,
a deathless delight.         But the great days have declined,
the regal renown         of earthly riches.
There are not kings         nor great commanders,
nor wealthgivers         as once there were,
those mighty men         who accomplished marvels,
so much amazing         majesty was theirs!
That delight's dead now:         the dream has departed.
Weaker ones now dwell         with the world their holding;
hard-work made it theirs.         Higher glory is humbled,
earth's nobleness and         all its ages evaporate,
as does each man         across middle-earth.
Old-age overtakes him,         obscures his face:
his grey-hairs grieve         for the friends who have gone,
aristocratic offspring         all interred in the ground.
His flesh unfastens itself         as his soul's fire fails,
he can't taste the sweetness         nor sense the sour,
no heft in his hand         nor thought in his head.
Though his graveside will         be strewn with gold
by brothers of his blood         though they bury with him
cornucopias of cash         you can't take it with you.
No person's soul,         so full of sin, can
grasp such gold         given God's displeasure,
though he'd hidden it all         when he still had his health.

In awe of the Almighty         earth averts her eyes.
It was He gave us         the hefty ground,
the earth's whole surface         and the sky above.
Only a fool doesn't fear God;         death finds such a fellow faceless.
The holy man is humbler         husked in heaven's mercy,
the Maker sets his mind steady,         who fathoms His might.
Man must steer a strong spirit,         and keep a settled course,
and cleave to his crew         with a clean wisdom,
his men must be         mustered effectively
love him in the light times         and be loyal in the dark.
He must firm his will to the         final fall of fire
when the funeral pyre         flames balefully 
fashioned by his family.         Fate is far stronger,
the Maker much mightier         than any man's mind.
Come, consider         where we can locate home,
and then think hard         how best to get thither,
to make every effort,         so that we might
enter in that everlasting         ecstasy,
whose life relies         on loving the Lord,
in the hope of heaven.         Thanks to the Holy One,
that he gave to the world,         this gift of Glory,
everlasting God,         in all the earth's ages!


  1. Mæg ic be me sylfum soðgied wrecan,
    siþas secgan, hu ic geswincdagum
    earfoðhwile oft þrowade,
    bitre breostceare gebiden hæbbe,
    gecunnad in ceole cearselda fela,
    atol yþa gewealc, þær mec oft bigeat
    nearo nihtwaco æt nacan stefnan,
    þonne he be clifum cnossað. Calde geþrungen
    wæron mine fet, forste gebunden,
    caldum clommum, þær þa ceare seofedun
    hat ymb heortan; hungor innan slat
    merewerges mod. þæt se mon ne wat
    þe him on foldan fægrost limpeð,
    hu ic earmcearig iscealdne sæ
    winter wunade wræccan lastum,
    winemægum bidroren,
    bihongen hrimgicelum; hægl scurum fleag.
    þær ic ne gehyrde butan hlimman sæ,
    iscaldne wæg. Hwilum ylfete song
    dyde ic me to gomene, ganetes hleoþor
    ond huilpan sweg fore hleahtor wera,
    mæw singende fore medodrince.
    Stormas þær stanclifu beotan, þær him stearn oncwæð
    isigfeþera; ful oft þæt earn bigeal,
    urigfeþra; ne ænig hleomæga
    feasceaftig ferð frefran meahte.
    Forþon him gelyfeð lyt, se þe ah lifes wyn
    gebiden in burgum, bealosiþa hwon,
    wlonc ond wingal, hu ic werig oft
    in brimlade bidan sceolde.
    Nap nihtscua, norþan sniwde,
    hrim hrusan bond, hægl feol on eorþan,
    corna caldast. Forþon cnyssað nu
    heortan geþohtas, þæt ic hean streamas,
    sealtyþa gelac sylf cunnige;
    monað modes lust mæla gehwylce
    ferð to feran, þæt ic feor heonan
    elþeodigra eard gesece.
    Forþon nis þæs modwlonc mon ofer eorþan,
    ne his gifena þæs god, ne in geoguþe to þæs hwæt,
    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.
    Ne biþ him to hearpan hyge ne to hringþege,
    ne to wife wyn ne to worulde hyht,
    ne ymbe owiht elles, nefne ymb yða gewealc,
    ac a hafað longunge se þe on lagu fundað.

    1. Bearwas blostmum nimað, byrig fægriað,
      wongas wlitigað, woruld onetteð;
      ealle þa gemoniað modes fusne
      sefan to siþe, þam þe swa þenceð
      on flodwegas feor gewitan.
      Swylce geac monað geomran reorde,
      singeð sumeres weard, sorge beodeð
      bitter in breosthord. þæt se beorn ne wat,
      esteadig secg, hwæt þa sume dreogað
      þe þa wræclastas widost lecgað.
      Forþon nu min hyge hweorfeð ofer hreþerlocan,
      min modsefa mid mereflode
      ofer hwæles eþel hweorfeð wide,
      eorþan sceatas, cymeð eft to me
      gifre ond grædig, gielleð anfloga,
      hweteð on hwælweg hreþer unwearnum
      ofer holma gelagu. Forþon me hatran sind
      dryhtnes dreamas þonne þis deade lif,
      læne on londe. Ic gelyfe no
      þæt him eorðwelan ece stondað.
      Simle þreora sum þinga gehwylce,
      ær his tid aga, to tweon weorþeð;
      adl oþþe yldo oþþe ecghete
      fægum fromweardum feorh oðþringeð.
      Forþon þæt bið eorla gehwam æftercweþendra
      lof lifgendra lastworda betst,
      þæt he gewyrce, ær he on weg scyle,
      fremum on foldan wið feonda niþ,
      deorum dædum deofle togeanes,
      þæt hine ælda bearn æfter hergen,
      ond his lof siþþan lifge mid englum
      awa to ealdre, ecan lifes blæd,
      dream mid dugeþum. Dagas sind gewitene,
      ealle onmedlan eorþan rices;
      næron nu cyningas ne caseras
      ne goldgiefan swylce iu wæron,
      þonne hi mæst mid him mærþa gefremedon
      ond on dryhtlicestum dome lifdon.
      Gedroren is þeos duguð eal, dreamas sind gewitene,
      wuniað þa wacran ond þas woruld healdaþ,
      brucað þurh bisgo. Blæd is gehnæged,
      eorþan indryhto ealdað ond searað,
      swa nu monna gehwylc geond middangeard.
      Yldo him on fareð, onsyn blacað,
      gomelfeax gnornað, wat his iuwine,
      æþelinga bearn, eorþan forgiefene.
      Ne mæg him þonne se flæschoma, þonne him þæt feorg losað,
      ne swete forswelgan ne sar gefelan,
      ne hond onhreran ne mid hyge þencan.
      þeah þe græf wille golde stregan
      broþor his geborenum, byrgan be deadum,
      maþmum mislicum þæt hine mid wille,
      ne mæg þære sawle þe biþ synna ful
      gold to geoce for godes egsan,
      þonne he hit ær hydeð þenden he her leofað.
      Micel biþ se meotudes egsa, forþon hi seo molde oncyrreð;
      se gestaþelade stiþe grundas,
      eorþan sceatas ond uprodor.
      Dol biþ se þe him his dryhten ne ondrædeþ; cymeð him se deað unþinged.
      Eadig bið se þe eaþmod leofaþ; cymeð him seo ar of heofonum,
      meotod him þæt mod gestaþelað, forþon he in his meahte gelyfeð.
      Stieran mon sceal strongum mode, ond þæt on staþelum healdan,
      ond gewis werum, wisum clæne,
      scyle monna gehwylc mid gemete healdan
      wiþ leofne ond wið laþne bealo,
      þeah þe he hine wille fyres fulne
      oþþe on bæle forbærnedne
      his geworhtne wine. Wyrd biþ swiþre,
      meotud meahtigra þonne ænges monnes gehygd.
      Uton we hycgan hwær we ham agen,
      ond þonne geþencan hu we þider cumen,
      ond we þonne eac tilien, þæt we to moten
      in þa ecan eadignesse,
      þær is lif gelong in lufan dryhtnes,
      hyht in heofonum. þæs sy þam halgan þonc,
      þæt he usic geweorþade, wuldres ealdor,
      ece dryhten, in ealle tid.

  2. Years since I've read this...what a wonderful translation

  3. perfectly done. Verse translations are rarely done this well, hope you do more

  4. I'm fascinated by the kenning 'geswincdaegum' or 'beating days' and why everyone follows Pound in translating this as 'hardships' when the poem's first kenning surely deserves a little more effort.