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The Seafarer

The Seafarer

by Anonymous

The Seafarer's Inner Heart, Mind, and Spirit

Symbol Analysis

When the speaker of "The Seafarer" describes his feelings, he doesn't just say he feels sad or lonely. Instead, he refers to his mind, heart, or spirit, which seem pretty divided. In fact, the speaker's spirit/mind/heart tug him around so much that it's a relief to find, at the end of the poem, that God and fate are mightier than "any man's thought": hopefully God will put a peaceful end to this poor guy's restlessness.

  • Line 4: The speaker describes his state of mind by saying he feels "grim sorrow at heart." The Anglo-Saxon word he uses for heart is "breost" (breast). If what he actually means here is "heart," then breast is a metonymy for the heart. Poets employ metonymy by using a word to refer to something that's closely related to it. So in this case, the breast refers to the heart, because the heart is in the chest.
  • Line 11: The speaker says that cares seethed "hot about my heart." So all his worries are centered on his heart.
  • Line 12: In the next line he tells about a hunger that tears the sea-weary soul "from within." The Anglo-Saxon word he uses for "soul" is mod, which is also sometimes translated as "mind." Hunger is slightly personified here, since it tears at him the way a human or animal might. Very uplifting, we know.
  • Lines 26-27: The speaker complains that "no cheerful kinsmen can comfort the poor soul." He might be using soul to refer to the entire person, in which case it is a synecdoche for a person.
  • Lines 33-34: The speaker describes the "thoughts of [his] heart" as "troubled." He seems to view the heart, rather than the mind, as a place of emotion and thought, as if his heart has a mind of its own. To Anglo-Saxons, though, the heart and the mind were pretty much the same thing.
  • Lines 36-37: The wish of the speaker's heart is personified, since it urges his spirit to "go forth." The word for "heart" here is mod, which can also be translated as "mind" and perhaps refers to the side of the heart that thinks, like the one mentioned in lines 33-34.
  • Lines 50-51: The arrival of spring urges the "eager of spirit" and the "mind" to travel.
  • Line 55: The song of the cuckoo causes a sorrow "grievous in the soul." The word for soul in the Anglo-Saxon is breosthord, which literally means "breast-hoard." A hoard is a big pile of treasure, so here the soul is called breast-treasure – a metaphor for the treasure in your breast, or your soul. Tricky stuff!
  • Lines 58-59: The speaker's spirit twists out of his breast to soar all over the world, then returns to him "eager and unsated." In these lines, the breast is called a hreðerlocan – a "spirit-locker" or "heart-locker." Awesome phrase, right? This description and the twisting motion with which it departs make the spirit seem like an escaping prisoner.
  • Lines 62-63: The scream of the "lone-flier" urges the heart to travel. Seems like there's a close connection between the things of nature and the heart, mind, and soul of the speaker.
  • Line 100: The speaker remarks that just as an aging man's attempt to provide comfort to his friend with gold fails, so the soul is unable to hold onto its gold before the fear of God. The word for soul here is sawle – different from the words the poem has used for mind, spirit, and heart. This word choice indicates that the speaker is talking about something different here, perhaps what we think of as the spirit – the part of a human that survives after death.
  • Line 110: In this line, the speaker uses the word mod for "spirit," indicating the thinking and willing aspect of the spirit.
  • Lines 115-116: After the way the speaker's thoughts and emotions have tugged him around, it's a relief for him to know that there's something that has power over them – God.

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