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The discussion and analysis presented after these translated stanzas is our opinion.  Read the translations for yourself and our analysis, but also seek out varied sources and come to your own conclusions.


Auden and Taylor:

Who travels widely needs his wits about him,
The stupid should stay at home:
The ignorant man is often laughed at
When he sits at meat with the sage,


Wits must he have | who wanders wide,
But all is easy at home;
At the witless man | the wise shall wink
When among such men he sits.


He hath need of his wits who wanders wide,
aught simple will serve at home;
but a gazing-stock is the fool who sits
mid the wise, and nothing knows.


Wits are needful to he who travels far.
The dull should stay home.
He will be mocked,
who cannot sit with sages.


Of his wit hath need who widely fareth--
a dull wit will do at home;
a laughingstock he who lacketh words
amongst smart wits when he sits.


It takes sharp wits to travel in the world --
they're not so hard on you at home;
in the flicker of an eye the fool is found
who wanders among the wise.


Wit is needful
to him who travels far:
at home all is easy.
A laughing-stock is he
who nothing knows,
and with the instructed sits.

Original Old Norse:

Vits er žörf
žeim er vķša ratar.
Dęlt er heima hvaš.
Aš augabragši veršur
sį er ekki kann
og meš snotrum situr.


The first two lines are humorous, but no less true for being a little bit funny.  Basically, to you have to be pretty smart or pretty wise to travel the world, and stupid folks should stay home...or it can be said that they are easier on stupid folks at home.  Beyond this, these two lines could also suggest the value of traveling away from home in order to learn and be tested by those you encounter.  If they are easy on you at home, then traveling might provide some tough but necessary lessons.

Lines 3 and 4 basically state that the fool or stupid person is easily spotted when he sits down with wise people...or alternatively that fools and stupid people are quickly laughed at when among the wise.

Some have suggested that you could take from the stanza, that one should learn the customs and ways of places to which you are traveling.  In the time of our ancestors, I don't think this stanza had anything to do with learning customs...as much as being clever, foreseeing potential dangers, and knowing how to read and deal with people. But in a modern sense, learning customs, pre-learning a bit of the language, and being culturally sensitive to the people and customs of nations to which you travel seems wise advice.

I think it is funny that Bellows went with "At the witless man | the wise shall wink."  Bellows is trying to preserve the original meaning, while also preserving the alliteration of the orginal old Norse poetry.  So, witless...wise...and wink all do the job, and get across a similar meaning.

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