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Symbol Analysis

Forced to make his way through a barren landscape, the exile has more contact than most with the inhabitants of the great outdoors. Animals are poor replacements for the friends he has lost. The "beasts of battle" that benefit from the carnage of war combine with the destructive winter weather to paint a picture of the whole natural world as an ominous force out to destroy man and his creations.

  • Lines 46-49: When the exile awakens from his dream of being back in the mead-hall he sees "sea-birds bathing, wings spreading" (48). These birds seem like a poor replacement for the friends that surrounded him in his dream.
  • Line 54: The memories of his friends "swim away" from the exile. In this setting – surrounded by the ocean – referring to their departure in this way creates a metaphor, in which his memories of friends are become fish to pair with sea-birds of line 48.
  • Lines 82-84: the speaker describes the "beasts of battle" – animals that benefit from the carnage of war by feeding on dead bodies. One is a wolf, the other, a bird. Now, instead of just being poor substitutes for human companions, animals are actually a threat to men – or at least, to their bodies.
  • Line 99: With detailed imagery, the speaker describes the wall behind the fallen warriors as "varied with snake-shapes." Coming so soon after the beasts of battle, this reference to another animal makes the wall seem vaguely menacing. It may also be a Christian symbol of evil, the devil, or the Fall (that's when Adam and Eve were tempted by a serpent in the Garden of Eden to eat the forbidden fruit).

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