Study Guide

The Seafarer Sound Check

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Sound Check

We'll tell you straight up: it's pretty darn hard to talk about sound in a poem that has been translated. Anglo-Saxon and modern English are so wildly different that they're basically two totally separate languages. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of the sound play of the original poem has been lost in translation.

As we explored in "Form and Meter," this poem was written in something called alliterative verse, which means that in its original Anglo-Saxon this poem was literally overflowing with repeated consonants. Thankfully, our translator has made an effort to preserve all this alliteration by including some of his own.

In fact, "The Seafarer" sounds a lot like the "terrible tossing of the waves" that the speaker mentions in line 6. The alliteration of hard consonant sounds in phrases like that one—"terrible tossing," "cold clasps," "kinsmen can comfort" – mirror the alliterations in the original Anglo-Saxon, which smacks up against the poem's lyricism like the pounding of the cold surf that batters the speaker's ship. The harsh sounds mixed with beautiful images make it a somewhat jarring journey.

Still, though this translator and many others make an effort to tip their hats to alliterative verse, we think the sounds of this poem are best appreciated in the original Anglo-Saxon. So take a look at our "Best of the Web" section for some audio readings of the poem.

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