Rieger, Max. “Über Cynvulf. III.” Zeitschrift für Deutsche Philologie 1 (1869): 313-334.

In this early discussion of Old English poetry, Rieger argues that The Seafarer was written by Cynewulf, an argument which has long since been discarded. His proof lies in the similarities of expression found in the gnomic conclusion of the poem and various gnomic poems which he also attributes to Cynewulf. He finds the absence of epic devices puzzling, which are found in other poems attributed to the late eighth- or early ninth-century poet, and remarks that The Seafarer and The Wanderer reflect the infusion of Christianity into the telling of Anglo-Saxon folk tales.

Rieger, Max. “Der Seefahrer. Als Dialog Hergestellt.” Zeitschrift für Deutsche Philologie 1 (1869): 334-37.

Here, Rieger divides the poem into a dialogue between an old seafarer, who has experienced much suffering at sea, and a young seafarer, who is eager to begin his voyages. To the old seafarer, he attributes lines 1-33a, 39-47, 53-57, and 72-125; to the younger, 33b-38, 48-52, and 58-71. This division of the text results from his confusion about the translation of forþon, the appearances of which in lines 27a, 33b, 39a, 58a, and 72a he simply translates as "but."


Kluge, Friedrich. "Zu altenglischen Dichtungen. 1. Der Seefahrer." Englische Studien 6 (1883): 322-7.

Here, Kluge responds to Rieger’s (1869) dialogue theory by suggesting different boundaries for the alleged dialogue between a young and an old seafarer. He suggests that the old seafarer speaks in lines 1-33, and the old man refers to his experience in order to warn the younger seafarer about the seafaring life. The younger seafarer, however, is enthused by the speech, and from lines 33-66 he expresses his eagerness to travel at sea. Kluge disagrees with Rieger’s translation of the various instances of forþon as “but,” and claims that this translation in line 58 is simply Rieger’s attempt to make the poem appear unified. Instead, he claims that the homiletic ending is the addition of the scribe, and he thoroughly criticizes its literary style, which he contends is the work of a semi-competent homilist. Also, he notes that lines 80-93 hint at the work of an elegist. He claims that the poem’s logic is clear until line 66, and that the appended lines are incongruous with the first part. Although he acknowledges the possibility that the poem is to be understood as an allegory, he dismisses this idea because of the poet’s rich and thorough attention to details in the first 66 lines.

Ferrell, C. C. "Old Germanic Life in the Anglo-Saxon Wanderer and Seafarer." Modern Language Notes. 9:7 (1894): 402-7.

Ferrell's early article views the two elegies as primarily pagan with Christian additions. Thus, he agrees with Kluge (1883), who regards the homiletic ending as a later addition and the ambivalent attitude as deriving from a dialogue between a young and an old sailor. He claims that the connection between spirituality and nature, indicated by the sustained descriptions of natural phenomena, reveals the pervasive paganism of The Seafarer. Although the sea causes the "old sailor" much trouble as an exile, Ferrell argues that the "young man feels that intense longing for the sea which is so deeply rooted in the Germanic nature" (406). The references to wyrd (115b), the banquet hall, and the exile consolidate Ferrell's opinion that a pagan or, at least, pagan-influenced narrator recites the poem in a like environment.


Lawrence, William W. "The Wanderer and The Seafarer." JEGP 4 (1902): 460-80.

This influential article provides both a convenient and succinct description of nineteenth-century critical approaches to the elegies and examines the basis for the lyric monologue theory which, with the exception of Stanley's (1955) multiple monologue theory, and later, J. C. Pope's (1965) brief and eventually recanted theory of dramatic voices, would prevail to the present day. Lawrence rejects Boer's (1903) notion that The Seafarer consists of two fragmentary poems and disputes Rieger's (1869) and Kluge's (1883) argument that the poem consists of a dialogue between a young and an old sailor; instead, he considers the poem "the lyric utterance of one man" (462). Boer, Lawrence claims, divides the poem because of his interpretation of the forþon (33b) which connects the speaker's description of his suffering at sea and his desire to return to his seafaring. Boer understands the forþon as "because," thus suggesting that the seafarer wishes to return to the sea because of his suffering there. From this apparent contradiction, Boer concluded that these were two different poems. Lawrence argues that forþon need not be interpreted as "because." In fact, he suggests, there is no causal relationship necessary between the precedent suffering and the present longing, except that the seafarer's yearning for the sea is so intense that it overcomes his concerns with his own suffering.


Boer, R. C. "Wanderer und Seefahrer." Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 35 (1903), 1-28.

Here, Boer expounds on the popular dialogue theory and expresses his own view of the two poems as being the work of an interpolator who has incorporated fragments from three older poems. With regard to the text of The Seafarer, he agrees with Kluge (1883) that lines 64b-124 are a later addition. While considering the nature of the dialogue, about which he agrees with Rieger (1869), he observes that it consists of speech and response, with each consisting of roughly the same number of lines. He suggests that the many instances of forþon add a refrain to the repeated outbreaks of longing. He claims that the interpolator’s additions are rather sloppy; the traces of one older poem is found in lines 1-15, 17-22, and 23-24 or 25-26, and the other poem is found in 33b-38 and 44-64a. The other parts, which are also found in The Wanderer, are additions of the interpolator; lines 64b-124, he claims, consist of “pious blathering” (27).

Ehrismann, Gustav. “Religionsgeschichtliche Beiträge zum germanischen Frühchristentum. II. Das Gedicht vom Seefahrer.” Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur. 35 (1909): 213-218.

Unlike Kluge (1883), who perceives the homiletic ending as loosely appended to a superior poem depicting life at sea, Ehrismann regards the first 64 lines as an allegorical depiction of the homiletic themes, and thus considers the poem a unified utterance of a single speaker. He compares the seafarer to a world-hating monk who is distrustful of the transitoriness of worldly pleasures and thus seeks his salvation in asceticism. He regards the poet as one who has merely sewn together various Christian ideals, providing a secular-descriptive framework for a Christian ideal. The first journey, described in lines 1-33a, depicts the suffering of a metaphorical winter, while the second voyage is characteristic of the summer. With regard to lines 12b-15 and 27-30, which contrast the city-dweller with the speaker, Ehrismann argues that the pious speaker feels contempt for the former, which is suggested by such phrases as wlonc and wingal (29a). The conclusion describes the cure for the miserable exiles who, by Adam and Eve’s sin, have been expelled from paradise: “‘öffne dein herz nicht der weltlust’” (do not open your heart to the pleasures of the world) (217-218).


Daunt, Marjorie. "'The Seafarer,' ll. 97-102." MLR 11 (1916): 337-38.

In this note, Daunt offers a slight reworking of the problematic lines 97-102. Although, she observes, it is difficult to translate geborenum (98a) as "his born brother," since this usage is rarely found before Middle English, she quotes the preface to Matthew from the Lindisfarne Gospels, which contains the Latin gloss natione, "a being born; a tribe, race, people; a species, stock, or class," for geboren. She also contends that maþmum mislicum (99a) ought to be emended to the accusative plural, maþmas mislice. She thus translates the passage: "Although a brother, for his born brother, will strew the grave with gold, will bury with the dead man various treasures which he (the living man) wishes (to be) with him, yet on account of the fear of God gold may have no help to the soul which is full of sin when he hides it before, while he still lives here" (338).


Daunt, Marjorie. "Some Difficulties of 'The Seafarer' Reconsidered." MLR 13 (1918): 474-79.

Here, Daunt lends support to Rieger's (1869) rendering of four of the occurrences of forþon (27a, 33, 39, 58a) as "but" or "and yet." Although she does not decisively argue for his dialogue theory, she claims that the adversative sense of forþon would have been quite common in ordinary speech, and its occurrence in the homilies of Wessex origin attests to this speculation. She agrees with Lawrence (1902) that The Seafarer probably originated in Northumbria, "where, admittedly, forþon was allowed greater freedom than elsewhere"; in Wessex, such adversative usage might have been deemed unworthy of poetic diction (477-78). She claims that the occurrence of forþon in line 64b, which, translated as "therefore," constitutes the beginning of the alleged later addition, would have resulted from a misunderstanding of the word's previous instances in the poem. She concludes by considering the meaning of huilpa (21a). She states that the bird most likely could be identified as a "whaup," although the evidence is scarce and problematic.


Anderson (Arngart), O. S. The Seafarer: an Interpretation. Lund: K. Humanistiska Vetenskapssamfundets i Lund Årsberättelse 1: Gleerups, 1937.

This influential article solidified the argument for the unity of the poem's two sections, lines 1-64a and lines 64b-102b, through the description of the poem as a "religious lyric" (29); it was also the first to argue for the legitimacy of lines 103-24. Although Lawrence (1902) proved the weaknesses of the various dialogue theories, he agreed with the earlier critics that the homiletic ending was a later addition. The division of the two sections did not occur from "a break in the text, for the change in tone is due to a change of subject matter: the first part of the poem is descriptive, the second points a moral" (3-4). Anderson rejects this and Lawrence's notion that the seafarer is drawn to the sea in spite of his anxiety; rather, he agrees with Schucking (1917) that this is a "modern paradox" (7). He supports Ehrismann's (1909) theory that the first section is also homiletic, but in an allegorical sense: "the first part of the poem (1-64a) [is] an allegorical representation of the life of man in the image of a sea-voyage" (9). The first section represents the painful voyage of life; the second refers to the seafarer's longing for death, the voyage which will take him away from his worldly suffering. Whereas Ehrismann argues that the speaker is heroic, Anderson claims that the poem is lyrical, and that the speaker is "a pious man using this subject to illustrate his homily" (17). With regards to the mournful voice of the cuckoo, he claims that, according to a "widespread popular belief" (26), the cuckoo's call signifies death; thus, the reference to the cuckoo further signifies the seafarer's allegorical last voyage. Anderson interprets lines 58-64a, which describe the "lone-flyer's" journey over the sea to return, "greedy and ravenous," to the speaker, as symbolic of the soul's being trapped within the body until death. He concludes by accepting lines 103-24 as part of the poem, based on their fusion of Christian and Pagan ideas, the abrupt ending of line 102, and their parallel with the conclusion of The Wanderer. Anderson also includes his own translation of the poem, along with a fairly comprehensive glossary.


Liljegren, S. B. “Some Notes on the OE Poem The Seafarer.” Studia Neophilologica 14 (1941-42): 145-59.

Here, Liljegren considers the ambiguities of the poem associated with genre classification and syntax. He notes that Henry Sweet, in his Anglo-Saxon Reader, classifies The Seafarer, along with The Wanderer and The Wife’s Lament, not as an elegy, but as an exile-poem. Liljegren elaborates on this classification by listing the similarities of the stock words found in each poem. Each exile poem contains: 1) “expressions of sorrow or mental anguish”; 2) “terms denoting isolation and exile”; 3) “words descriptive of a desolate troubled sea or a hostile waste land”; 4) “words signifying a more or less malevolent animal world presaging disaster”; and 5) “words denoting reminiscences of a happy or unhappy past and fear or despair of the present or of the future” (147). He continues by offering useful illustrative lists of the relevant words. With regard to syntax, Liljegrn, like Rieger (1869), Lawrence (1902), and Daunt (1916), demonstrates the ambiguity of forþon, particularly in lines 33a and 64b. Using the Old English glosses to Matthew 28 found in MSS Nero D IV, Bodley 441, Hatton 38, and Wycliffe’s Middle English translation, he presents a list of possible translations for the elusive word: “‘albeit, howbeit, however, nevertheless, indeed, because, actually, but’” (154). He criticizes Anderson’s (1937) approach to the poem because, he claims, Anderson selectively reads the evidence to support his allegory theory; for instance, the latter treats the significance of the sea imagery in Christian literature without considering the equally significant currency of land and desert imagery. He also criticizes Anderson’s translation because of its “modernized conceptions” and tendency to be too unified in structure for a poem of Germanic origin. Thus, he concludes by attacking Anderson’s sense of historical context, and praising Ehrismann (1909), and Schücking (1917) for their “sense of literary values” (159).


Timmer, B. J. "The Elegiac Mood in Old English Poetry." English Studies 24 (1942): 33-44.

Here, Timmer discusses the validity of applying the term elegy to The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and other such poems from the Exeter Book. He defines the Old English elegy as containing a "lament over lost happiness, i.e. either the loss of happy circumstances of life, or the passing of youth" (33); also, the "transitoriness of life on earth" is a characteristic theme in the religious elegy, which is also occasionally found in epic poetry. After examining several so-called Old English elegies, Timmer concludes that The Wanderer and The Seafarer are religious-didactic lyrics rather than elegies, because the poet uses the popular elegiac mood, which characterizes the first section of each poem, as an "introduction to his chief purpose, the religious admonition" (38). He agrees with the allegorical readings of Ehrismann (1909) and Schücking (1936); however, he claims that Anderson's (1937) interpretation of the allegory in The Seafarer is inaccurate because, by equating elþeodigra eard (38) with paradise, Anderson goes far beyond the evidence which the text offers. Like the concept of wyrd, which, in "Wyrd in Anglo-Saxon Prose and Poetry," (1968) Timmer claims was adapted for Christian use, he argues here that the heathen form of the elegy was adapted by Christian propagandists and the content rendered allegorical to incite its audience to Christian worship.


Timmer, B. J. "Irony in Old English Poetry." English Studies 24 (1942): 171-5.

In response to Schücking's 1936 Heroische Ironie im ags. "Seefarer," Timmer here argues against the claim that the poem contains ironic passages. Schücking claims that the description of the sea birds which replace the seafarer's mead hall companions in lines 17-22 is a "characteristic example of that ironical battle humour which is such a typical feature of the Germanic heroic narrative style" (Timmer 172). Timmer responds by pointing to the fact that the seafarer's attitude towards his suffering is not characteristic of Germanic heroism. Also, the contrast between the squawking birds and the thought of a joyful mead bench is meant to draw attention to the distinction between life at sea and life on land. Finally, Timmer argues that The Seafarer belongs to a group of exile poems, none of which contain any traces of irony, humour, or heroic battle attitudes.


Sisam, Kenneth. “Seafarer, Lines 97-102.” RES 21 (1945): 316-17.

Sisam disagrees with the previous reading of lines 97-102 as referring to a pagan burial; rather, he assumes that there is no lacuna in the text, and that line 102 is not a later addition. He emends line 99b by adding a negative particle, þæt hine mid ne wile (nile), and thus translates the passage: “Although a brother will strew with gold the grave of his brother born, bury (him) beside the dead with all kinds of treasures, – that will not go with him; nor can gold be a help to the sinful soul against the dread (judgment) of God, when he hides it beforehand while he lives here (on earth)” (316). He notes the striking similarity with Psalm 48 (49): 7-9, 12, and 18, and argues that because the Psalter was the best known of all books, it is hardly surprising that it would be echoed in this poem.


Whitelock, Dorothy. "The Interpretation of The Seafarer." Early Cultures of Northwest Europe. H. M. Chadwick Memorial Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1950. 261-72.

Living up to its name, this seminal article started a movement in criticism which regarded the poem as a literal journey. After a brief description of the arguments of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German and English critics, Whitelock dismisses Kluge's (1883) idea that the homiletic ending was added later. She also refutes Ehrismann's (1909), and O. S. Anderson's (1937), argument that the poem maintains its structural integrity through being an allegory. Whereas Anderson contends that many images common to various homilies and The Seafarer have allegorical value in the former, and thus in the latter, Whitelock replies, "unlike the homilists, the [Seafarer] poet fails to give the slightest clue that he is using the terms rocks, fetters, etc. as images" (263). Her argument for the literal and unified nature of the poem is that the speaker is a peregrinus or "voluntary exile," a type of monk who wanders for the love of God (263). The speaker's apparently ambivalent attitude, she claims, would not have seemed inconsistent in the "age of Bede and Boniface" (263), when stories of wandering ascetics, suffering for the love of God, abounded. Her article concludes with a comprehensive listing of contemporary peregrini and pilgrimages in Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Welsh sources.


Gordon, I. L. "Traditional Themes in The Wanderer and The Seafarer. RES n. s. 5 (1954): 1-13.

Gordon, like Whitelock (1950), begins her argument by chastising the tendency of critics to regard the poem as an allegory, a reading which requires "an ominously tortuous explanation" (1). She argues that the Old English elegies, including the elegiac passages of Beowulf (2247-66 and 2444-59), must be considered collectively in order to be understood individually. With regards to The Seafarer, Gordon shows how the problematic "nature of the relation between the dramatic theme and the Christian moralizing" can be resolved by looking at "the background of thought from which [it] drew [its] ideas, the nature of [its] poetic pattern, and the meaning and association (to a contemporary audience) of [its] terms" (2). In response to Whitelock's (1950) contention that the speaker of The Seafarer is a peregrinus, such as were found in Celtic, or British, Christianity, Gordon argues that the speaker lacks "the warmth of Christian devotion and sense of nearness to God" (2) which characterise Irish Hermit poetry. Instead, the poems resemble a Celtic elegy, "where the speaker is often a wanderer or an exile who is contrasting his former comfort or happiness with his present miserable condition" (3); the elements of the peregrinus were modifications of this older elegiac convention. Gordon discounts Huppe's view that pagan elements pervade the poem; rather, she argues that the concept of wyrd is from a poetic tradition which was integrated into, but not reconciled with, the poem's Christian intent. The ancient gnomic wisdom is admonitory like the concluding Christian moralizing; however, gnomic tradition views transience as a "tragic fact," whereas, the "Christian view sees it as proof of the vanity of worldly things" (8). The abrupt transition at line 64b reflects the poet's Christian adoption of the gnomic convention. Thus, the elegiac structure is the vehicle for the homiletic admonition, and this form remains from a pagan elegiac tradition.


Goldsmith, Margaret E. “The Seafarer and the Birds.” RES n. s. 5 (1954): 225-235.

Goldsmith considers and categorizes the bird references found in lines 18-25a. Unlike Anderson (1937), she argues that the initial sea description contains detailed and careful references to the birds which frequent the shores during winter. The first bird which she identifies is the ylfetu (19b), which is the whooper swan. Her identification is based on Ælfric’s gloss, which offers the word cygnus; she specifies the whooper swan because the domestic variety is quiet while flying. During flight, the whooper swan often offers a “‘loud, bugle-like double note’” (227). She claims that the ganet of ganetes hleoþor (20a) is a variation of ylfete song (19b), and not the gannet with which it is often associated, because the gannet only cries out during the spring breeding season. She illustrates a number of different Latin glosses for the word, with cygnus occurring at least once; therefore, ganet was probably a more generalized term in OE than it is now. With regard to the huilpe (21a), Goldsmith disagrees with Chadwick's (1922) and Daunt's (1918) conclusion that it refers to the godwit or ‘sea-woodcock’. Rather, she contends that it is the curlew, which has been known to remain in England during the winter, and has been reported to have made its “bubbling, trilling call” (229) also in winter, although it mainly calls out in the spring. On the other hand, she claims, the curlew’s common winter call is more likely what the poet had in mind, since it “would be appropriate as a mournful contrast to the imagined hilarity at home” (229). The mæw of mæw singende for medodrince (22), she claims, refers to the herring gull, which is a common figure on the British coasts. She notes that the “laughing note” of this gull is particularly apt for the poet’s imagery: “[the] cry, which is commonly heard by man, because it denotes ‘anxiety’ on the part of the bird, would be especially appropriate in this line” (229). The next bird reference begins with an image of storms beating against a cliff, þær him stearn oncwæð (23). Anderson (1937) identifies the stearn with the tern; Chadwick (1922) also makes this identification, even though she acknowledges that the tern is absent in the winter and is not found around sea cliffs. After providing a careful philological study of the concept of a tern, Goldsmith concludes that stearn, like ganet, probably had a wider application in OE than in Modern English. She claims that the one to which the speaker refers must have been a “small grey and white gull wheeling about the cliffs,” which she identifies as the kittiwake. This choice is apt also because of the bird’s lower white plumage, which, she notes, could explain the poet’s description of the bird as isigfeþra (24a). She claims that the last bird, the earn (24b), is the most easily identified, and it is the sea-eagle, also known as the ‘white-tailed’ eagle. Like the stearn, the appearance of the earn justifies its description as urigfeþra (25a): “the sight of drops of water glistening on the bird’s feathers after a struggle with a fish on the surface of the sea seems the most likely inspiration of the compound” (234). Goldsmith concludes by reiterating her argument that the references to the sea-birds were not composed by someone who did not have a particular, first-hand awareness of their characteristics, but rather “his singling out of several birds implies a close interest in their habits and their calls” (235).

Greenfield, Stanley B. "Attitudes and Values in The Seafarer." Studies in Philology 51 (1954): 15-20.

Greenfield accepts Whitelock's (1950) theory of the seafarer as an "aspiring peregrinus," (15), and attempts to elucidate further the Seafarer's attitude towards his ascetic quest. Unlike Whitelock, who argues that because of the rigorous journey, the speaker will be able to avoid trusting naively in secular values, Greenfield suggests that the speaker fears the journey itself. Whitelock argues that the Seafarer condemns those in the city, who are wlonc ond wingal (29a); Greenfield, however, claims that these statements are "envious or wistful glances at the fortunate on earth" (17). Thus, through the shift from "eagerness to trepidation" (17), the seafarer displays a certain complexity in his attitude towards his journey. Greenfield concludes by listing various puns which allude to the tension between the secular and spiritual worlds. He asserts that these ambivalent attitudes may cause "The Seafarer [to] lack the tight structural unity of The Wanderer, but it has an aesthetic compensation in its sustained complexity of attitude and diction." (20)


Stanley, E. G. "Old English Poetic Diction and the Interpretation of The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and The Penitent's Prayer." Anglia 73 (1955): 413-66.

Here, Stanley discusses the diction of the penitential tradition in Old English poetry with particular reference to The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and Resignation (which he refers to as The Penitent's Prayer). He begins by discussing the Anglo-Saxon familiarity with the use of similes. By providing a comprehensive sample of metaphors one finds in Old English poetry, Stanley establishes that "much OE poetry required more than literal understanding" (431). Because of the Anglo-Saxon understanding of figurative language, the "processes of nature" do not inspire the speaker's moods, but rather, "they use the processes as symbols of moods: a concrete scene may be little more than a description of a mood" (452). Stanley criticizes Whitelock's (1950) literal understanding of The Seafarer based on her argument that the speaker is waiting until spring to undertake another journey. If the seafarer were truly penitent, Stanley argues, he would prove his worth during another winter excursion. He agrees that the poem is not an allegory, and defines it as "an imagined situation, invented to give force to the doctrine which forms the end of the poem and its purpose" (453). The notion of exile within the poem "combines within its natural situation all the misery which OE poetry expressed by the anguish of solitude, darkness, cold" (454). The factual and the figurative merge to suggest that voluntary exile is the only hope for one who would escape the "false joys of this dead life" (454). Stanley divides the poem into two monologues; he ascribes lines 1-33a to an "ethopoeic exile" and lines 33b-end to a "wise, pious man, eager to go on pilgrimage" (454) who expounds upon the ideas of the first speaker. Unlike Greenfield (1954), who interprets lines 39-57 as the speaker's longing for life in the meadhall, Stanley contends that he is constructing an image of vanities to be avoided by his imagined audience.


Smithers, G. V. "The Meaning of The Seafarer and The Wanderer." Medium Ævum. 26 (1957): 137-53.

Smithers wrote this article originally to confront the debate about the meaning of lines 58-64 in The Seafarer. He rejects the argument that the elegies are primarily influenced by Germanic paganism; rather, he claims that they are directly and thoroughly constructed from a Christian tradition. He begins by discussing the emendation of wælweg to hwælweg (63). He argues that this correction is wrong, and that wæl refers to a dead body; therefore wælweg refers to the "road to the abode of the dead" (138). The number of analogous motifs found in Christian apocalyptic poetry indicates that both poems are eschatological in nature. He argues that the poems depict the world in the Christian idea of the sixth, and last, age. He draws attention to the Old English, Latin, and Biblical sources which refer to the first age, in which Adam became an exile of paradise. The Seafarer contains four major motifs of Christian spiritual history: "[man's] peregrinatio or sojourn as an alien in the world; his death, and the end of the world, and the Day of Judgment; and his return to his hereditary home in Heaven" (149). With regard to the specification of seafaring, Smithers claims, "it is beyond doubt that the sea was used, in ecclesiastical Latin writings, as a symbol for human life on earth, or the worldly life" (150). Although, like Whitelock, Smithers uses the term peregrinus to refer to the speaker, he claims that the text is not to be read literally: "death, for the 'seafarer' in the poem of that name, is naturally implied in a figurative peregrinatio, and we should be willing to recognize in wælweg the explicit statement of it. But it is not so clearly called for if the 'seafarer' is a real-life peregrinus" (152).


Smithers G. V. "The Meaning of The Seafarer and The Wanderer (continued)." Medium Ævum 28 (1959): 1-22.

In the second part of his article, Smithers traces the Biblical and Patristic traditions of seafaring, and examines their currency in early and later medieval England. Also, he employs historical linguistic examination to determine the meanings of hyge (58a) and anfloga (62b). He provides sea references from St. Cyprian, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and a third-century Epistle to James of pseudo-Clement, in which the Church is "a large ship carrying through a storm men of diverse lands who desire to inhabit a city of a good kingdom, and the sea is as usual equated with the world" (5). Thus, the seafarer's boat "might be equated either with the Church or with the soul of the 'seafarer'" (5). Smithers continues by elaborating on his argument of the first part, that is, that the poem is eschatological in purpose. He resolves the dispute about the speaker's unclear purpose in referring to the beauty of nature while describing his simultaneous desire to suffer at sea by reiterating his argument that the speaker views the world as being in its sixth age, the last before the apocalypse: "The beauty of the earth (for the poet, as for homilists and exegetes) is a familiar example of the transitoriness of the world" (7). With regard to lines 58a-61a, Smithers translates hyge (58a) as "soul" and provides Patristic evidence for the idea of the soul's ability to leave the body. He also refers to Odin's two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who gather information for their master. Because the pagan belief about the free soul dictates that if it does not return, or if the body moves or is moved during the soul's absence, the person will die, Smithers contends that lines 58a-61a "refers to the impending or wished-for death of the person speaking" (20). After a close etymological study of anfloga (62b), he concludes that the vague term refers to a "disease bringing malign influence," and that it may "designate a creature of some such type as a valkyrie" (23). Consequently, he repunctuates lines 61a-62b thus: "eorþan sceatas, cymeð eft to me. / Gifre and grædig gielleð anfloga" (23). He ends his article with a reflection on the commonplace knowledge of such things by the Anglo-Saxon poet, which seems esoteric to the modern reader, but was widely known and discussed in Anglo-Saxon England.


Cross, James. “On the Allegory in The Seafarer – Illustrative Notes.” Medium Ævum 28 (1959): 104-6.

In support of Smithers' (1957) discussion of The Seafarer as an allegory of the Christian life at a time shortly before the apocalypse, Cross considers two phrases: woruld onetteð (49b) and ne to wife wyn (45a). He translates the former as “the hastening of the world (to its end)” (104), which, he claims, is difficult for the modern reader to grasp, since the context is the onset of a verdant spring. He notes that this allegorical connection between spring and the coming of the kingdom of God is found in Luke 21: 25-32, and he points to Homily 28 of MS Vespasian D 14, Ælfric’s sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent, for evidence of the image’s currency in Anglo-Saxon England. This perception of blossoming nature as a portent of the apocalypse supports Whitelock's (1950) translation of forþon in line 64b as “because,” he claims, since it explains why he would rather have the “joys of the Lord, than this dead life, fleeting on land” (65a-66a). With regard to ne to wife wyn (45a), Cross argues against Ehrismann (1909), who perceives this line as further evidence that the speaker is a pious monk. Rather, Cross quotes Augustine, who, like the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:29, claims that it is better for a Christian to be unmarried than married; therefore, there is no evidence within the text that the speaker is anything more than a member of the Christian laity.


Campbell, Jackson J. “Oral Poetry in The Seafarer.” Speculum 35 (1960): 87-96.

Here, Campbell considers The Seafarer in the light of Oral Formulaic theory, as espoused by Milman Parry, Alfred Lord, and later, Francis P. Magoun, Jr. However, he claims that, unlike oral poets from other times and cultures, many of the later alleged Anglo-Saxon scops were in fact Latin-educated monastics. This lettered state of the poets does not necessarily render the formulaic characteristics of the poetry non-existent. Also, Campbell contends that the Anglo-Saxon poets probably rendered entire passages intact, and did not create a new poem at each performance. He argues that the trends in poetic diction were altered in Christian poetry: “the older formulaic hemistichs could be adapted very effectively for narratives and certain lyric expressions, but they served very poorly for many of the new ethical and religious ideas which the more didactic poets wanted to express” (89). He attempts to apply this theory to The Seafarer by displaying the poem and marking oral formulas, words appearing only in poetry, and words occurring only once in the OE corpus. He compares their frequencies in the first 38 lines with the last 60 lines. He notices that in the first 38 lines there is one formulaic hemistich, or half-line, for every 1.9 lines. Also there are 18 poetic words and 13 hapax legomena, or words which appear only once in the existent records. In the last 69 lines, there is one formulaic hemistich for every 2.5 lines; also, there are only 8 poetic words and three hapax legomena (94). From this evidence, he concludes that the first section was adapted for the purposes of a Christian interpolator who added the homiletic ending. Between lines 39 and 64, he claims, the poet “begins the transition to his moral theme while still retaining the seafaring imagery” (95). This is a subtle progression, and it results in the passage’s retaining characteristics of the more extreme passages which surround it. Thus, the poem’s present state was brought about by a “lettered homilist-poet” (96) who was familiar with oral poetry but was not an accomplished performer.


Denny, Neville. “Image and Symbol in The Seafarer.” Theoria 14 (1960): 29-35.

Denny’s article offers a succinct and enthusiastic explication of the poem, which gives considerable attention to providing the more accurate nuances for certain unclear words. For instance, he notes that wræccan in wræccan lastum (15b) is related to the verb wrecan, “to avenge” or “to punish,” and thus he claims that the common translation as “exile” is imperfect. He also clarifies the sense of calde geþrungen (8b) by noting that geþrungen is related to the OE word for “throng”; therefore, the phrase suggests that the cold acts as a group of “enemies, inexorable and malignant hosts, bent on crushing the seaman” (30). Denny regards the ylfete song (19b) as an “elvin song,” rather than a whooper swan as espoused by Goldsmith (1954) and Gordon (1960). Thus, he claims that the presence of an elf’s song points both to a sense of his hallucinations caused by his exposure to the elements and by the inspiration of the “magic voice of the muse” which “comes unbidden” through his suffering (31). Also, he notes that læne (66a), “brief,” is related to the word for “loan,” “but there are obvious overtones of “lean” – OE hlæne – which the contemporary listener would not have missed” (33). Denny interprets the sea as a place where “one is closer to elemental forces, closer to the immediate, mighty presence of God” (32). He concludes that The Seafarer is a “poetic expression of the early seafaring life,” but, as a poem, transcends its immediate context by being a “delicate expression of man’s eternal quest for something better than mere vegetable or animal existence, of the spare but real delight that comes from life made dignified and significant by submission to any higher ideal, and the discipline and regulation that goes with it” (35).


O’Neil, Wayne. “Another Look at Oral Poetry in The Seafarer.” Speculum 35 (1960): 596-600.

O’Neil criticises Campbell’s (1960) statistical approach to proving that The Seafarer is a compilation of an older oral poem and a later textual poem. He claims that Campbell’s definition of a formula is too rigid, and thus excludes at least ten likely formulas from the last 60 lines which would greatly upset his statistical ratio. Also, our knowledge of Anglo-Saxon diction is too small to make consistently confident conclusions about poetic and prosaic diction, he contends, and thus Campbell's approach is rather dangerous.


Salmon, Vivian. "The Wanderer and The Seafarer, and the Old English Conception of the Soul." Modern Language Review 55:1 (1960): 1-10.

Like the final section of Smithers' (1957) "The Meaning of The Seafarer and The Wanderer," of which apparently she was unaware, Salmon argues that lines 58-62 describe the projection of the speaker's soul from his body. However, unlike Smithers, Salmon claims that both hyge (58a) and anfloga (62b) refer to the speaker's soul; specifically, anfloga (62b) refers to the soul in a shamanic bird form. Drawing on Scandinavian, Celtic, and Latin Christian traditions, Salmon contends that the idea of a shaman who can project his or her soul was wide-reaching. The shaman's soul commonly would take the form of a bird while apart from the Shaman's body, and "anfloga (62b) must refer to the soul in its bird form, which, crossing the confines of the breast, traverses the earth gifre and graedig (62a) (like the raven of battle) and returns screaming to the body to incite it to a physical journey over sea" (6-7).


Pilch, Herbert. "The Elegiac Genre in Old English." Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie 29 (1964): 209- 224.

Like Chadwick (1922) and Gordon (1954), Herbert Pilch considers the connection between Early Welsh and Old English elegiac poetry. He begins by noting that the previous studies have limited themselves to incidental connections, and have not first defined the genre before undertaking a comparison between materials in the two languages. He emphatically denounces the common opinion of the elegies as having been "Christian interpolations" (211) of earlier pagan poems, an argument he views as having originated in the Teutonic romanticizing of the 19th century. He defines the Old English elegy as a "monologue spoken before sunrise by an unnamed narrator. . . contain[ing] no reference to a specific geographical locality or to any definite historical period" (211). In the first part, the speaker "reviews his own miserable lot," "prays" without hope of earthly relief, suffers from the elements, and endures separation from his meadhall companions. In the second part, "the musings turn on the transient character of human happiness and of the world in general[,] lead[ing] to a gnome or prayer" (212). He compares The Seafarer to the Welsh elegy "Claf Abercuawg" because both poems refer sadly to the cuckoo's mournful voice which signals spring. In both poems the cuckoo's song is, through its association with spring, a reminder of a life of which these speakers can no longer partake. Pilch claims that the cuckoo is thus associated with "luxuriant growth and with death" (217). He concludes that early Welsh elegies are much more structurally cohesive than their Old English counterparts, and thus were developed prior to the Old English elegies.


Pope, John C. "Dramatic Voices in The Wanderer and The Seafarer." Franciplegius: Medieval and Linguistic Studies in Honour of F. P. Magoun, Jr. Ed. J. B Bessinger and R. P. Creed. New York: NYUP, 1965. 164-93.

Pope's article discusses the possibility of there being more than one voice in the poem through an attempted resuscitation of the dialogue theories of Kluge (1883) and Rieger (1869). Although Greenfield (1969) effectively disproves his argument in "Min, Sylf, and 'Dramatic Voices in The Wanderer and The Seafarer,' which leads to his later renunciation of the "dramatic voice" theory, Pope's earlier work is valuable as a representative of the marginal, yet resurgent, dialogue theory which originally dominated, but eventually lost its hold on, critical opinion about the poem. He uses Anderson's (1937) method of dividing the poem into three sections; the first consists of lines 1-33a, and is designated A1, the second, lines 33b-64a or 66a, and is referred to as A2, and the third, lines 64b or 66b-124, is defined as B. In his description of the poem's critical history, he dismisses Kluge's and Rieger's (1869) arguments against its unity and Ehrismann's (1909) and Anderson's contentions that in order to maintain its structural unity, it requires an allegorical reading. He praises Whitelock's (1950) literal interpretation; however, he claims that she fails to explain why there is no mention of the sea in B. Like Wulker, Rieger , and Kluge, Pope bases his argument for the existence of two speakers primarily on lines 33b-35b, the first sentence of A1: "if the experienced seafarer of A1 is still talking, why does he not say eft cunnige instead of sylf cunnige?" (177). He focuses on Stanley's (1955) contention that there are two monologues, the second elaborating on the ideas of the first, and claims that rather than there being two monologues, the two speeches are in dialogue form; the first consists of A1 (lines 1-33a) and the second contains A2 and two-thirds of B (lines 33b-102). Lines 103-24 are "set firmly apart as a mere epilogue to the poet's dramatic vision" (181). Pope concludes by addressing the problem of the poem's lacking in any markers which would indicate multiple speakers: "to this objection I can only say that I think there has been a mechanical failure in the written presentation of the poems. . . . this is an easy mistake for a poet or an anthologist to make in an age that is accustomed to oral delivery" (187).


Greenfield, Stanley B. "The Old English Elegies." Continuations and Beginnings: Studies in Old English Literature. Ed. E. G. Stanley. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1966. 142-75.

Unlike Timmer (1942), who reclassifies The Seafarer because it fails to conform to the elegiac genre, Greenfield redefines the genre itself as applied to Old English poetry:

The rest of his arguments follows a similar line to those in "Attitudes and Values in The Seafarer" (1954). He refuses to accept Smithers' (1957) contention that the seafarer is preparing for death because "desiring death is surely not taking up arms against the devil, or living the life of cleanness and patience and moderation called for in the exhortation" (107). Also, he continues to support Whitelock's (1950) notion of the seafarer as a peregrinus pro amore Dei, while suggesting that the speaker's attitude towards his pilgrimage is perhaps more complex than she argues.


Isaacs, Neil D. "Image, Metaphor, Irony, Allusion, and Moral: The Shifting Perspective of 'The Seafarer'." Neuphilologische-Mitteilungen 67 (1966): 266-82.

Like Stanley (1955), Isaacs proposes an interpretation which rejects neither literal nor allegorical readings of the poem, and instead of attempting to recreate its cultural context, he approaches it with the question, "how does the poem work?" (267). He answers this problem by perceiving The Seafarer as relying on "a complex system of contrasting opposites" (268); the first opposition is between the sea and land, the second, between the external suffering of the speaker, caused by his physical environment, and the internal torment, to his bitre breostceare (4). Isaacs notes that the "metaphor of frost and cold as fetters is carried over to the cares clamping the heart" (269). The sea-land opposition is transversed in the reference to hail as corna caldast (33), which uses an image associated with the land in order to describe a condition at sea. The third contrast is between exile and duguð (86). Because of the continual breaking down of the oppositions, Isaacs claims that the audience is prepared for understanding the speaker's apparent shift at line 33b. He suggests that the speaker's next journey is not necessarily a literal one, because "it is also the poet's 'spirit' which is urged to travel" (274); thus, the language becomes increasingly ambiguous. The poet introduces a "spiritual-worldly dichotomy," which complements the internal-external opposition, and he uses the description of spring on land to suggest its opposite. The cuckoo's mournful call explicitly reveals the oppositions: "the cuckoo's call, then, is literally part of the season of rebirth and rejoicing on land, but is symbolically the reminder of the season of sadness and strife, perhaps even death, at sea" (277). He argues that toward the end of the poem, the duguð-exile tension becomes reversed, as the duguð (80a, 86a) refers to the heavenly host. Also, the poet contradicts the thane-chieftain relationship by "suggesting that religious faith should be kept even to the exclusion of what is expected in a comitatus relationship" (281).


Isaacs, Neil D. “The Seafarer 109-115a.” English Studies 48 (1967): 416-19.

Isaacs offers a new translation of the problematic lines 109-115a, which largely differs from the approaches of the critics before Gordon (1954). He treats the entire passage as an admonition to Christian compassion, “even toward enemies who wish [the Christian] full of fire himself or wish to burn his devoted friendly lord on the funeral pyre” (418-19). Isaacs claims that this proposition is the most dramatic one in the poem, because it places religious faith above the comitatus relationship. All of the brackets in the following quotation belong to Isaacs’ translation:

One should govern a strong spirit and keep it in place (stability) and true to men and pure in ways; each of men must properly govern (his spirit, attitude) toward friendly one and toward hostile one [alike in return for good or for] evil even though he (enemy) wishes him full of fire [himself? within? in hell?] or on bale burning up his duly established friendly lord.

Cherniss, Michael D. “The Meaning of The Seafarer, lines 97-102.” Modern Philology 66 (1968): 146-49.

Cherniss argues against the emendation of line 99b from MS wille to nille found in Gordon’s edition, and asserts that the burial scene reflects a pagan practice. He refers to an equation of wealth and social worth found in Beowulf, and, through this, claims that the treasure mentioned in these lines of The Seafarer refers to earthly glory. Thus, the poet sets up an opposition between heavenly glory, which he refers to as “God’s joys” (64-5) and earthly glory, which is found in the happy people who live in towns, and finally, in the practice of burying treasure with dead heroes. With regards to the questionable emendation of line 99b, Cherniss remarks, “the passage makes perfectly good sense as it stands in the manuscript if we keep in mind that treasure (gold97, 101; maþmum99) in the heroic world represents a warrior’s glory and worth and that such treasure may be properly interred with its possessor” (148). He concludes that the speaker uses this reference to the burial convention to warn his audience that heroic glory, symbolized by treasure, will not help the deceased gain the favour of God.


Greenfield, Stanley B. "Min, Sylf, and 'Dramatic Voices in The Seafarer." Journal of English and Germanic Philology 68 (1969): 212-20.

Published as a later footnote to "The Old English Elegies," Greenfield's article responds to Pope's (1965) contention that The Seafarer consists of dramatic voices. With regard to Pope's claim that because of the incongruity of A1 (1-33a) with A2 (33b-103) and B (104-24), A1 must be related by a different speaker, he responds by pointing to our lacking understanding of the Anglo-Saxon aesthetic, our recognition of the digressive passages in Beowulf, and the nonexistent Anglo-Saxon dramatic corpus and the tendency of the poetry to "call attention to the presence of first-person speakers and heightened confliction emotions" (163). With regards to Pope's translation of "sylf cunnige" (35b) as distinguishing this speaker, who has not yet gone to sea, from the previous speaker who has, Greenfield concurs with P. L. Henry's translation of lines 33b-35 which defines sylf as a statement of volition: "'And yet thoughts are now pressing upon my heart that of my own accord I shall venture on the deep seas, the tossing of salt waves'" (166). Greenfield effectively substantiates this translation with examples from the Blickling Homilies and Resignation (The Penitent's Prayer).


Clemoes, Peter. “Mens absentia cogitans in The Seafarer and The Wanderer.” Medieval Literature and Civilization: Studies in Memory of G. N. Garmonsway. Ed. Derek A. Pearsall and Ronald A. Waldron. London: Athlone Press, 1969. 62-77.

Here, Clemoes cites two possible sources for lines 58-64a, the flying soul section of The Seafarer. One is Alcuin’s De Animae ratione liber, a prose treatise, appended with two poems, about the soul’s ability to leave the body and imaginatively perceive things at great distances, and another, less significant possibility is Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiæ IV.i. He discusses the possibilities for the order of influence, whether Alcuin was influenced by The Seafarer, or the poem’s poet by the tract of Alcuin, and, although he acknowledges the possibility that Alcuin was familiar with the poem, he decides that it probably was not composed until after the assumed 799 date for Alcuin’s composition. He concludes his section on The Seafarer by claiming that the poem and Alcuin’s tract “are in harmony: the statement by the speaker in The Seafarer that the direction of his thoughts is as described in lines 58-64a, forþon me hatran sind / Dryhtnes dreamas þonne þis deade lif / læne on londe, depends on the belief that the mind which ranges the world as his does will lead him to God, and this is the point that Alcuin’s tract as a whole expounds” (72). Such a reading discounts the possibility raised by Smithers (1957) that the anfloga (62b) is a legendary creature such as a valkyrie, and that the wælweg (63a) remain unemended and refer to "the abode of the dead."


Diekstra, F. N. M. “The Seafarer 58-66a: the Flight of the Exiled Soul to its Fatherland.” Neophilologus 55 (1971): 433-46.

Much like Clemoes (1969), who offers examples of Christian writers who portray the soul as escaping the body and traveling on its own, Diekstra, in order to explain the mystifying scenario of lines 58-66a, provides a backdrop of Christian writers who use this convention. He claims that the contemplative flight of the soul is a common theme in early Christian writings, and he describes the incident in The Seafarer as “the traditional conception of the cloistered soul, which on the wings of contemplation obeys the urge to return to its ancestral home” (433). Unlike Clemoes, he is hesitant to ascribe a lineage of influence from Alcuin’s De Animae Ratione to The Seafarer because the relevant passage in Alcuin is merely a recitation of a passage from Lactantius’ De Opificio Dei. Diekstra outlines several themes in the poem and provides numerous analogues. First, he describes the “glory in adversity” theme, which refers to the speaker's triumphant suffering at sea. With regard to analogues, he refers to Seneca’s Avida est periculi virtus, Boethius’ De Consolatione II prose 8 and IV prose 7, St. Paul’s speech in Romans 5:3, and St. John Chrysostom’s De Gloria in Tribulationibus. In support of Whitelock’s (1950) peregrinus theory, he describes the contemptus mundi or “contempt for the world” theme, which is based on the Seafarer’s disdain for þis deade lif (65b). He also identifies the flight of the soul as a motif, which, he claims, is to be interpreted metaphorically rather than literally. He claims that this is also found in Boethius book IV metre 1, where “this flight is the contemplation of God” (439), Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, Ambrose’s De Fuga Saeculi, and Gregory the Great’s Moralia in Job and Homiliae in Ezechielem. Diekstra concludes by commenting on the overall significance of the soul’s flight in The Seafarer: “ . . . the flight of the soul [is] an additional peregrinatio metaphor, supplementing that of the sea journey, and providing it with a kind of miniature subplot, which strengthens and unifies the Christian idealism of the poem” (443).


Calder, Daniel G. "Setting and Mode in The Seafarer and The Wanderer." NM 72 (1971): 264-75.

In the tradition of Ehrismann (1909) and Anderson (1937), Calder examines The Seafarer as an allegory, and, like Smithers (1957), examines the relationship between the speaker's psychological state and the physical environment. He argues that "land and sea seem to symbolize joy and sorrow in the seafarer's mind, but actually both symbolize aspects of the sadness of human existence. Therefore, the seafarer will seek another land by changing the direction he is now following on the sea" (267). The new land is the heavenly home, and the route to this home is through suffering on the sea. He argues that the initial ambivalence in the seafarer's attitude towards the land lends force to the later image of "heavenly stability" (269). He concludes his section on The Seafarer by claiming that the allegory reflects the poet's emotional experience, and that the poem "is a record of the states and movements of the speaker's mind as it comes to know mutability" (269).


Tripp, Raymond P. "The Narrator as Revenant: A Reconsideration of Three Old English Elegies." Papers on Language and Literature 8 (1972): 339-61.

In this mythological reading of the elegies, Tripp considers the speakers of The Wanderer and The Seafarer as revenants, due to the elegies' overlapping with oral ballad traditions, in which, he claims, this figure is frequently found: "a common figure is the revenant, that corporeal ghost who, returning from the grave as one of the 'living dead,' seeks either to live again or to warn his still-living fellows against their fate" (339). He criticizes other critics for regarding the elegies "within a modern frame of reference" (341) and thus failing to describe accurately the nature of the elusive poems. He uses, for a starting point of his argument, Salmon's (1960) claim that what seems fantastic to a student of Old English is commonplace to an anthropologist or a student of Old Icelandic. Thus, if it is an "anthropological commonplace that according to eighth-century notions revenants were a reality, it should be possible to read relevant portions of the elegies without continuing to reduce the fragmentary remains of myth to metaphor" (341). He refers to Lowry Charles Wimberley's Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads (1959) in which Wimberly describes the ballad world as being primarily pagan, and thus, the afterlife has a physicality to it not unlike that of the living which allows for the "corporeal revenant" (342).

In his examination of textual evidence, Tripp focuses only on what he describes as a few representative lines. He contrasts the roaring sea which surrounds the seafarer to the paradise described by the Blickling homilist, in which there is no "'noise of water'" (354). He continues by suggesting that the sea is the place of the dead pagan, and the land refers to the place where the living reside. However, he also claims that the occasional references to the actual sea complicate allegorical readings. Tripp concludes by conceding Smither's contention that the emendation of wælweg (63a) to hwælweg is incorrect, and that the original word refers to the "way of death" (356). This, he claims, explains the serious anxiety and resolve the speaker expresses about abandoning the pleasures of the world for the life at sea, since there is no reason that a sailor can not experience worulde hyht (45b) and live a seafaring life.


Empric, Julienne H. "The Seafarer: An Experience in Displacement." The Notre Dame English Journal 7 (1972): 23-33.

Empric discusses the movement of the entire poem; for instance, the speaker moves from the first-person, to the "everyman" third-person, to the "formulaic" first-person plural. The tense and mood change from the indicative preterit, to the present, to the subjunctive future. Also, the imagery moves from the concrete and tangible to the "abstract" and "universal": "the movement is from the particular to the general, from the sense-knowable to the unknown (that which can be reasoned to, or must be taken on faith), from the temporal to the eternal – in fact, from song to creed" (23). She argues, therefore, that the poem is a unified "experience in displacement" (23), which uses "the action of negation," found, for instance, in the series of contrasts the speaker sets up between himself and the city-dweller, "the action of time," which occurs in the movement of the verbs' tenses, and "the action of substitution," which occurs in the varied meanings of dryhten and duguð (24). She concludes that the poem, through its changing tenses, acquires linear direction, which, with the dissolution of the action of negation, moves toward "positive hope – a home, a loving lord, a live life (as opposed to the dead life on earth), and joys – eternal joys in these thoughts of 'hyht in heofonum' [122a] (hope in heaven), concerns which ultimately displace the futile thoughts 'to worulde hyht' [45b] (of hope in the world)" (32).


Bosse, Roberta Bux. “Aural Aesthetic and the Unity of The Seafarer.” Papers on Language and Literature 9 (1973): 3-14.

Bosse emphasizes the aurality of The Seafarer, rather than the supposed orality. She claims that apparent thematic disjunctions, such as the shift from the secular lyric to the Christian homiletic, can be overcome if one considers the poem as a temporal, oral utterance instead of a spacial text. She contends that the speaker moves “from the better known to the less known -- from the natural (i.e., the earthly, but not necessarily pagan; the fictive speaker is really godless rather than actively pagan) to the supernatural -- and accomplishes this movement by a series of elaborations or variations on the theme of seafaring” (8). The movement, she claims, is subtle and gradual, but it results in a complete transformation, as one can observe in the poet’s use of thematic, syntactical, and metrical repetition and variation.


Campbell, A. P. “The Seafarer: Wanderlust and our Heavenly Home.” Revue de L’Université D’Ottawa 43 (1973): 235-47.

Unlike most critics from the latter half of the twentieth century, Campbell interprets The Seafarer as neither an allegory of the Christian life during the Last Days, as does Smithers (1957), nor the memoirs of a literal peregrinus, as do Whitelock (1950) and her followers. Rather, he denounces such overly erudite approaches which, he claims, go far beyond what the text warrants. He invokes Lawrence (1904) who, he contends, offers an accurate, if unpopular, fact-based account of the poem. Campbell begins by reminding us that the major difficulty in the text is the connection between the descriptive first 64 lines, and the homiletic conclusion. Although numerous critics since Lawrence have offered numerous explanations for this, which reach various levels of complexity, Campbell explains the apparent disjunction by diagnosing the speaker with wanderlust. He claims that the first 33 lines describe his suffering at the sea, as contrasted with the comfortable life of the townsman. He notes that wlonc and wingal (29a) are not pejorative, but provide a sense of mystery about his choice to roam the seas; cunnian (35b) contains a sense of “exploring” or “trying out,” which is not in line with a penitential journey. He favours Lawrence’s interpretation of sylf (35b) and he quotes his translation: “‘Even I myself, who have endured so much hardship, am impelled to make trial of the mighty waves again’” (240); Campbell’s interpretation of elþeodigra eard (38) also reflects the speaker’s excitement for travel, because it exemplifies the Anglo-Saxon fascination with strange lands. With regard to lines 39-49, he claims that they indicate the hardship that anyone would suffer while at sea; the sense of longunge (49a), which other critics interpret as ascetic, merely reflects the hardship and fear experienced by one who would face the danger of the sea. Whereas other critics have been puzzled by the reference to the cuckoo’s “mournful call” (53a), Campbell argues that, along with the coming of spring, the migratory bird’s call is a cue for the speaker’s wanderlust. Thus, the enigmatic lines 55-64 merely depict the speaker’s imaginative journey over the unknown areas which he will explore; this intensification of his wanderlust causes the uncomfortable feeling to overcome him, which leads him to his conclusion that he would rather have the “joys of the Lord than this dead life” (64-65). By lifting his thoughts to the spiritual level after line 64, the speaker manages to see the basis for all wanderlust: the desire to find one’s home in heaven.


Serio, John M. “Thematic Unity in The Seafarer.” Gypsy Scholar 1 (1973): 16-21.

Unlike other critics who suggest that The Seafarer is a unified poem consisting of two distinct parts, Serio argues that the poem unfolds in an organic, unified progression, which continually reflects on and incorporates its earlier sentiments. He reveals the links between various sections of the poem; thematically, he claims, it exists in a series of concentric circles. Starting at the centre, he links lines 64-65 with 58-64, 65-71 with 44-57, 72-80 with 29-38, 80-90 with 27-29, 91-102 with 25-26, 106-116 with 13-25, 117-118 with 11-12, and 119-124 with 1-10. For example, with his connection between lines 65-71 and 44-57, he suggests that the seafarer’s recognition of the transitory nature of the world is linked thematically to lines 53-57, in which the cuckoo’s call urges him to return to the sea; he notes that because the cuckoo lays its eggs in other birds’ nests, it is associated with deception; therefore, the city-dwellers, who are excited by the cuckoo’s call, are deceived, because they do not perceive the impermanence which it forebodes. Also, Serio interprets wlonc ond wingal (29a) as pejorative, since such a burgher is related to the weak leaders referred to in lines 86-90. He concludes that the subtle thematic unity of the poem is “unobtrusive” and causes the reader to “feel the correspondences more than . . . see them” (21).

Pope, John C. "Second Thoughts on the interpretation of The Seafarer." Anglo-Saxon England 3 (1974): 75-86.

Here, Pope retracts his 1965 argument that The Wanderer and The Seafarer consist of multiple voices. Rather, he announces his new conclusion that Whitelock's view of the speaker as a peregrinus pro amore dei is the superior one. Although he agrees with Greenfield's (1969) contention that there is only one speaker in the poem, he questions Greenfield's description of sylf (35b) as indicating volition. Instead, Pope defines sylf (35b) as "independently" or "alone," thus revealing the speaker's isolation. With regards to the anfloga (62b) which flies over the seas and returns gifre and grædig (62a) to the speaker, he claims that although the two adjectives are associated ordinarily with evildoers, in the context of the speaker's sacred motivations for traveling, they merely reflect his intense enthusiasm for his spiritual goals. Pope concludes by emphasizing the importance of both the speaker's inner, spiritual and outer, physical journeys:


Davenport, W. A. “The Modern Reader and the Old English Seafarer.” Papers on Language and Literature 10 (1974): 227-240.

Whereas most critics of The Seafarer tend to attempt to unravel the poet’s intentions, Davenport, like Isaacs (1966), looks at the effects of the poet’s rhetorical strategies on the reader. He protests against the tendency of many critics to reduce the poem to a series of analogues found in Celtic elegies and Patristic writings, and claims that the poem’s unique style of rhetoric causes it to elude classification. As with many conventional approaches to the poem, Davenport divides it into two sections; however, he also subdivides these two sections. The first 33 lines are primarily sensual, and portray an environment of physical torment, he claims, and they conjure in the reader a definite figure, rather than a metaphorical type (231). They employ the rhetorical device of antithesis by contrasting the city and sea lives. He characterizes lines 33b-66a as containing a continuation of the “irresolution” of the previous section. Also, the suffering moves from a focus on its physical manifestations to the speaker’s geþohtas: “the speaker is no longer deprived of the comforts of the hall by the circumstances of his life, but is detached from them by his own inability to find satisfaction in them” (232). He argues that this section is dominated by conflict between a desire to “dissociate from earthly joys” (234) and fear. The second half radically changes the reader’s notion of the speaker from the first half, because “gradually he becomes a representative of the awakened but unresolved mind and the masochistic outsider, detached from life; he achieves the symbolic, though still troubled, role of the death-wishing, otherworldly Christian with his condemnation of “þis deade lif.” (235). The strategy of antithesis is continued through the rest of the narrative with pagan and Christian notions of the afterlife. He claims that after the speaker resolves his conflicting emotions of the first half, “he loses his identity” (238) and, in his more detached state, reflects on universal, rather than individual, experience. The effect of this on the reader is that because one is not able to identify with the speaker, one is forced to recognize one’s self as one of the burghers who live in a leisurely manner in the first half, and in the second grow old, wither away, and die.


Woolf, Rosemary. “The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and the Genre of Planctus." Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Essays in Appreciation for John C. McGalliard. Ed. Lewis E. Nicholson and Dolores Warwick Frese. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 1975: 192-207.

Here, Woolf examines the two poems through the medieval genre of planctus, rather than the broader elegiac genre. She describes the planctus, or complaint, as a “distinctively medieval genre” which, unlike the elegy, has an “invariably fictional” speaker who is either an individual or a fictional type; it is not necessarily about death, but can describe bereavement resulting from any type of serious loss. She claims that it is also found in Beowulf (2105-2114, 2247-66), The Wife’s Lament, The Husband’s Message, and Wulf and Eadwacer. With regard to The Seafarer, Woolf focuses on the theme of transience as characteristic of the planctus. She addresses the speaker’s problematic relationship with those who dwell in the town, and although the exact tone of wlonc and wingal (29a) is difficult to determine, she notices that the description of the townsman as sefteadig (56a) implies that he “enjoys a life that is soft or indolent” (204). She refutes Whitelock's (1950) peregrinus theory because, she claims, such a traveler would journey over both sea and land. Also, she claims that the “current” journey to which the speaker refers is metaphorical, and thus could take place in either a “monastery or hermit’s cell” (206); however, she argues that the allegory is not carefully worked out and thus, the poem defies “consistent exposition” (206). She concludes by classifying The Wanderer as a planctus, but claiming that The Seafarer merely exploits the genre, because the speaker, although he starts out as individual, becomes exemplary in the second half of the poem.


Klein, W. F. “The Purpose and Poetics of The Wanderer and The Seafarer.” Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Essays in Appreciation for John C. McGalliard. Ed. Lewis E. Nicholson and Dolores Warwick Frese. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 1975. 208-223.

Klein considers the poems with respect to the mental faculties of memory, present perception, and lastly, volitional futurity, a phrase which he borrows from Otto Jespersen. He chooses this final descriptive phrase because it “combines some of the things we mean by ‘desire,’ ‘will,’ ‘choice,’ ‘purpose,’ and ‘vision’” (211). Klein focuses his discussion of The Seafarer on what he defines as the largely ignored third section: lines 66b-102. He notes that the poet’s reference to the preferable state of leaving a good reputation with the living applies to two distinct living groups: the ealda bearn (77a) and the englum (78b). The consequence of fame with the former, he claims, is indicated by lines 80b-102, which reflect on the present transience of the world through the passing of leaders and friends, and the inability of gold to save them. This section concludes with a reflection on burial, instead of a celebration of earthly heroism (220). The last section, lines 103-24, reflects on the possible future where one could live among the angels. The use of memory characterizes the first section, and Klein remarks on the progression and consequence of the entire poem: “the character that emerges from these three steadily confronted images of past, present, and future human resources is a visionary not only because his mind has reached out through time to comprehend the end of time itself, he is a visionary because he is seen as having fully comprehended the potentialities and limitations of human character as they appeared in the first two parts of the poem” (222). In other words, the speaker has experienced the processes of life, the suffering, and can see what their conclusion is. He can, through his perception, escape the cyclical nature of life and see where the future potential lies – with the angels in heaven. Klein concludes with a consideration of how the novice reader would envision the poet; one would not envision a monk, he claims, but rather, perhaps, the figure of Oðin and his two ravens Huginn and Muninn, whose “names are cognate with the Anglo-Saxon names for memory and future vision” (223).


Moore, Bruce. “Author Unknown: The Seafarer ll. 1-8a.” Explicator 35:1 (1976): 11-12.

In this note, Moore comments on the relationship between the emotional distress and physical suffering of the seafarer. He claims that cearselda (5b) and breostceare (4a), along with the speaker’s former presence in the slender prow of a ship, indicate both the physical and emotional isolation / enclosure of the speaker. Moore furthers this connection by suggesting that “nearo nihtwaco” (7a), as the possible subject of bigeat (6b), “is given a physical presence of its own, as it seizes or takes hold of the seafarer” (12). Also, the physical presence of the cliffs contributes to the sense of enclosure indicated by the “abode of cares,” and he notes the supporting alliterative pattern of the key words breostceare, ceole, cearselda, nihtwaco, nacan, cnossað (4a-8a). He concludes, “the natural world operates on the consciousness of the Seafarer, and also serves to reflect it” (12).


Hultin, Neil. “The External Soul in ‘The Seafarer’ and ‘The Wanderer.’” Folklore 88 (1977): 39-45.

Like Salmon (1960) et al., who devote entire articles to the enigmatic lines 58-64a, Hultin provides evidence for the possibility that the speaker of The Seafarer describes his soul as literally leaving his body and journeying over the sea. He claims that Salmon’s argument is weakened by a lack of Christian evidence for the wandering soul; he points to the Dialogues (AD 594) of Gregory the Great as proof for the currency of the belief in Anglo-Saxon England. He notes that Bede refers to the work many times, which indicates that it was well-known. In it, Gregory has a debate with his deacon, Peter, about the possibility of the soul’s leaving the body. He refers to a story about Benedict, in which his soul visits two monks whom he agreed to meet. Gregory’s deacon disbelieves the story, but Gregory provides several Biblical precedents which are intended to prove the orthodoxy of the belief in a potentially wandering soul. Hultin concludes by arguing that although critics such as Clemoes (1969) and Campbell (1973) choose to perceive the incident as a metaphor for memory or imagination, the possibility of a literal interpretation is still existent because of the medieval belief in a soul which can leave the body while the body still lives.

Hill, Joyce M. “'Þis deade lif': A Note on The Seafarer, lines 64-66." English Language Notes 15 (1977): 95-7.

Here, Hill surveys the other references to the oxymoron of the deade lif in Old English literature. She notes that in homiletic materials, one usually finds þis deaðlice lif or þis deadlice lif. She concludes, “The Seafarer, then, with its rejection of the worldly life as a dead life, reflects the homiletic tradition in its phraseology as well as in its sentiment. The poet can be seen at work sharpening the antithesis by using deade (65b) instead of the usual deaðlice or deadlice, but there can be little doubt of his inspiration for this striking oxymoron . . .” (97).


Osborn, Marijane. “Venturing upon Deep Waters in The Seafarer.” NM 79 (1978): 1-6.

Here, Osborn responds to the debate between Pope and Greenfield about the meaning of sylf (35b) by claiming that the speaker mentions two different types of voyages. He describes the first voyage as being close to shore where he was “continually stimulated first to temptation then to rejection of the kind of life he associates with the land” (3). Like Gordon, who notes that the voyage which the speaker contemplates is different from the one which he has undertaken previously, Osborn claims that his next voyage will be on hean streamas (34b), or “deep waters.” She provides classical and Patristic precedents for this metaphor, which describes the seafarer’s initial voyage as a tasting of asceticism and his planned voyage as his ascetic actualization: “. . . the two seas in The Seafarer represent two positive spiritual states: the “purgative” sea near the shore, near the easy life on land, where secular desires are rejected and temptations overcome, and the perilous deep sees of contemplation, towards which the seafarer’s soul urges him” (6).


Greenfield, Stanley B. "Sylf, Seasons, Structure, and Genre in The Seafarer." Anglo-Saxon England 9 (1980): 199-211.

Here, Greenfield defends his definition of sylf in this continuation of his fifteen-year debate with Pope. Whereas Pope (1974) claims that there is no evidence to support Greenfield's argument that the speaker's first voyage was involuntary, Greenfield refers to lines 29b-30, in which sceolde indicates necessity: "hu ic werig oft / in brimlade bidan sceolde." He asserts that sylf (35b) could not refer to "alone" in the sense of "without companions," but rather, that it describes "independent action" and thus, volition. He adds that ana indicates "unaccompanied," and that if the poet had meant that, he would have preferred it to sylf because of its alliterative value to the line. After he provides intertextual evidence against Pope's understanding of sylf, Greenfield again puts forth his own definition: "The meaning of sylf . . . is 'for . . . myself', in the sense of an act of personal recognition by and for the . . . speaker" (204). He concludes by noting that "the poetic form itself imitates th[e] psychological-religious sequence" associated with conversion. That the structure of the poem follows this process helps explain the "juxtaposition of the seafaring and homiletic halves" (206). Also, the progression of the seasons in the poem reinforces this reading; winter, the season of despair, is found in lines 31-33a, spring, the time of spiritual rebirth, in lines 48-49, summer, in lines 53-55a. Although the poet does not refer to autumn explicitly, it is implicit in the homiletic ending which describes the decay of the world. Thus, Greenfield suggests that The Seafarer is both penitential and apocalyptic.


Dahlberg, Charles. “The Seafarer: the Weir-Metaphor and Benedictine Silence.” Mediaevalia 6 (1980): 11-35.

Here, Dahlberg proposes another possible translation for werum (110a), which both coexists with and supersedes previous translations proposed by Thorpe, who renders it as the dative plural for wer, “man,” and Kershaw, who claims that it is the dative plural of wær, “pledge.” Although both of these meanings still apply, Dahlberg argues, they are superseded by the sense of wer as a metaphorical weir, which, in Benedictine terms, would stop a monastic from speaking carelessly or too much. For support, he refers to Alfred’s translation of Gregory’s Cura Pastoralis, in which the latter refers to Proverbs 17.14: “Starting a quarrel is like / breaching a dam” and Proverbs 18.4: “The Words of a man’s mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.” King Alfred “amplifies the water image by making it a deep pool help back in the wise man’s spirit by a weir” (14). He also claims that the weir-metaphor elucidates lines 111-112, “Scyle monna gehwylc mid gemete healdan / wiþ leofne ond wið laþne bealo,” since in order to deal with friends and foes in moderation, one must have some sort of psychological restraint. To lend support to his thesis that The Seafarer has Benedictine connections, Dahlberg notes that the poem was supposedly composed during the tenth-century Benedictine revival, and that the single MS copy is in the Exeter Book, which is commonly associated with the Benedictine tradition of learning (28).


Shields, John C. “The Seafarer as a Meditatio.” Studia Mystica 3 (1980): 29-41.

In order to justify the apparent discrepancies between the initial personal sea-journey narrative and subsequent homiletic ending, and resolve questions about the lacunae in the text, Shields proposes that The Seafarer is a meditatio, which he defines as “a literary spiritual exercise whose author aspires to perfection of the soul” (29). Although the application of the term to the practice was not made explicit until Saint Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises in the early sixteenth century, the tradition was always present in the church. He provides evidence from Luitpold Wallach’s book, Alcuin and Charlemagne that Alcuin borrowed extensively from a popular contemplative text, Julianus Pomerius’ De Vita Contemplativa. The importance of this text in Anglo-Saxon England is also attested to by J. D. A Ogilvy in Books Known to the English, 597-1066, where he notes that Boniface, the so-called “Apostle of Germany” makes great use of it in his Epistle 78. Shields points to another text which incorporates the mystical instructions of Pomerius’ text, Alcuin’s De Rhetorica, which “divided spiritual wisdom into the operation, in the lives of those who have grasped the wisdom of the spirit, of the faculties of the memory, the understanding, and the will” (30). Because of the existence and dissemination of these, and other meditative texts mentioned by Clemoes (1969), Shields claims that “the bases necessary for the construction of a meditative poem were available to the author of The Seafarer for a considerable time prior to the poem’s composition” (31).

The first section of the poem, Shields argues, displays a conventional characteristic of the meditatio: a personal and dramatic portrayal of suffering, presented for memory. This is balanced by understanding, since the speaker, at first intermittently, but later predominantly, comments on the experience. He notes the significance of the sea-journey, in which the suffering and “horizontal” mundaneness both contribute to and do not interfere with the “vertical” mystical union with God (33). The sea-journey as mortification is, for a monastic, a laudable pursuit. Shields notes that the speaker concludes with an exhortation to the monastic virtue of sophrosyne, or temperance: “. . .the mind, having recognized that all mortal life has its vainglorious end, urges the power of the will over the body to prepare for salvation both by careful practice of the virtue of temperantia and by the concentrated meditation upon the assurance of a heavenly home” (37).


Holton, Frederick S. “Old English Sea Imagery and the Interpretation of The Seafarer.” Yearbook of English Studies 12 (1982): 208-17.

Holton contributes to the contemporary popularity of source study by examining the patristic sources for the sea-imagery. He does not take this approach to prove that the first section is a complex allegory, but rather, to reveal the enormous Christian currency of sea associations. He claims that the sea journey is not only metaphorical of death, as Smithers (1957) argues, but also of the journey of life, and he refers to the image of life as a sea journey with Christ as the anchor in Christ II (850-66) and Christ as the helmsman in Andreas (349-826). He specifies the sea metaphor as pertaining to life after the fall, which the imagery in The Seafarer supports: “the chaotic waters indicate the spiritually lost condition of the Seafarer, and the fallen nature of the seafarer’s world is strongly re-emphasized by the imagery of frozenness and barrenness in the poem. In heaven the earth is abundantly fruitful, and such an expression as corna caldast (33a) for example, seems to be a conscious inversion of the fecundity of Paradise” (210). St. Augustine’s Confessiones xiii, 17 and 20 further support this association of the fallen world with the sea. Holton refers also to St. Augustine’s De civitate Dei xv, 26, in which the church is compared to a ship that sails on the sea of the world. However, he claims that the association is more likely to be made with the speaker’s soul than with the church. He reconsiders the troubling lines 58-64a in the context of the sea metaphor and argues that “the mental perturbation [the speaker] describes is particularly the lot of fallen man, and his thoughts cannot yet rest on the heavenly fæstnung but are taken up with the tribulations and deceptions of postlapsarian mortality” (212). He disagrees with Gordon's (1960) justification for the emendation of wælweg (63a), and supports Horgan's (1979) conclusion that it refers to the “deadly sea.” Also, he disputes Gordon’s reading of wlonc and wingal (29a) as not pejorative, because lines 107-08 suggest that only the humble will receive grace. Thus, the speaker, in his Christian value system, can not condone the behaviour of the city people and the reference must be at least slightly admonitory. He concludes by arguing that life on the sea is a living death, much like that of the ascetics and martyrs. Also, the sea refers to baptism, which prepares people for their fight against the devil, described in lines 72-80a. Thus, the sea imagery is fraught with paradoxes, indicated by living a life in death and endangering one’s life in order to gain it: “although the sea is the element of death, it none the less leads to eternal life, and even though the Seafarer’s thoughts are bound by his mortality, he will finally have joy in heaven” (217).


Orton P. R. "The Seafarer 58-64a." Neophilologus 66:3 (1982): 450-9.

Here, Orton considers the connection, if any, between the geac (53a), hyge (58a) or modsefa (59a), and anfloga (60b). He notes that few scholars agree with Sieper's (1915), and later Whitelock's (1950), claim that anfloga refers to the geac of line 52, although many critics have found cause for reconsideration when they note her point that the emphasis on the cries of the anfloga seems strange when one considers this as the speaker's mind. He also refers to Salmon's (1960) contention that anfloga describes the soul in its bird-like state, but he doubts that an Anglo-Saxon audience would have understood this concept without due preparation. Rather, Orton argues that the hyge, which returns to the speaker gifre and grædig (62a), represents his internal pressure to journey again. The cuckoo, whose mournful call we hear in line 53, appears again as the anfloga to place external pressure on the seafarer (454-55).

Orton concludes with a rather convoluted explanation of how anfloga could not be metaphorically associated with hyge. He claims that the problem lies in the communication of the mind's gifre and grædig (62a) desire to the seafarer when it is hovering, bird-like, outside his body.


Vickrey, John F. “Some Hypotheses Concerning The Seafarer, Lines 1-47.” Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 219 (1982): 57-77.

Here, Vickrey offers a new argument for an allegorical approach to the poem. Unlike other allegorical readings, which regard the first 33 lines as the narrative of a penitent who is in the process of renouncing his worldly attachments, Vickrey argues that in the first section, we are to regard the speaker as a sinner who is aware of his sinfulness. He begins by proving the currency in Anglo-Saxon literature of the metaphor of the ship of the mind. He argues that the descriptions of the speaker’s suffering found in lines 3-5, 10, 14, 29, and 30 indicate that he was sinful at the time, because if he were penitential, he would have undertaken such suffering with spiritual joy. The sense of exile described in these early lines, he claims, refers to the speaker’s exile from God, and not from his earthly exile; the major clue for this allegorical reading is found in lines 6-8. Cnossað (8b), he contends, is translated often unsatisfactorily as “dashes”; rather, it should be translated “striking” or “beating”since such a literal reference to frequent shipwrecks seems unlikely. He translates lines 6-7, “where anxious night-watch often befell me” because, “while the helmsman reason slept, his ship of the mind was endangered by the night and cold of sin” (66); thus, the speaker is aware of his sinfulness, unlike the city-dweller, who engages in worldly activities without considering his spiritual state. Vickrey considers lines 1-42 a syllogism consisting of a minor premise (1-33), which states, “I have sinned,”a conclusion (33-38), which states, “I may have the sorrow of a sea-journey, ”and a major premise (39-43), which claims, “all sinners may have the sorrow of a sea-journey” (71) and is indicated by the suggestion that no man, or in this case, even a rich earl, may feel assured that he will never have to undertake a difficult sea-journey. He continues with a few thoughts on elþeodigra eard (38), hean streamas (34b), and sylf (35b). With regard to elþeodigra eard (38), he argues that it refers to the “‘dwelling place of the peregrini,’ [and] is no more and no other than the sea itself” (74); however, he claims that whether the planned penitential journey is literal or allegorical continues to remain uncertain, since the Anglo-Saxons and Irish would have considered voluntary exile, without a physical destination, a possible course of action. He claims that streamas (34b) does not require the adjective hean (34b) to indicate its depth; rather, hean refers to the speaker, who is now “humble,” unlike the modwlonc town-dweller (39a). Sylf (35b) “suggests in the light of the major premise, that sinner though he was he may yet have sorrow, and that the favor of God extends even to such as he” (77). He concludes by noting that the repetition of words such as dryhten and duguð, with their sense transformed from secular to the spiritual, as noted by Greenfield (1954), is found also in the meaning of the journey itself; the first sea-journey depicts the worldly and the sinful, and the proposed journey, whether literal or metaphorical, is the result of a spiritual transformation.


Foley, John Miles. “Genre(s) in the Making: Diction, Audience and Text in the Old English Seafarer.” Poetics Today 4:4 (1983): 683-706.

Foley claims that critics of the poem have previously misplaced their attention by theorising about its structure, audience, and genre. The problem with such approaches is that they neglect the “fundamental verbal bedrock” (684) of diction, on which Foley focuses here. The first case of the diction which Foley examines is soðgied wrecan (1b). He examines their appearances elsewhere, and notes that in 11 of the 47 appearances of wrecan, it is used to describe the telling of a tale. Of these 11 occurences, it is paired with gied 8 times, and never with another Old English word for “song.” Therefore, he concludes that wrecan-gied is an ancient Germanic pairing, characterised by lexical association and right justification, not formulaic structure, which reaches back long before the composition of these poems (689-90). He refers to Opland, who lists words commonly associated with the mead-hall, many of which are found in The Seafarer: song (19b), gomene (20a), sweg (21a) singende (22a), and hearpan (44a). This language, Foley claims, is carefully used by the poet who wishes to contrast the speaker’s state with the conventional values of his society. He refers to these conventions as “verbal structures,” and he also identifies “verbal designs,” which consist of words which are given specific meaning within the poem itself, such as dryhten (41b, 43a, 65a, 106a, 121b, 124a), but do not retain such a specific meaning outside of a specific poem (693-94). With regard to the audience, Foley claims that they would need both to understand the traditional verbal structures and to recognize the innovative verbal designs. He concludes by refusing to ascribe a classification of genre to The Seafarer because, he claims, it simply transcends genre boundaries due to its multifaceted complexity.


Leslie, Roy F. "The Meaning and Structure of The Seafarer." The Old English Elegies: New Essays in Criticism and Research. Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1983. 96-122.

Leslie begins by reflecting on the difficulties which have arisen from the general consensus about the unity of the poem. He claims that "stronger links" must be established between the two sections, but rather than attempting to undertake this ambitions task, he conducts a "feasibility study -- a necessary preliminary for it" (97). For the sake of utility, Leslie refers to lines 1-33a as section A1, lines 33b-67 as A2, and lines 68-124 as B. Although Pope (1965) divides the poem similarly, Leslie does not do so to imply a multivoiced or conglomerative approach; he does so "purely for convenience" (97). In A1, the speaker considers the life of exile, both literally and metaphorically. In A2, he suggests that physical exile is necessary to redeem one's self from spiritual exile. Finally, in B, the speaker offers a homiletic description of what to avoid, and what the rewards of the heavenly home will be (118). Thus, Leslie emphasizes both the literal function of the seafarer as "exile on earth," and the speaker as a homilist who uses his literal voyage to allude to a figurative one.


Klinck, Anne. "The Old English Elegy as a Genre." English Studies in Canada 10:2 (1984): 129-140.

In this article which is the foundation for her edition of the elegies, Anne Klinck defends the validity of regarding The Seafarer, The Wanderer, The Riming Poem, Deor, Wulf and Eadwacer, The Wife's Lament, and The Husband's Message as elegies. She notes that they fit the elegiac mode through their themes of transience and death, and she argues that structurally, the Old English elegies have a characteristic form which justifies their common classification.

She summarizes the common devices as monologue, conventional introduction of the speaker, gnomic conclusion, repetition of key phrases, and repetition of entire lines. She notes that The Seafarer, like most of the aforementioned poems, contains a monologue, and, as with The Wanderer and The Riming Poem, it moves from a suffering individual's reflections to a gnomic conclusion. The speaker continually reiterates themes, such as the contrast between his suffering and the joys of the land-dweller (12b-15, 27-30, 55b-57); such repetition, she argues, gives the poems, particularly The Wanderer and The Seafarer, a strophic quality. Also, she claims that the introductions to both The Seafarer and The Wife's Lament suggest a pre-established convention of a first-person narrator who recounts his sorrows and troubles (227).

Klinck concludes by defining the Old English elegies as "intermediate between the stichic form of traditional German verse and the strophic form found in later medieval lyrics." Also, she notes that they are "rooted in reflective poetry, but they have affinities with other types of poetry that contain within themselves the seeds of lyric: riddle, chant, and charm" (137). Thus, although she would not classify the Old English elegies as lyric poems, Klinck claims that they tend to approximate the lyrical form.


McPherson, Clair. “The Sea a Desert: Early English Spirituality and The Seafarer.” The American Benedictine Review 38:2 (1987): 115-26.

Here, McPherson considers the parallels between a fourth-century desert ascetic and the speaker of The Seafarer. He supports Whitelock's (1950) peregrinus theory, and claims that the peregrinus was a northern “version of the Desert Father” (117). He notes that the Apophthegmata, or sayings of the Desert Fathers, was widely read in Anglo-Saxon monasteries. The English peregrini must have been influenced by the examples of the Desert Fathers, he claims, because the narratives share basic common themes: 1) both refer to the ascetic as one who “claim[s] the absolute fringes of physical existence as [a] spiritual home” (118); 2) both contain the world-rejecting formula of contemptus mundi; 3) both favour the spiritual virtue of compunction, or constant remorse; 4) both indicate and emphasize the wisdom of fearing the Lord. McPherson also claims that there are differences between the two types of narratives: the Apophthegmata is a series of decontextualized sayings which portray the spiritual journey as a ladder; The Seafarer is a complete, descriptive narrative which depicts the ascetic as one who travels and explores physically and psychologically. McPherson concludes that although the poem imitates the sayings of the Desert Fathers thematically, it has its own structural characteristics which identify it with its culture of origin.


Mandel, Jerome. "The Seafarer." Alternative Readings in Old English Poetry. New York: Peter Lang, 1987.

After providing a brief critical history which outlines most of the major disagreements, Mandel proposes a new argument which, he claims, does not necessarily invalidate any of the "defensible" (74) previous ones. He maintains that the first 57 lines "comprise a whole and indivisible unit which establishes by contrast that the speaker-poet-seafarer is a man of experience whose wisdom is essentially greater than that of his listeners" (74). The poet relates his Christian message through a "series of contrasts" (74) which are set up in lines 1-57, and commented on in lines 58-124. The personal "I" of the first section gives way to a more general "he" in the second section, as the speaker, having established his credibility, urges his audience to a Christian way of life, characterized by moderation, so that they might eventually transcend earthly transience in the kingdom of heaven. Mandel concludes that The Seafarer is a "completely unified and coherent . . . Christian poem" (95).


Galloway, Andrew. "1 Peter and The Seafarer." English Language Notes 25:4 (1988): 1-10.

Here, Galloway considers the relationship between 1 Peter and The Seafarer. He refers to lines 42-43, which, he claims, echo 1 Peter 1:13-19. He argues that 1 Peter is a logical thematic inspiration for a poem about pilgrimage, because it commands exiles and pilgrims (1:1) to fear God and renounce the flesh. Also, the baptism as a second Deluge motif (3:21) fits nicely with the seafarer's life at sea. Galloway continues by considering the consequences of regarding 1 Peter as a major influence on The Seafarer poet: "the Apostle's rejection of 'the prior desires of your ignorance', asserted repeatedly throughout the Epistle, recalls the speaker of the poem's repetitive condemnation of a personified epitome of such desires, the town dweller" (5). He argues that the "town dweller" also embodies the speaker's previous self, which he abandoned for his pilgrimage. The seafarer experiences both physical and metaphysical suffering, and the reference to the cuckoo's mournful cry which introduces spring (53-55) signifies the beginning of his "fearsome journey" (6). Galloway concludes by citing a comprehensive list of references to the currency of 1 Peter in Anglo-Saxon England.


Jacobs, Nicolas. “Syntactical Connection and Logical Disconnection: The Case of The Seafarer.” Medium Ævum 58 (1989): 105-13.

Here, Jacobs considers the difficulties with translating the various instances of forþon. With regard to its occurrence at line 33b, he invokes Gordon's (1954) tendency to “assume [a] more or less complicated syntactical structure” and regards it “as a demonstrative looking forward to its correlative at line 39 and take[s] lines 36-38 as parenthetic”; he thus renders the general sense of the passage: “No wonder the prospect of the voyage alarms me – though I am nevertheless driven by a strong urge to go – because no man, however secure his circumstances, can undertake such a voyage without risk” (107). He argues that if lines 25b-26 are also regarded as an aside, the forþon on the following line can be perceived as the continuation of his previous descriptions of his loneliness. The same applies to lines 55b-56, which, when regarded in a like manner, allow the following forþon to follow from the cuckoo’s sorrowful call. With regard to the last two suggestions, Jacobs argues that there are few syntactical stretches required to make them lucid; however, with lines 33-43, the suggested syntactical pattern seems too complex. The only way that such an understanding would have been possible to an Anglo-Saxon audience, Jacobs contends, is if the poem was composed orally and the verbal cues for the syntactic shifts were lost in its transcription. A more likely possibility, he suggests, is that the poet perceived the various descriptions as having a causal connection, even if they do not appear so to the contemporary reader. He argues that the homiletic second half is just as logically incoherent as the first, where “the associations subsist only in the poet’s own mind[;] [in the second part] they are backed up by the conventional function of the various ideas in homiletic tradition” (109). The occurrence of forþon in line 72a displays a disconnectedness to its antecedent as one finds in the first part, because the speaker’s reflection on the different manners of dying does not logically preclude his sentiments on impermanence, which, he claims, should be preceded by thoughts on time rather than manner (110). He argues that the poem is riddled with contradictions. For instance, in line 16, he claims that he is “bereft of friends,” “which can imply only . . . that he is a victim of circumstance”; however, in lines 25-6, he suggests that “no protecting kinsman could console . . . the desolate spirit,” which implies his own volition and “he can hardly expect the sympathy of the worldly men whom he so despises” (110). Since there is no evidence that the poem is told from any other positions than “ascetic commitment,” he contends, one can not successfully argue that the voyages of lines 1-33a and 33b-66 depict the journeys of an exile and a penitent respectively. Instead, he refers to lines 80b-93, which lament the passing of worldly joys. Although one assumes that he is referring to the former days of glory, when one could be excused for not perceiving the need to renounce worldly things, which is contrasted to the present, where the need for ascetic renunciation is obvious, the poet does not actually say this. Thus, Jacobs concludes: “the traditional images of sea, winter, and mutability are used in The Seafarer in such a way as to subvert the discourse of elegy to which they belong. This subversion is made obvious by the poet’s failure fully to achieve it, in that the conventional force of the poetic language is such as to carry him away into suggesting meanings he cannot logically have intended, and thus contradicting the central proposition of his poem” (111).


Williams, Douglas. “‘The Seafarer’ as an Evangelical Poem.” Lore and Language 8:1 (1989): 19-30.

Williams begins by disagreeing with Whitelock's (1950) peregrinus theory because the worldly advice which the speaker offers in lines 110-16 seems uncharacteristic of a solitary ascetic. Instead, he suggests that the character fits more closely with that of the evangelist. He recounts Whitelock’s examples of contemporary peregrini in Anglo-Saxon England, and concludes that these figures are not referred to in the context of their perambulations, but rather, because of their evangelical work. He agrees with Greenfield’s conclusion that sylf (35b) means “myself”; this reflective pronoun thus suggests that others previously have sought elþeodigra eard (37a) for evangelical purposes. He claims that although the speaker had previously suffered on the sea, he “has not ventured to attempt the apostolic responsibility to sail to the lands of strangers far away who do not know God” (23). The problematic transition in line 64 from the ‘secular’ to the ‘homiletic’ is rectified, he claims, by Gordon’s insertion of a comma, which shows the speaker’s progression from a fear of the sea in his youth to a disdain for the comforts of summer in his later adulthood. He refers to lines 8-37 of The Whale, which characterize the land as dangerous because of its association with the island which the whale makes to trick seafarers. Also, he notes the usage of the sea as a “trial of faith” in Andreas, lines 190-201. In lines 64b-80a of The Seafarer, Williams claims that the speaker acknowledges his apostolic duty, just as the speaking cross of The Dream of the Rood does in lines 78-83. He claims that his interpretation of the speaker as an evangelist clarifies the confusing lines 111-116, because the lines mean that “one should not treat friend (Christian) and foe (pagan) in such a way that one is neither too dogmatically strict, alienating foes who might burn converts on an earthly pyre, nor too lenient so that supposedly converted pagans should die in sin and burn in the fires of Hell” (27).

Vickrey, John F. “The Seafarer 12-17, 25-30, 55-57: Dives and the Fictive Speaker.” Studia Neophilologica 61:2 (1989): 145-56.

Here, Vickrey carefully considers the position of the speaker in relation to the town dwellers which he refers to in lines 12-17, 25-30, and 55-57. He agrees with the popular opinion that the speaker is a peregrinus pro amore Dei; however, “the first two of these passages differ significantly from the third, in that although ‘the insensitive rich man’ is all three times correctly perceived as such, the contrast to him does not mean that the speaker as he describes himself in the first two passages is a penitent, so that only in the third is the contrast a contrast between extremes” (145). He begins by looking closely at the phrase feasceaftig ferð (26a), which he translates as “needy spirit.” Because this translation refers to the spiritual lacking of the speaker, Vickrey claims that he can not be a peregrinus at this point, and is rather referring to his previous sinful life. He claims that the hleomæg (25b) and se þe ah lifes wyn (27b) are the same person, and that this reading is often overlooked because of the usual insertion of a period after line 26. Therefore, both the protective kinsman and the town dweller live a sinful life, and both are unable to understand the speaker’s suffering or do anything to alleviate it due to the worldly nature of their perspectives (150). Thus, Vickrey claims that the speaker denounces the comitatus system because of its insensitivity to the spiritual life: “traditional loyalty, as far as it conduces to prosperity in this world, frustrates the attainment of the higher good” (153). In lines 55-57, he argues, the speaker refers to the comitatus bond with the words beorn (56b) and secg (57a) which, unlike winemægum (16a) and hleomæga (25a), do not suggest consanguinity; the speaker now has physical and psychological distance from the comitatus. He concludes by claiming that in the first two passages, the speaker is still positioned within the sinful worldly life; however, by the third passage, he has reached dispassion in his quest for God.


Morgan, Gwendolyn. “Essential Loss: Christianity and Alienation in the Anglo-Saxon Elegies.” In Geardagum: Essays on Old and Middle English Literature 11 (1990): 15-33.

Whereas the critical reception of The Seafarer in the 1980s focused on its Christian elements, Morgan begins the 1990s criticism by reminding critics of the poem’s pagan Germanic undertones. She argues that the common element of all the so-called Anglo-Saxon elegies is their lament for the loss of the mead-hall society, and Christianity is both the cause of and remedy for the loss of this comfort. She refers to the comitatus society as a “shame culture,” in which “exile or homelessness was the worst imaginable fate in Anglo-Saxon society, for it deprived the individual of his sense of self” (17). Christianity, she argues, is a “‘guilt culture’ in which the primary source of self-esteem and identity lies within the individual psyche” (17). Morgan claims that the quick transition in Anglo-Saxon England from paganism to Christianity resulted in much confusion, and the values of the “shame culture” and the “guilt culture” were not satisfactorily reconciled; this attempted conflation of the two systems is found within the elegies. She considers the debate between the allegorical and literal interpreters of the poem, and concludes that the one thing they have in common is their indication that “the traditional Anglo-Saxon horror of exile is present in the poem: the very equation of solitary wandering to anguish indicates that the values of a shame culture are in operation” (25). This presence is furthered, she claims, by the assumption that Christian living requires the condition of exile, because the seafarer is forced to forgo all the joys of the comitatus life. Lines 80-86, however, complicate the interpretation of the speaker as having found joy in his quest for God, because he laments the passing of a heroic age. Morgan suggests that the speaker’s romanticizing of a golden age, characterized by Germanic heroism, and lamenting for the current Christian age where the weaker hold power conflicts with his Christian purpose (87-9): “If the sense of gradual decay is drawn from the Christian tradition, it is doubly significant that the vanished race is extolled for its patently non-Christian virtues while the present one is criticized for the lack of them” (28). She concludes that we find in the elegies an attempt to reconcile “religions faith” and “social behavior,” which results in an ultimately confused system of values (30).


Hoople, Sally C. “Stefn: The Transcendent Voice in The Seafarer.” In Geardagum 11 (1990): 45-55.

Hoople considers the word stefn (7b) with regard to its various meanings and how they help to unify the poem’s Christian agenda. Following Smithers' (1957) lead, she considers it in the light of the third-century Epistle of James of Pseudo-Clement, in which the world is compared to the sea, and the church as a ship; therefore, the literal translation of the “night-watch” in the “ship’s prow” could refer symbolically to the “intense vigilance required for the progress and safety of both church and soul” (47). She refers to the alternative meanings found in Bosworth: “1) ‘a turn, a time,’ 2) ‘a voice, sound uttered by the mouth,’ and 3) ‘a summons, citation’ (Bosworth 915)” (47). Also, the Supplement lists, “a fixed time for doing something” (Toller 711). The first two meanings, she contends, reinforce the ideas of the speaker’s “turn at night-watch” and his “‘voice’ in his eorfoðhwile”; the supplemented meaning “introduces the idea of fate” (47) which recurs in lines 66-71 and 115b-116. The admonition through the “voice” of the cuckoo also indicates the presence of wyrd, and thus resounds with the multiple interpretations of stefn. She offers a simple solution to the contradiction of the speaker’s desire to go again to sea and his fear of dangers and loneliness; she refers to the sharp ambivalence one feels whenever one goes to sea, because of the feeling of freedom and the fear of the sea’s power to destroy one’s boat. She provides examples of similar usages of stefn in Andreas (lines 90-96, 402a-4, and 738b-39a), and concludes by stating that although the symbolic uses of stefn cannot be proved to be present in The Seafarer, “the suggestive connections between the prow of a ship, vigilance and watching, the voice of the Lord, and the new fate of men may not be easily dismissed” (53).


Orton, Peter. “The Form and Structure of The Seafarer.” Studia Neophilologica 63 (1991): 37-55.

Like many approaches to The Seafarer since the time of Whitelock (1950), this article advances her notion of the speaker as a peregrinus; however, unlike many critics subsequent to Whitelock, Orton argues that the speaker is engaged in a dialectic which attempts to find a reconciliation between the ascetic and worldly lives. He denies recent arguments for the existence of wordplay, and stresses the importance of all parts of the poem, and not just those which support a particular reading. He employs the traditional tripartite division of the text; part one consists of lines 1-33a, part two, 33b-66a, and part three, 66b-124. The first part, he suggests, consists of the speaker’s narration of his exile from the “traditional ‘heroic’ experiences on land” (42), which ultimately brought him to his ascetic life; however, he does not reflect on them from his current position of awareness, but rather, retells them as if from a “diary entry” for the benefit of the audience. Thus, when the speaker refers to the townspeople as wlonc and wingal (29a), he does so wistfully, and does not pass moral judgement; the seafarer “sets his face against this worldly life and everything to do with it, . . . not . . . out of moral revulsion, but because he has reached a point of personal crisis” (40).

Orton begins his discussion of the second section by considering the translation of sylf (35b). He agrees with Kershaw’s, Henry’s, and Greenfield’s interpretation of sylf as “‘of my own accord’” (41). The speaker is thus in a vicious circle, he claims, which pushes him further and further from the world of kinfolk: “. . . on his return to land [from his previous journeys] he finds that his isolation at sea has resulted in an equally intolerable isolation at home, where his experiences are unshared, unknown, scarcely credited, in short denied validity . . . which is presumably reserved for traditional ‘heroic’ experiences on land” (42). Orton notes the problem of interpreting elþeodigra eard (38a) as an allegory for the heavenly home, since the phrase itself connotes a place of exile. Having been given two choices, peregrination or despair, the speaker chooses the former, and , after he chooses his ascetic course at the end of the second part, he drops his discussion of himself and seafaring altogether. From his new perspective, he comes to see his plight as the that of all people, and the second section leaves the question of whether ascetic renunciation of the world is necessary for all people, or if there is a less severe route to salvation (51). The speaker resolves this question in the third section, in which he asserts the temporality of traditional concerns such as glory and extravagant burial practices; he does not preach abandonment of the old ways, but rather, perspective on their insignificance “when measured against the scale of eternity” (51). Orton concludes by reflecting on the speaker's journey from a loss of self-definition to his discovery of “a more comprehensive vision of the man and the world” (52).


Vickrey, John F. “The Seafarer 111-15: Dives and the Ultimate Futility.” Papers on Language and Literature 28:3 (1992): 227-41.

This continuation of Vickrey’s discussion of the poem’s contrasted figures examines the role of the rich man in the obscure lines 111-15. He begins by considering the possible translation of mid gemete (111b), arguing that the conventional translation of the section as an admonition to Christian moderation in interpersonal dealings is thematically incongruous with the poem, which does not elsewhere attempt to advise one on how to deal with the wicked. Instead, he contends that the difficult section describes the fate of the secular man after death: “ . . . lines 112-15 set forth, though obviously in textually corrupt form, both the way of the rich man in this life and his experience after death” (233). After surveying and dismissing various possible readings of line 111b, Vickrey extrapolates from Psalm 48 and Luke 16, and translates it, “every man ought to govern [perturbations of mind] by moderation” (234). The “textually corrupt form” to which Vickrey refers is an alleged lacuna in line 12, noted by Gordon, which, with an emendation made by Holthausen and modified by Pope, and an additional speculative reconstruction offered by Vickrey, translates “[Nigh every man holds love] . . . towards the dear (one) and towards the hated one wickedness,” which, he argues, echoes Luke 16:13 or Matthew 6:24. He suggests that lines 113-115 describe two things that the sinner will come to know: his continuous conflagration (113b) and the destruction of his “geworht friendly lord utterly burnt away” (236). Vickrey concludes by noting that the speaker equates comitatus life with worldly ambition, and thus accuses it of being contrary to Christian belief because of the attempt to serve “both God and Mammon” (Luke 16:13).


Magennis, Hugh. “Images of Laughter in Old English Poetry, with particular reference to the ‘Hleahtor Wera’ of The Seafarer.” English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature 73:3 (1992): 193-204.

After offering categorizations for all the incidents of laughter in the Old English canon, Magennis examines lines 20-22 of The Seafarer with reference to his defined categories. The first category he applies to the poem is “laughter as a symbol of happiness and prosperity” where “laughter can be seen, along with drinking, music, and the giving of gifts, as an essential expression of the dream of the hall. The central activity . . . is feasting, and it is at feast that laughter and these other elements of life in the hall have their proper setting” (197-98). The second category which describes the poem’s passage is, “laughter as a symbol of vanity” (201). This type of laughter, Magennis notes, is found in both Biblical and Patristic writings, and invokes a Christian contrast to the warmth of the hall. He refers to Ecclesiastes 7:2-3, which states, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting . . .. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” Thus, the poet places an image of heroic Germanic revelry against a background of Christian contrition, as both a critique of the former, and an admonition to the latter: “The poet employs the language of secular tradition to present the seductiveness of the world, but knows, with the author of Ecclesiastes . . . that the house of feasting brings distraction from essential truth” (204).


Smol, Anna. “Things Speaking and Speech “Thinging”: Riddlic Voices and The Seafarer.” English Studies in Canada 20:3 (1994): 249-65.

Smol’s novel approach to the poem consists of reinvoking the debate about the number of speakers and the extent to which the speaker describes a literal or metaphorical journey. She begins by examining the Old English riddles; she refers to Craig Williamson’s work on the riddle, in which he describes it as an inanimate object’s being given a voice, or prosopopoeia, which it uses to invite the reader/listener into identifying with, and ultimately recognizing, the thing for which the voice speaks (249-50). While constructing this context for reading The Seafarer, Smol also mentions typology, in which events are said to prefigure later events across time, and she refers to Holly Wallace Boucher in order to describe the relationship between metonymy and typology: “typology . . . constitut[es] metonymic relationships that extend an invitation, either implicit or explicit, to every reader or listener to enter into the pattern of typological identities” (252). For instance, when regarding an image of the cross, one is urged to consider the entire typological sequence of the resurrection. Having established a system in which The Seafarer exists as an allegory, Smol continues by considering the voice of the opening 33 lines: “. . . the opening speech . . . takes a traditional biblical and patristic analogy comparing life on earth to a seafaring exile and gives it a body, attributes it to an apparently real person”; like Stanley (1955), who regards the speaker as a fictional one who came too close to fact, she regards him as a metaphor who “acquired a fully detailed human life” (255). She refers to the initial speaker as the “past speaker,” whose sufferings have voices (lines 10-11) and who refers to his experiences in the past tense. Thus, she argues that instead of prosopopoeia, we are “given words, a metaphor of the Christian voyage on the turbulent seas of this world, and that metaphor accumulates ‘things,’ such as cold feet and icicles” (258). She refers to the traditional acknowledgment of a shift at line 33b, and like Pope (1965), regards it as a shift in voices; however, she claims that it is irrelevant whether the new voice is literally another person. Instead, she argues that the new tense of the “present” voice, which exists in a “metonymic and typological” (255) relationship to the “past voice,” is most significant, and that this speaker elaborates on and fulfills the metaphors alluded to by the first speaker. The new voice refers consciously to itself as a spiritual traveler; the past speaker implied his spiritual journey. Thus, the two speakers “partake of one identity.” As for the final section, “the earlier seafaring disguises fall away as this homiletic speaker makes straightforward, definitive statements of belief that mark the dogmatic certainty of one who is going to explain and exhort” (261). She concludes by noting that each voice responds to the prior voice in a riddling fashion; it consciously acknowledges ‘what it is’ and comments on its function.


Mora, María José. "The Invention of the Old English Elegy." English Studies 76:2 (1995): 129-139.

In this recent article, Mora, like Herbert Pilch in "The Elegiac Genre in Old English," questions the motivations of the nineteenth-century Anglo-Saxonists who apply the term elegy to certain Old English poems. She begins by distinguishing between the terms mode and genre, which have been continually conflated in English critical history. This lack of distinction allowed Conybeare in Illustrations of Anglo-Saxon Poetry (1826), Stopford Brooke in The History of Early English Literature (1892), Ehrismann, and later Sieper in Die altenglische Elegy (1915) to classify elegy as a genre, and describe the genre as characteristic of the Germanic temperament. Thus, Mora argues that the foundation of the application of the elegiac genre to Old English poetry is found in the Teutonic romanticizing of the aforementioned critics. She notes that their refusal to so classify the funeral pieces from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the elegiac material found in Boethius reinforces her argument that they selectively sought poems which reinforced their romantic ideals about their race. Also, she refers to Gustav Körting's contention in Gundriss der Geschichte der englischen Literatur von ihren Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (1887) and George Saintsbury's in A Short History of English Literature (1898) that The Wanderer and The Seafarer are pagan Germanic poems with Christian endings added at a later time. She concludes with an observation on the defining and maintenance of the genre:


Wallace, Charles Harrison. “The Central Crux of The Seafarer.” Studia Neophilologica 68 (1996): 177-84.

Here, Wallace considers the meaning of lines 62-64, with a special emphasis on the translation of unwearnum (63b). He agrees with Smithers (1959) about the translation of anfloga (62b) as the “approaching flyer,” and thus a mythical creature such as a valkyrie. He translates hweteð (63a) “whets,” which implies, “makes ready” (177). He disagrees with the common emendation of wælweg (63a) and once again uses Smither’s translation of it as “on the path to death.” Hreþer (63b) he renders as “spirit.” With regard to unwearnum (63b), he criticizes the common understanding of the word as “irresistibly.” Instead, he argues, wearn refers to “barrier” or “bar” and, because “the absence of a barrier cannot be expressed as a noun; . . . unwearn must be thought of as an adjective, which can only be rendered as ‘defenceless,’ or possible ‘unresisting’” (178). The adjective, unwearn, can only be applied to hreþer, thus he renders the phrase, “the defenceless, unprotected or unprepared soul” (179). He argues that the dative case ending -um, which produces an adverbial effect, would lead one to believe that it must modify the nearest verb; therefore, it should be applied to hweteð (63a). However, he claims that “since hweteð seems to express the action of the anfloga, the cluster of meaning attaching to unwearn is, as it were, attracted away from the hreþer to the anfloga” (178). He argues that the context does not support this reading. Thematically, he contends that his reading makes sense, because, after vividly describing the moment of death, the speaker invites the audience members to overcome their fears of death by reflecting on heaven along with him.

Charles Harrison Wallace's Seafarer Page


Dyas, Dee. “Land and Sea in the Pilgrim Life: The Seafarer and the Old English Exodus.” English Language Notes 35:2 (1997): 1-7.

Dyas begins by criticizing the tendency of many scholars to regard the seafarer’s boat as a metaphorical representation of the church. Although their sources for this metaphor are numerous patristic writings, such an image does not fit the image of the seafarer and his ship. She points out that there is nothing to suggest that the speaker is necessarily safe in his ship; rather, the contrast is focused between life on land and life at sea. The depictions of the Egyptians and the Israelites in the Old English Exodus, she argues, provide a fitting comparison to the land/sea dichotomy in The Seafarer: “as Peter Lucas observes in his edition of the poem, the Egyptians, the enemies of God, are referred to as landmenn (179) whereas the Israelites, on their way through the desert to the promised land are called saemen (105)” (2). She notes that the Israelites, already living in exile, become wanderers, which sustains the metaphor of humanity as living in exile from Eden because of Adam’s sin. The Egyptians, being landmenn and thus not wanderers, are, as Lucas argues, condemned to hell. For this land/sea dichotomy to apply successfully to The Seafarer, one must determine the speaker’s attitude to the city dwellers. Dyas argues that he feels contempt for se þe ah lifes wyn / gebiden in burgum (27b-28a) because of his description of the city man as wlonc and wingal (29a). She agrees with Klinck’s suggestion that the speaker uses these words in a pejorative sense, because their connotations are not neutral. The speaker’s feeling towards the city dweller is reinforced by lines 106-107, in which the speaker refers to he who does not fear the Lord as dol. She concludes by remarking on the seafarer’s recognition of the signs of spring as the coming of the apocalypse; because of this awareness, “he must renounce the transient joys of life on land in order to seek the eternal joys of heaven” (7).