Study Guide

The Seafarer Spirituality

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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.

In this passage, God does not seem like such a positive force. Even those who are "dear" to God have to worry about what God will "do" to them. In other words, God may direct the course of a person's life in an unfavorable direction. In this, the Lord is a lot like the Anglo-Saxon idea of "fate": an unchangeable, all-powerful destiny before which a person is helpless. Plus, we can't forget to note the two different lords in this passage. There's the lower-case lord, who stands in for earthly wealth. And then there's the upper case Lord, who will either reward or punish man for his deeds. Major distinction.

[…] Indeed hotter for me
are the joys of the Lord than          this dead life
fleeting on the land. […]

In a poem in which the cold winter weather is such a negative thing, calling something "hot" is high praise. Here, the Lord is the opposite of death and the "fleeting" life on the land, probably because, in the speaker's mind, God is stable, permanent, and eternal. "Land" comes to represent the earthly world, which will eventually come to an end.

[…] That is the best epitaph,
that he should work          before he must be gone
bravery in the world          against the enmity of devils,

daring deeds           against the fiend,
so that the sons of men          will praise him afterwards.

This passage puts a Christian "spin" on the typical Anglo-Saxon warrior ethic of bravery in battle and eternal life through fame and glory. According to our speaker, instead of human foes, the person who hopes to live forever should accomplish brave deeds against the devil. He should be a Christian warrior.

And his fame afterwards          will live with the angels
for ever and ever,          the glory of eternal life,
joy with the Hosts. […]

Notice that this passage doesn't claim that the person will live forever, but only his fame, or what people say about him. Still, the passage acknowledges that eternal life with the angels is something very desirable indeed.

Nor can the soul          which is full of sin
preserve the gold          before the fear of God,
though he hid it before          while he was yet alive.

This passage actually mentions two things that the soul might hope to hide: its sinfulness andits gold. In fact, the gold is the soul's sin, since its represents a not-so-virtuous attachment to material things, which gets in the way of the soul's relationship with God.

Great is the fear of the Lord,           before which the world stands still;
He established           the firm foundations,
the corners of the world          and the high heavens.

Ah, so it's the fear of the Lord that finally puts all this restlessness, travel, and motion to a stop. The sense of God's stability is also conveyed by the description of God as creator of "firm foundations."

A fool is the one who does not fear his Lord          – death comes to him unprepared.
Blessed is he who lives humbly          – to him comes forgiveness from heaven.
God set that spirit within him,          because he believed in His might.

This passage calls those who live humbly "blessed." After reading the whole poem, we're pretty sure that the "humble" life is the total opposite of the materialistic "life on land" the speaker has rejected. The seafarer is looking for something lasting and enduring, and he knows that being humble is the way to find it. But what exactly is he going to find?

[…] Fate is greater
and God is mightier          than any man's thought.

Both God and fate are forces a man can't control, says the poem, so it's better just to accept whatever happens to you and focus your energy elsewhere, on things like being humble, perhaps.

Let us ponder           where we have our homes
and then think           how we should get thither –
and then we should all strive          that we might go there
to the eternal blessedness          that is a belonging life
in the love of the Lord          joy in the heavens.

Acknowledging your true home isn't all you have to do; you also have to figure out how to get there. The journey home is just as important as the home itself. It's no wonder our speaker is always on the move, then. He's journeying towards his true home, with God. And that home can't be found in any mead hall, right?

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