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The Seafarer

The Seafarer

by Anonymous

Lines 31 - 47 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 31 – 33

The shadows of night darkened,          it snowed from the north,
frost bound the ground,          hail fell on the earth,
coldest of grains. […]

  • Just when you thought the weather couldn't get any worse, it does. Night falls, bringing with it frost, snow, and hail. Instead of just saying that it gets dark, the speaker tells us that the "shadows of night darkened," which sounds far more ominous if you ask us.
  • The speaker personifies frost by saying it "bound" the ground, just like it bound his feet in line 9.
  • We've also got another metaphor here, "coldest of grains," which describes hail. The Anglo-Saxon word for grain here is corna, which means corn, seed, or berry. It's something you eat, and it's supposed to give you nourishment. Here, though, instead of feeding the speaker, the grain torments him.

Lines 33 - 38

[…] Indeed, now they are troubled
the thoughts of my heart,          that I myself should strive with
the high streams,          the tossing of salt waves—
the wish of my heart urges          all the time
my spirit to go forth,           that I, far from here,
should seek the homeland          of a foreign people—

  • Let's take a turn inward, shall we? In these lines, we move from the stormy weather to our speaker's own heart.
  • Hmm, this is a bit strange: Instead of saying that he is troubled, or that he wishes to go on a journey, the speaker attributes his feelings and wishes to his heart's thoughts or "spirit." It's like his heart is a separate thing whose wishes may or may not match his own.
  • The Anglo-Saxon version actually uses two different words here for heart: the first is heort, while the second is mód, which can also be translated as "mind." Modern translators are uncertain about what mód actually means, but it seems to refer to something like spirit.
  • The thoughts of the speaker's heart urge him to "strive" with the streams and waves. The verb "strive" makes the ocean into an enemy warrior against which the speaker must do battle.
  • As it turns out, the whole reason our speaker goes on this journey in the first place is to "seek the homeland of a foreign people." The word homeland at first suggests a place that's warm, comforting, and familiar. But the poem immediately turns this around and calls it the homeland of a foreign, or unfamiliar people. What's that all about?
  • But here's the real question: why is his heart telling him to do this? Here's to hoping we'll find out soon.

Lines 39 - 43

Indeed there is not so proud-spirited          a man in the world,
nor so generous of gifts,          nor so bold in his youth,
nor so brave in his deeds          nor so dear to his lord,
that he never in his seafaring          has a worry,
as to what his Lord          will do to him.

  • To keep things simple, we'll paraphrase these lines briefly: Everybody worries about what might happen to him at sea, no matter how proud, blessed, bold, brave, or loved he is. All these qualities should make us feel secure, but they don't. They're not enough to keep anyone, let alone the seafarer, safe.
  • These qualities also give us a hint as to what an Anglo-Saxon like the seafarer might value: pride, generosity, bravery, and being taken care of by a lord, which you might think of as a rich boss who has your back.
  • Despite possessing all of these things, however, a man "in the world" continues to worry about what his Lord with a capital "L" (God) will ordain for him. In this case, God is the only one who has any control over the hardships we face.
  • With the word "proud," the poem reminds us of the proud city-dwellers of lines 26-30 who enjoy a cushy, comfortable life. But as we find out here, their good luck may give out at any moment.
  • There's just one more thing to note here: the concept of seafaring becomes more figurative in these lines than it has been so far. In previous passages, the descriptions of stormy weather and landscape made it seem like the speaker was really out on the open sea. Here, though, in the context of luck and fortune, "seafaring" almost seems like more of a metaphor for the journey through life on earth. It's as if he's saying that everyone is a seafarer in a way.

Lines 44 - 47

Not for him is the sound of the harp          nor the giving of rings
nor pleasure in woman          nor worldly glory—
nor anything at all           unless the tossing of the waves;
but he always has a longing          he who strives on the waves.

  • Earthly pleasures like ring-giving (the granting of gifts by a lord to his vassal, or subject), sex, and worldly glory, or fame, are "not for him." Who's the "him" here? Probably the seafarer, who has no interest in these things because he's well aware of how temporary and worthless they really are.
  • The only thing such a man cares about is the "tossing of the waves." That's quite a shift from his worry about those waves during his anxious night watch in line 6.
  • Despite the fact that he has given up earthly pleasures, this man still feels desire, or "longing," although we don't yet know what he longs for. More travel? A homecoming? The ocean itself?
  • The verb "strive" appears again, and again it makes the sea seem like a battleground. But just who is the enemy here?

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