I. The Manuscript Context
The Seafarer exists only in one manuscript, Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501, more commonly known as the Exeter Book. The codex is in relatively good condition, in spite of the fact that it is missing a few leaves, has been used as a cutting board and a coaster, and has suffered some rather destructive burns on the last few folios. It contains very few ornamentations, and is written in a fine and consistent hand. In the 1933 facsimile edition, Robin Flower dates the hand between 970 and 990 (90), and perceives the text as the work of several scribes (83). Krapp and Dobbie, Kenneth Sisam, and Neil Ker(1) disagree with Flower about the number of scribes; each claims that there is no evidence of more than one scribe. The most recent contender on the unresolved debate about the books construction is Patrick Conner; in Anglo-Saxon Exeter: A Tenth-Century Cultural History, he argues that the copying began between 950 and 968 (94) and that it consists of three booklets, quires I-VI (folios 8-52v), quires VII-XII (folios 53r-97v), and quires XIII-XVII (folios 98r-130r). Although he agrees with the opinion that the Exeter book is the work of one scribe, he claims that the three booklets were copied over a period of several decades. He maintains that the subtle idiosyncracies in script, which caused Flower to conclude that the book was copied by multiple scribes, indicate rather the development of a particular scribe's hand. For instance, between quires VI and XII, the scribe always "ligature[s] the long s with the following t, p, or wynn, through quires XIII-XVII, . . . the scribe occasionally misses a ligature[;] . . . in the first six gatherings . . . he showed what amounts to complete freedom to ligature or not to ligature. This is a parallel to the general development of ligatured forms in Anglo-Saxon script during the second half of the tenth century" (118). For further evidence, Conner refers to the instances of the initial Š in the second booklet, "which lack expertise and confidence, particularly when compared with the very masterfully drawn initials of the first booklet" (119). Thus, although there are fine differences in the script, it is generally agreed that the work is the effort of a single scribe in a single scriptorium, working in the second half of the tenth century.
There are few hypotheses about the location of the scriptorium in which the manuscript was copied, since little is known about the varying dialects in Southern England at the time and there is very little evidence for the manuscripts early provenance. Since it seems to appear on a list of donations by Bishop Leofric to Exeter Cathedral sometime after 1050, when the episcopal see was moved to Exeter, it is generally assumed that it was not a product of a scriptorium at Exeter Cathedral, particularly because of the supposedly meager state of the community before its promotion as see of the bishopric. Flower places the genesis of the Exeter book in a monastery somewhere in the "West Country" (90); Krapp and Dobbie are more specific in their edition, and suggest that it originated in Crediton, the earlier seat of the bishopric (xiv). Conner, however, argues that the manuscript was a product of the scriptorium at Exeter cathedral. He lists two groups of connected manuscripts: 1) London, Lambeth Palace MS. 149; Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Bodley 319; and Exeter, Cathedral Library, MS. 3501 and 2) Exeter, Cathedral Library MS. 3507; Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Bodley 718; and Paris, Biblothčque nationale MS. Latin 943. The connection, he claims, is London, Lambeth Palace MS. 149, which, while written in the hand of the first group, was extensively corrected by the hand of the second group (44). He continues, "we have six instances of manuscripts which reflect a variety of attitudes and interests, none of which may have been inappropriate at Exeter, given its history from Ęthelstan's alleged refoundation of the minster in the 930s to Swegn's raid in 1003" (44). The earlier date represents the beginning of a time of prosperity for Exeter; the later date, a time of supposedly great loss. Conner notes that Leofric's donation list, which suggests that the Exeter Book was brought there by the bishop, is incomplete and contains other items which were not brought there by the bishop, "although he may have moved them from one place in the institution to another" (45). He concludes that Exeter was a potentially prosperous place at the middle of the eleventh century, which is why Leofric wished to move the Bishopric there in the first place; his testimonials about the wretched state of the institution stem rather from his own administrative strategy than the actual state of the monastery (46).
The first description of the codex's contents is attributed to an excerpt from Bishop Leofric's aforementioned donation list: i mycel englisc boc be gehwilcum žingum on leošwisan geworht, "a great English book concerning many things formed in verse." Thematically, most of the poems of the manuscript are primarily concerned with spiritual matters, with the exception of the riddles, which are generally regarded as secular, and occasional hints of Germanic historical folklore, such as can be found in Deor and Wulf and Eadwacer, and in various sections of the other so-called elegies. The poems are not titled in the manuscript, and in listing them here, I have conformed to the titles as they appear in Krapp and Dobbie's 1936 edition, with the exception of my differentiating among the three allegedly distinct Christ poems and Guthlac A and B:
Christ I (fol. 8a-14a), Christ II (14a-20b), Christ III (20b-32a), Guthlac A (32b-44b), Guthlac B (44b-52b), Azarias (53a-53b), The Phoenix (55b-65b), Juliana (65b-76a), The Wanderer (76b-78a), The Gifts of Men (78a-80a), Precepts (80a-81a), The Seafarer (81b-83a), Vainglory (83a-84b), Widsith (84b-87a), The Fortunes of Men (87a-88b), Maxims I (88b-92b), The Order of the World (92b-94a), The Rhyming Poem (94a-95b), The Panther (95b-96b), The Whale (96b-97b), The Partridge (97b-98a), Soul and Body II (98a-100a), Deor (100a-100b), Wulf and Eadwacer (100b-101a), Riddles 1-59 (101a-115a), The Wife's Lament (115a-115b), Judgment Day I (115b-117b), Resignation (117b-119b), The Descent into Hell (119b-121b), Alms-giving (121b-122a), Pharaoh (122a), The Lord's Prayer I (122a), Homiletic Fragment II (122a-122b), Riddle 30b (122b), Riddle 60 (122b-123a), The Husband's Message (123a-123b), The Ruin (123b-124b), Riddles 61-95 (124b-130b).
As stated above, Conner contends that the codex is comprised of three booklets; the first, which he claims is the most recent addition, contains the items from Christ I to Guthlac B; the third, which he considers a collection which indicates the transformation of monastic life during the Benedictine reformation, holds all items from Soul and Body II to the end. The second booklet, which he claims is the oldest, contains The Phoenix, Juliana, The Wanderer, The Gifts of Men, Precepts, The Seafarer, Vainglory, Widsith, The Fortunes of Men, Maxims I, The Order of the World, The Riming Poem, The Panther, The Whale, and The Partridge; he argues that most of the subject material is based on continental models, primarily Frankish, and that the booklet was copied before the Benedictine reformation (148-159). Thus, if one subscribes to Conner's booklet theory, The Seafarer was here copied with a collection of narrative, allegorical, and gnomic poetry, primarily spiritual in subject matter.
II. Critical History
i) Multiple voices, disunity, and allegory: from Benjamin Thorpe to O. S. Anderson.
The first two editors of The Seafarer, Benjamin Thorpe and Max Rieger, perform little critical analysis on the poem and present it as a unified whole. Although Thorpe does not offer a critical essay on The Seafarer in his 1842 edition, he does make certain editorial choices against which later German critics would react. For instance, he unquestioningly includes lines 101-124, which many subsequent critics argue is a later addition. Rieger (1869) writes the first critical assessment of The Seafarer, in which he claims that it is a part of the Cynewulf canon, and considers it an example of the consequences of an infusion of Christianity into Anglo-Saxon folktale narration. He presents an edition which portrays the poem as a dialogue between an eager young seafarer and a more cautious older seafarer, and, like Thorpe, he includes the final 23 lines with little concern.
Rieger's dialogue theory strongly influences the arguments of his successors. Friedrich Kluge (1883) divides the poem into two speeches rather than a dialogue, and excises lines 64b-124, which he claims are the addition of a mediocre homilist. The supposed pre-Christian elements are stressed by Ferrell (1894), who perceives the poem as primarily pagan in sentiment, containing various interpolations by a Christian scribe, the greatest of which is the homiletic ending. R. C. Boer (1903) elaborates on the theory of the interpolator by arguing that The Seafarer and The Wanderer are comprised of three older poems and continues the argument that the section beginning with line 64b is the work of a Christian homilist.
The theory of multiple voices is first attacked by William Lawrence (1902), who argues that the poem is the unified utterance of one speaker. He also denounces Boer's theory that it consists of fragments of two earlier poems. Gustav Ehrismann (1909) considers The Seafarer as the utterance of one speaker. However, unlike Lawrence, he suggests that the first 64 lines, which contain the seafaring descriptions, are intended to be read allegorically. The seafaring journey, he argues, is symbolic of the state of exile into which humans have been cast due to the sin of Adam and Eve; the cure for this exile is penitence. O. S. Anderson (1937) supports Ehrismann's allegorical reading of the first 64 lines, and strongly supports the unity of lines 1-64a and 64b-102b; also, he includes lines 103-24 as part of the poem, but agrees that the entire homiletic ending was a later addition.
ii) A literal seafarer: Dorothy Whitelock and her influence.
Unlike the first half of the twentieth-century, in which Ehrismann, Anderson, Schücking, and, to some extent, Timmer are all busy discussing the allegorical implications of The Seafarer, 1950 brought the dawning of a new era in criticism with Dorothy Whitelock's "The Interpretation of The Seafarer." Here, Whitelock reasserts a literal approach, as found in the later 19th century interpretations of Rieger, Kluge, Boer, and Ferrell, but with an altogether new angle. Whereas the scholars of half a century earlier view the poem as a dialogue between a younger and an older seafarer, with a homiletic ending, Whitelock contends that it is the unified monologue of a peregrinus pro amore Dei, or voluntary exile for the love of God. Such wandering ascetics were found regularly in Ireland, and commonly known in Anglo-Saxon England, as The Voyage of Saint Brendan attests. The 891 entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle also attests to the presence of such figures in England: ". . . three Scots came to King Alfred in a boat without any oars, from Ireland, from where they had stolen away because they wanted for the love of God to be abroad - they did not care where" (Swanton 82). Although this could be a relatively isolated incident which found its way into the chronicle, Whitelock provides many other examples of peregrinatio of which the Anglo-Saxons would have been aware. Her thesis set a standard with which critics such as I. Gordon, Greenfield, Stanley, and Pope would contend for the following 25 years.
Gordon's response to Whitelock's peregrinus theory is a skeptical one. In 1954, I. L. Gordon publishes "Traditional Themes in The Wanderer and The Seafarer in which she, like Gordon, repudiates the difficult allegorical readings of the earlier twentieth century. Gordon, however, discounts Whitelock's theory because the cold and desperate tone of The Seafarer is different from the spiritual "warmth" (2) which pervades Irish hermit poetry. Rather, she claims that the poem resembles a Celtic elegy, in which an exiled figure laments his misfortune; the poem's ascetic tendencies are mere modifications. Greenfield, on the other hand, agrees with Whitelock's theory, but wrestles with the ambiguity of the speaker's attitude towards his journey.
The peregrinus theory, like the dialogue theory, ultimately arose from the earlier critics' inability to reconcile the speaker's eagerness to travel again on the seas with his earlier description of his suffering. Whereas Whitelock argues that the speaker's love for God causes him to venture out to sea again in spite of his fears, in his 1954 article, "Attitudes and Values in The Seafarer," Greenfield claims that the speaker's feelings about seafaring are not so clearly discernible. He claims that in lines 27-30, in which the speaker refers to the "proud" (wlonc) and "merry with wine" (wingal) in the city, the seafarer's tone is slightly envious. Thus, he views the narrative as a progression from uncertainty to resolution, and contends that dryhten (41, 43, 65, 106, 121, 124) and duguš (80, 86) are puns which display the complexity of the speaker's attitude.
In "Old English Poetic Diction and the Interpretation of The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and The Penitent's Prayer" (1955), E. G. Stanley briefly breaks the peregrinus trend by claiming that the poem is not the narrative of a penitent seafarer. Instead, he approaches the poem as the two imagined monologues of an exile and a pious seafarer, in which the latter shares his experiences with the former. The purpose of the imagined situation is merely to give strength to the concluding admonition. His invocation of the dialogue theory was left virtually untouched until John Pope's 1965 paper, "Dramatic Voices in The Wanderer and The Seafarer," with which he began a dialogue of his own with Stanley Greenfield, who denounces Pope's contention in "Min, Sylf, and 'Dramatic Voices in The Seafarer" (1969). In his article, Pope claims that the poem can be separated into three parts: lines 1-33a (A1) , spoken by an inexperienced seafarer; lines 33b-64a or 66a (A2), narrated by an eager young seafarer; and lines 64b or 66b-124 (B), stated by the speaker of A2 until line 102, and then giving way to an epilogue.
The Pope-Greenfield Match
The crux of Pope's revision of the dormant dialogue theory is found in lines 33b-35b. He argues, "if the experienced seafarer of A1 is still talking why does he not say eft cunnige instead of sylf cunnige?" (177). Whereas Stanley sees the two speeches as monologues, Pope perceives them as a dialogue. The immediate consequences of this theory are much praise, some dissent, and an edition of Old English poetry, Seven Old English Poems (1966), reprinted with a supplemental retraction of the dialogue theory in 1981, in which one still finds the alleged speeches labeled in bold capitals: "1ST SEAF." (1-33a), "2ND SEAF." (33b-102) and "EPIL." (103-124). The more gradual effects of Pope's theory are a strong rebuttal from Greenfield (1969) and a complete retraction and reversion to Whitelock's peregrinus monologue theory in "Second Thoughts on the Interpretation of The Seafarer" (1974). In his response to Pope, Greenfield asserts that sylf (35b) is not spoken by another seafarer, but rather, that it emphasises the speaker's volition in his planned journey. Although Pope retracts his argument in 1974, he does not concur with Greenfield's interpretation of sylf (35b). Rather, he claims that the ambiguous adjective translates as "independently," and thus reinforces the speaker's isolation. Again, Greenfield responds with "Sylf, Seasons, Structure, and Genre in The Seafarer" (1980), in which he argues that the first section describes a voyage which the speaker had to take; the second emphasises the speaker's present choice to undertake the current journey. Marijane Osborn (1978) also contributes to this debate by claiming that the first voyage to which the speaker refers took place near land, whereas the proposed voyage will be far offshore, and thus of a different nature.
The peregrinus theory continued to influence the critics of the 1980s and 1990s, but without the great momentum which it carried through the previous two decades. Although John Vickrey (1982) regards the first 33 lines as an allegory, he acknowledges that the current journey could be that of either a literal or metaphorical peregrinus. He claims that in lines 1-33, the speaker is to be regarded as still a self-conscious sinner, and the reference to the speaker as an exile describes his relationship to God, not society. The speaker's present journey, whether literal or metaphorical, is undertaken in the spirit of humility which results from a spiritual transformation. In his later articles (1989, 1992), Vickrey examines the relationship between the seafarer and the city dweller, and he concludes that the speaker, although associated with the burgher in the first two sections, reaches ascetic dispassion in the third section; the city dweller, on the other hand, by living a secular life, lives in a manner contrary to the values of the speaker. Clair McPherson (1987) discusses the alleged peregrinus seafarer in the context of the fourth century desert ascetics of Egypt. He claims that the poem is thematically similar to the collected sayings of the Desert Fathers, which were commonly read in Anglo-Saxon monasteries; however, whereas the utterances of such ascetics consist of succinct expressions of spiritual wisdom, the poem offers a description of the development of such an ascetic. Douglas Williams (1989) modifies the peregrinus theory by arguing that the speaker rather fits the profile of an evangelist; when he mentions his wish to sail to foreign lands, the speaker is expressing his desire to convert pagan peoples, rather than to live as a hermit. Finally, Peter Orton (1991) contributes to Whitelock's theory by describing the speaker as one who has reached a point of personal crisis. Although he refers to the comfortable life of those living in the town, he does so without condemnation, because he in fact misses such a life. His first journeys are not spiritual in nature, Orton maintains; however, the speaker becomes progressively isolated from his society emotionally by such outings, to the extent that his only two choices are pilgrimage or despair. His pilgrimage results in an enlightenment, which causes him to understand the universality of his earlier suffering.
iii) Lines 58-64.
Another major focus of critical concern from the 1950s to the present is lines 58-64, where the speaker's hyge leaves his hrežerloca, makes a considerable journey, and returns, gifre and grędig. When Smithers (1957) reintroduces the allegory theory with much Patristic and biblical evidence, he uses the interpretation of this elusive section as the crux of this argument. He perceives the section as an apocalyptic metaphor with węlweg (63) referring to the road of death rather than the emended "whale way." He argues that the idea of the ship on stormy seas as a metaphor for the church in the world is a common Patristic convention, and he provides many examples of this symbology. Lines 58-64, he concludes, indicate the speaker's awareness of the advancing apocalypse and his desire for his soul to leave his body permanently in death. James Cross (1959) further supports Smithers' contention by providing Patristic and biblical references to woruld onetteš (49b) and ne to wyfe wyn (45a).
Vivian Salmon (1960) also considers the speaker's separation of his soul from his body; however, unlike Smithers, who perceives this as a Christian allegory, Salmon claims that this flying soul is a lingering shamanic theme. Peter Clemoes (1969) disagrees with both Salmon and Smithers. Although he regards the passage as reflecting the belief that the mind, which leaves the body, will find God, he refers to Alcuin as a possible immediate source, and Boethius as a lesser and more distant possibility. F. N. M. Diekstra (1971) supports Clemoes' suggestion that the passage represents the soul's contemplation of God. However, he does not acknowledge Alcuin as a likely influence, since Alcuin's use of the image is taken from Lactantius. Diekstra provides many examples of the theme of the wandering soul, and describes the passage in The Seafarer as further indicative of the peregrinatio theme. Salmon's folkloristic approach is expanded by Raymond Tripp (1972), who claims that the idea of a wandering soul would have been a commonplace to an Anglo-Saxon. Tripp contends that the speaker is a revenant, and he agrees with Smithers' argument that węlweg refers to death; the speaker indicates his anxiety about supposed conflict between the worldly life and life at sea.
Neil Hultin (1977) argues against Clemoes' allegorical and Salmon's shamanic interpretations of lines 58-64; he claims that the soul's journey can be regarded as literal, since there was a Christian currency of the idea of the wandering soul in Anglo-Saxon England which is also found in the writings of St. Gregory the Great. Peter Orton (1982) considers the anfloga (60b) as the cuckoo's having returned to incite the speaker to travel. He claims the anfloga cannot be metaphorically associated with the hyge (58a), which returns to the speaker's body gifre and grędig (62a) and functions as an internal admonition.
iv) More allegorical approaches
The allegorical interpretation of the poem dominates the critical responses from the 1970s to the 1990s. Daniel Calder (1971) claims that the allegory in The Seafarer corresponds to the speaker's emotional journey from exilic sadness to joyful thoughts of heavenly bliss. Rosemary Woolf (1975) notes the similarities between the poem and the medieval genre of the planctus. The specificity of the sea journey is significant, she claims, because of the associated symbolism; a literal peregrinus would travel on both land and water. A specific aspect of the nonliteral approach is discussed by Charles Dahlberg (1980), who regards the homiletic ending as containing an image of a weir, which is a metaphor for the Benedictine virtue of silence. John Shields (1980) offers another monastic exemplary approach, in which he claims that the poem functions as a meditatio, that is, a meditation that is used by someone who aspires to spiritual perfection. Frederick Holton (1982) surveys the currency of sea imagery in Anglo-Saxon poetry and prose and Patristic texts. He concludes that the sea journey is metaphorical of life, not death, and that this difficult life leads to the kingdom of heaven. The sea imagery is also considered by Dee Dyas (1997), who claims that the ship cannot represent the church, since there is no evidence of the speaker's safety while he is in his boat. The significance of the sea, she remarks, is found in its contrast to the worldly life on land; she points to the seafaring of the Jews in the Old English Exodus for further evidence. Sally Hoople (1990) examines the allegorical notion of the stefn in both Andreas and The Seafarer. Andrew Galloway (1989) considers the relationship between the text and 1 Peter. He concludes that the Biblical passage greatly influenced the author, and that the contemporary reader would register the allusions and treat the allegorical implications accordingly. Finally, Anna Smol (1994) claims that the seafarer is a metaphorical figure who receives so much description that his figure appears to have a literal presence. She argues that the events in the poem are prefigured by Biblical events, and this typological relationship points to the allegory in The Seafarer.
Finally, there are several approaches from the last three decades which do not belong to the rather general categories which I have defined. The first is A. P. Campbell's article which explains the speaker's ambivalent mood towards his proposed journey by diagnosing him with wanderlust. The lines which appear ascetic (39-47) are mere representations of the suffering which would be experienced by anyone who would undertake such a journey. The speaker becomes restless when he hears the call of the cuckoo, and this leads him to his reflection on the cause of all wanderlust: a desire to recover one's home in heaven. W. A. Davenport (1974) performs a close rhetorical analysis of the poem. The poet presents a series of antitheses which, Davenport suggests, encourage the reader to identify with the city-dweller, while the speaker reflects on the common fate of all that is worldly. W. F. Klein (1975) considers the function of memory, which characterises lines 1-33, of present awareness, which characterises lines 33-66, and of future action, which covers the rest of the poem. The visionary nature of the poet, therefore, lies in his awareness of the past, present, and future simultaneously, and has thereby transcended his immediate position in the life cycle. Gwendolyn Morgan (1990) reconsiders the long-neglected Germanic undertones of the poem. Because the conversion in Anglo-Saxon England had been relatively quick, it went from a culture which had a comitatus conscience to one that was dominated by an individual, Christian conscience. She claims that because the horror of exile dominates the first 33 lines, the public conscience which profoundly fears a forceful separation from ones social group is still active within the speaker. Even during his musings on God, the speaker still laments the passing of the meadhalls and heroic Kings. Therefore, in a slightly confused manner, the poet attempts to reconcile the tensions between the two types of cultures.
The term elegy, which is derived from the Greek word for "lament," was originally applied to Classical poems composed in elegiac distich, which consists of a dactylic hexameter couplet followed by a dactylic pentameter couplet. Thematically, the elegy typically covered impermanence, romance, war, and it was usually offered on a commemorative occasion, such as the death of a beloved public figure. Although John Milton's Lycidas and Percy Bysshe Shelley's Adonais maintain the Classical form with the pastoral elegy, by the sixteenth century, the term was applied to a broad range of poetic types. The usage of the term became more specific. In The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, J. A. Cuddon explains that it came to refer "more to a serious meditative poem, the kind that Coleridge was referring to when he spoke of elegy as the form of poetry 'natural to a reflective mind'" (272). This description certainly applies, for instance, to Thomas Gray's "Elegy written in a Country Church Yard"; however, as noted by Marķa José Mora (1995) in "The Invention of the Old English Elegy" the term no longer refers only to a genre, but to a mode. Whereas a genre would require many standards to which the poet would need to conform, a mode is merely a tendency toward a certain standard form of expression. It is difficult to apply the genre to The Seafarer, because the poem does not identify itself as an elegy, nor does it conform to the Classical elegiac metre. Also, it was written in a time that seems to have had little concern with identifying genres and composing poetry that conformed to such specifications.
The application of the term to The Seafarer has elicited different responses from various critics. In "The Elegiac mood in Old English poetry," B. J. Timmer (1942) recognises the problematic nature of distinguishing the Old English elegy, which he defines as "a lament over lost happiness, i.e. either the loss of happy circumstances of life, or the passing of youth" (33). He refuses to classify The Seafarer and The Wanderer as elegies, because the poet uses the elegiac mood, which comprises the first section of each poem, to "[introduce] his chief purpose, the religious admonition." Thus, he concludes by reclassifying them as "religious-didactic lyrics."
In her 1954 article, "Traditional Themes in The Wanderer and The Seafarer," I. L. Gordon helps to develop our understanding of the Old English elegiac mode. She compares the poems to the Celtic elegies, "where the speaker is often a wanderer or an exile who is contrasting his former comfort or happiness with his present miserable condition" (3). Herbert Pilch (1964) furthers this comparison in "The Elegiac Genre in Old English and Early Welsh poetry," in which he elaborates on the Chadwicks' description of the Old English elegy as a monologue by an unnamed narrator, in an unspecified time and place, who, in the first part, reflects upon his state of exile. He suffers from the elements and longing for his friends who are either dead or across the sea. In the second part, the narrator considers "the transient nature of human happiness and of the world in general," which results in a "gnome or prayer" (212). In comparison to the early Welsh elegy, Pilch argues that the elegy in Old English is at a younger stage of development due to its less cohesive structure.
Stanley Greenfield (1966) offers a concise description of the term elegy as applied to Old English poetry in "The Old English Elegies," emphasising the "contrasting pattern of loss and consolation" (94). This observation is also the basis for Pilch's and Gordon's earlier definitions. However, it does not succeed in defining the Old English elegy as a genre, but rather, as Mora later argues, at best, such general observations characterise the Old English elegies as a mode.
Anne Klinck (1984) offers a more developed description of the this type of elegy in "The Old English Elegy as a Genre," and perhaps thereby salvages such a classification. Essentially, her definition concurs with Greenfield's; she recognises the genre's basis in the reflective tradition, and its tendency to move from loss or isolation to consolation through a gnomic conclusion. She argues that although the poems do not conform to the structure of Classical or later medieval lyrics, they approximate the earlier and later genres through the following devices: monologue, conventional introduction of the speaker, gnomic conclusion, and repetition of key phrases and/or entire lines. Thus, as Greenfield argues, although the Old English elegy neither corresponds to the earlier Classical nor the later pastoral forms, its consistency of characteristic themes confirms its legitimacy as a genre.
Unlike the above critics, who attempt to justify the application of the term elegy to the Old English Elegies, Marķa José Mora questions the romantic notions which led to the genre's classification. She bases her argument on the nineteenth-century critics, primarily German, who consider the Old English elegies as characteristic of the Germanic temperament and thus disregard the evidence for other sources or purposes. For instance, Sieper and Ehrismann devote so much of their essays to discussing the supposed Germanic paganism inherent in the poems that they discount their notably Christian homiletic qualities, and one could argue that this rejection of the Christian endings is more politically than textually based. Although Mora's article does well to increase our awareness of the nationalistic trend in nineteenth-century Anglo-Saxon scholarship and its influence in the delineation of genre, she neither addresses the consistency of the poems, noted by Greenfield, Klinck, and, to a lesser extent, Timmer, nor proposes a new classification.
As Mora points out, there is a tension between concepts of mode and genre when ascribing the title elegy to Old English poems. Mode is similar to the concept of mood, in that it carries connotations of the feelings and themes which dominate the elegies. Certainly the Old English elegies typify the elegiac mode, since they focus on themes of isolation and impermanence. Mora appears to suggest that there are no structural reasons for accepting the elegiac genre classification; however, because of their uniqueness, these poems require their own genre. Thus, Klinck's argument is a useful approach to characterising these so-called elegiac verses; although there is no absolute standard for the elements of the Old English elegy, there are devices, the use of which overlap significantly enough to suggest a pre-existent tradition from which these poems originate. Whether this tradition is necessarily Germanic is impossible to determine, but one would be safe in assuming that the cultural psychology of the Anglo-Saxons played a serious role in its development, and thus, "Old English Elegies" is an apt title.
IV. An attempt at Explication
One aspect of The Seafarer about which one finds much agreement is the mood of asceticism. Whether they regard the narrative as literal or allegorical, most critics conclude that the poem exhorts its readers to self-sacrifice for spiritual purposes. Certain scholars attempt to reconstruct the cultural context in which the poem might have been read; Dorothy Whitelock, for instance, claims that the tenth-century audience would have been familiar with the figure of the peregrinus, while G. V. Smithers considers the currency and presence of various Patristic texts. Complementary approaches are offered by both Charles Dahlberg and John Shields, who consider the actual process of reading by the tenth-century reader. Dahlberg's argument makes enlightening references to a possible prescription for Benedictine silence encoded in the text, while Shields considers the act of reading The Seafarer as engaging in a meditation with the goal of worldly transcendence.
I would argue that the world-rejecting speaker is an ideal exemplar for a monastic audience, and the speaker cleverly uses various devices to engage such readers/listeners in his didactic process. The seafarer first describes the conditions which led him to his sense of spirituality, and how this awareness made it impossible for him to return to a secular life. He then moves his attention to the present, in which he undertakes a process of contemplation which takes him from doubt to faith, from unsure intentions to clarity of purpose. The narrator's revelation occurs during this process in lines 58-64, when his spirit leaves his ordinary perceptual field and returns to him, inspiring him towards his spiritual goal. With a newly acquired prophetic tone, he describes the inevitable decay of both the social order and the individual body. He concludes with the antidote for impermanence: the fear of God. The key to the didactic method lies in the speaker's reliving this process through the course of the poem; rather than just narrating the events, he depicts his awareness at each stage of the revelation. In effect, this technique allows the audience to partake of the various modes of consciousness which result in the seafarer's enlightenment. My interpretive approach does not attempt to discern the unclear beginnings of the poem; although it encourages theories which perceive the poem as originating from an interpolated original, it rather considers how the narrative directs the reader in the renewal of his or her faith.
The first twelve lines of The Seafarer reveal the physical and emotional suffering which brought the unidentified speaker to his spiritual purpose. He begins by stating his ability to tell a sošgied (1), "true tale." He emphasises the difficulty of an earlier time with geswincdagum (2), "days of toil," and earfošhwile (3), "time of hardship," before referring to the location of his suffering, the ship. From lines 8b-12, the speaker vividly describes the physical and emotional experiences of his journey, and intertwines images of freezing in calde gežrungen / waeron mine fet, forste gebunden (8b-9), "cold constricted were my feet, bound with frost," with tormenting feelings of literal and, one assumes, figurative hunger (11b-12a). Vickrey argues that this scene takes place when the speaker is still a sinner. The conditions of his suffering create the backdrop for his spiritual revelation, since, as Clair McPherson notes, the scene which he describes contains elements of mortification similar to those found in the lives of desert ascetics (117). His sea voyage contains no worldly comforts to distract him from his longing for God.
The dominant image in lines 1-12a is one of human frailty in the face of nature, whether this human weakness is a literal one which often forces him to keep a nearo nihtwaco ęt nacan stefnan (7), "nervous night-watch at the ship's prow," or a figurative one which allows ža ceare seofedun / hat ymb heortan (10b-11a) "the cares [to lament] hot around the heart." The contrasting image of his frost-bound feet further characterises him as a prisoner of nature, which is intensified by the vicious internal attacks of hunger. McPherson associates the speaker with the Egyptian desert fathers, based on the homiletic ending, and, like Dorothy Whitelock, relates the function of the desert to that of the sea. In this light, it is tempting to regard the speaker as a type of Saint Antony, battling demons in the wilderness; however, there is no indication that the speaker is involved with anything demonic, unlike the Life of Saint Antony, or the Anglo-Saxon Guthlac, in which the demons mock the spiritual warrior. In The Seafarer, the forces which assault the figure are simply those of nature, and, in part, his awareness of this terrifying universal vulnerability to nature causes him to seek God.
Line 12b introduces the first instance of a contrast that resounds throughout the narrative: the distinction between the man who lives well on land and the seafarer who suffers terribly at sea. As W. A. Davenport notes in "The Modern Reader and the Old English Seafarer," this relationship between the speaker and the burgher becomes inverted towards the end of the poem, when the former's God, for whom he suffers, is elevated victoriously above the weak who hold power in the world (235). Also in these lines, the speaker uses his description of the land-dweller, že him on foldan fęgrost limpeš (13), "[that man] who on land receives in the fairest manner," as an example of the sort of life which anaesthetises one to the awareness of one's vulnerability to nature. Whereas the land-dweller has mead for entertainment and consolation, accompanied with the warm laughter of his companions, the speaker merely hears the impersonal distance of the seabirds' cries (19b-25a). Rather than easing his loneliness, these ominous sounds serve as a sinister reminder of his travels in nature's dominion. The descriptions oscillate between the speaker's emotional isolation through his lack of kinsmen and physical suffering through the brutal elements until line 33b, when his thoughts move to voyaging again.
Lines 19b-25a, which contain the contrast between the crying of the birds and the joys of the meadhall, offer a powerful reflection on the vanity of the worldly life. The seafarer states, Hwilum ylfete song / dyde ic me to gomene, ganetes hleožor / ond huilpan sweg fore hleahtor wera męw singende fore medodrince (19b-22), "At times the whooper swan's song / I made my entertainment, gannet's holler and godwit's music instead of the laughter of men, the herring gull singing instead of mead-drinking." Although this passage refers wistfully to the speaker's longing for his hall companions, it contains a subtle hint of the vanity which characterises the speaker's opinion of the meadhall in the latter half of the poem. As the storms beat the cliffs, the tern and the sea-eagle offer their responses, and the speaker remarks, nęnig hleomęga / feasceaftig ferš frefran meahte (25b-26), "no protective kinsmen could comfort the wretched heart." This revelation, which the speaker here applies specifically to the situation of being at sea and thus far from such comrades, contains a hint of its larger application if one considers it in the previous context of the speaker's comparing the voices of the birds and such kinsmen. One suspects that even if they were present, such companions still would have had no effect, since he alludes to lines 97-102, in which he describes the futility with which a man attempts to redeem his brother's soul.
The seafarer's suspicion of the city-dweller's life is first clearly articulated in his depiction of the burgher in lines 27-30:
For žon him gelyfeš lyt, se že ah lifes wyn
gebiden in burgum, bealosiža hwon,
wlonc ond wingal, hu ic werig oft
in brimlade bidan sceolde.
"For he believes little, he who has life's joy, / experienced in the town few grievous journeys, / proud and intoxicated with wine, how, weary, I often / had to bide on the sea-way." Much dispute has arisen over the interpretation of these lines. Gordon (1960), for instance, claims that they do not indicate any hostility toward the burgher (37). Klinck (1992), however, notes that although wlonc may have neutral connotations, gal does not, and it indicates "wanton self-indulgence" (131). The speaker need not feel anger towards the city-dweller, however, in order to recognize the distractive tendencies of his pleasurable life. It is clear from what comes next that he rejects this life now, although his later reference to the "paths of exile" (57a) indicates that he may have at one time missed such diversions.
Whether this first section refers to the literal journey of a peregrinus or is meant as a metaphor for the contemplative life has been the subject of much debate. The greatest limitation of Whitelock's literalist approach is that the tone of the first 33 lines is dominated by a sense of dejection, which, as Vickrey points out, is uncharacteristic of a joyful peregrinus narrative. Instead, Vickrey (1982) contends that the speaker is relating a past sinful stage of his life, during which he ended up suffering much in exile (66). Perhaps we do not witness this sinful stage, but we do witness his process of conversion, by which he becomes aware of his dependency on God. Certainly the image of the exile would be a powerful one in the Anglo-Saxon mind, considering the emphasis on the comitatus relationship in Anglo-Saxon poetry which is here converted and recontextualised, but a tenth-century monk, schooled primarily in Patristic and Biblical texts, probably would not have missed the references to the common Patristic idea of humans as being exiled from their former relationship with God. As stated above, the sentiment of this passage is not that of a courageous peregrinus, voyaging to further his faith in God, but rather, it is characterised by dejection and submission to the elements, and the awareness which these conditions facilitate.
The context of lines 31-33a is unclear, since it is uncertain whether the speaker refers to an instance during his days at sea, or one which occurs immediately before his consideration of his next journey. At any rate, the passage consists of a wintery scene in which the earth is bound and assaulted by the elements: Nap nihtscua, noržan sniwde, / hrim hrusan bond, hęgl feol on eoržan, / corna caldast, "night-shade darkened, it snowed from the north, / frost gripped the ground, hail fell on the earth, / coldest of grains" (31-33a); This description suggests that the action here takes place on land, and not the brimlad of lines 130b. Although the speaker could be referring to the eorže in the wider sense, he also uses the more specific hruse which refers to "soil" or "ground." Marijane Osborn argues that the first 33 lines take place near land; thus he could see the effects of the winter on land from his boat (6). However, there is no indication here that he is at sea during this sequence. Also, that this refers to the speaker's experience of a recent winter on land, rather than a recollection of suffering at sea, eases the audience into the transition at line 33b, in which the speaker's thoughts are driven to a prospective voyage. The speaker indicates his awareness of the coming of spring in these lines, and consequently, he contemplates his next journey.
In line 33b, the seafarer shifts from a reflection on a previous journey to an eager anticipation of his next one. If one discounts the possibility that this passage is offered by another character, one must conclude that the speaker's reflections on his previous voyage have led him, in a seemingly masochistic manner, to his present enthusiasm. However, he expresses this state of inspiration only in negative terms. Instead of immediately expressing his love for the Lord, he contemplates all earthly comforts and regards their ultimate end as uncertain at best. Although the speaker may hint at the heavenly home by mentioning his quest for elžeodigra eard, one need not ascribe to the common opinion of the allegorists that this particular destination characterises his search at this point. Since the speaker's perception develops over time, as an unfolding revelation, he is merely expressing his desire to find a place without the harshness, uncertainty, and distraction of world from which he comes. As one can observe from his opening descriptions, the earth indiscriminately harms him, and he realises that a life of comfortable distraction is not the solution, because that too is subject to disintegration by God:
for žon nis žęs modwlonc mon ofer eoržan,
ne his gifena žęs god, ne in geoguže to žęs hwęt,
ne in his dędum to žęs deor, ne him his dryhten to žęs hold,
žęt he a his sęfore sorge nębbe,
to hwon hine Dryhten gedon wille. (39a-43)
"for there is no man so proud over the earth, / nor in his gifts so good, nor in his youth so virile, / nor in his deeds so brave, nor to his lord so dear, / that he does not always have fears of his seafaring, / into what [fate] the Lord will bring him." In other words, all people are subject to the decay of the world, but they use various methods of distraction to escape the anxiety caused by their awareness of human vulnerability. He concludes by expressing the consequence of seafaring on the individual; it causes him to think only of the sea, and not of the various pleasures of gift-receiving, women, and music. In line 47, he indicates that he who lives on the ocean experiences a longing sadness. As noted by other critics, this does not seem to indicate that the speaker is a joyful peregrinus, wandering for the love of God. As Stanley Greenfield (1954) argues about lines 50-53, his ambiguous attitude towards seafaring shows a complexity of intention here as well (17); however much his ultimate purpose, which consists of his search for God, is unambiguously expressed in lines 64b-66a, and at this earlier point, one can still regard the speaker as uncertain about his intentions.
The speaker continues with a verdant description of the onset of spring, which arouses his desire to go to sea, although he now speaks of himself in the third person: ealle ža gemoniaš modes fusne / sefan to siže žam že swa ženceš / on flodwegas feor gewitan (50-2), "all that urges the mind of eager mood to journey, he who so thinks to travel far on the floodways." He refers to the mournful call of the cuckoo, the harbinger of spring, which also contributes to his sense of urgency. The cuckoo's call is regarded as mournful because it reminds him that the time is drawing near when he will have to undertake his next journey, during which, he realises, he will again experience longung. This leads him to yet another reflection on the contrast between the land-dweller and the seafarer, but, unlike his earlier thoughts, which distinguish the city-dweller from himself, here he contrasts the ignorant former to "those who travel widely on the paths of exile" (57). Thus, he reasserts the difference between the sefteadig secg, "comfort-blessed man," and himself; however, because of his inability to return to the burgher's state of celebrating spring, his reference to himself as one who travels "widest on the paths of exile" (57b) assumes a psychological dimension. Because the speaker has recognised the transience of all earthly delights, he cannot return to the ignorant bliss of those who seek pleasure.
The seafarer discovers his purpose during the mysterious passage beginning at line 58, in which he describes his spirit leaving his body and traveling widely over the earth. It returns to him, feeling greedy and ravenous, and the anfloga, or lone-flier, which is presumably his spirit, yells loudly. This experience leads him to his first Christian conclusion, the solution for the problem of impermanence: for žon me hatran sind / Dryhtnes dreamas žonne žis deade life / lęne on londe (64b-66a), "for the joys of the Lord are dearer to me than this dead life, fleeting on land." Unfortunately, exactly what happens in this passage is unclear. Some critics claim that his soul performs a literal journey from his body, while others maintain that the spirit's journey is a mere imaginative flight. Either way, the speaker has an experience beyond his immediate perceptual field; whether it is imagined or actual is irrelevant, because it leads him to understand and assert his reason for rejecting the world: he seeks the "joys of the Lord" (65a). We cannot know the exact nature of his experience, but we do know that it directly causes him to seek union with God.
The first person pronoun occurs only once more in the poem, during the transition from the speaker's description of his flying spirit to his meditation on impermanence: Ic gelyfe no / žęt him eoršwelan ece stondaš (66b-67). In his typical manner of providing more detail to thoughts and less to the physical environment, the seafarer again describes the various ways in which the worldly life is hopeless but now provides concrete examples. Because everyone eventually dies from adl ožže yldo ožže ecghete, "illness, old age, or swordplay" (70), the best that one can do is to work deorum dędum deofle togeanes, "brave deeds against the devil" (76), so that his reputation can live through the praise of his descendants. The nature of these acts against Satan is unclear. Certainly there is a hint of a heroic motif here, since, in part, such actions are to be performed for the sake of one's reputation. Also, such labours draw to mind the Life of Saint Anthony, as well as Saints' lives written in Old English, such as those of Guthlac, Juliana, and Andreas. Here also is a heroic version of the attainment of the afterlife, which must be earned through valorous deeds. Again, as Greenfield (1954) points out, the use of duguž in line 80a refers to a heavenly host, and contrasts its appearance in line 86a, which refers to a lost comitatus (19).
Not only is the individual doomed to death, but also the social system which supports the individual is likewise fated. Lines 80b-98 contain a vivid depiction of the decay of the world. Although the speaker still focuses on the suffering of the world, now that the kingdom of God has been placed in the audience's consciousness, the reader clearly uses this depiction of impermanence to emphasise the permanence of the Heaven. Earlier depictions merely served as justifications for the speaker's rejection of a worldly life. Thoughts on the fleeting nature of the world are here described in great detail:
. . . nęron nu cyningas ne cęseras
ne goldgiefan swylce iu węron,
žonne hi męst mid him męrža gefremedon
ond on dryhtlicestum dome lifdon.
Gedroren is žeos duguš eal, dreamas sind gewitene;
wuniaš ža wacran ond žas woruld healdaž
brucaš žurh bisgo. (82-88a)
". . . there are now no kings nor kaisers / nor gold-givers such as once there were, / when they performed the greatest number of glorious deeds / and lived in a most lordly glory. / Fallen is all this band of warriors, joys are fleeting; the weaker lives and holds the world / [he] enjoys [it] through trouble." Here, the speaker points to a golden age which has given way to the cruel domination of inferior leaders. While this is not exactly a Christian idea, it does emphasise the sense of decay which the speaker describes before he asserts the eternal nature of God and heaven. The duguš of line 86 refers back to the duguš of line 80, contrasting the transient comitatus relationship with the eternal one in heaven. The seafarer continues by again referring to a golden age which is overshadowed by a current time of humiliation and death: blęd is gehnęged / eoržan indryhto ealdaš ond searaš / swa nu monna gehwylc geond middangeard (88b-90). "Splendour is humbled, the earth's nobility ages and withers / as each man does now over the world." Although the speaker focuses on the disappearance of worldly glory, he reminds the reader that everyone is subject to this decay, and thus prepares his audience for his graphic depiction of an individual's death in lines 91-96.
The degradation of all physical experience is completed in the following passage, in which the seafarer describes aging and death. Because the agents of all physical and emotional torment and pleasure are undermined in death, the speaker portrays a process which, presumably, will be a condemnation for those who favour sensory pleasures and a liberation for those who deny them. The passage consists of a meditation in which the speaker portrays the aging and death of one of the wacran who hold earthly power: Yldo him on fareš, onsyn blacaš, / gomelfeax gnornaš, wat his iuwine, / ęželinga bearn eoržan forgiefene (91-93). "Old age overcomes him, [his] face pales, / the grey-haired laments, [he] knows that his old friends, the sons of princes, were consigned to the earth." He continues by systematically describing the end of all earthly experience: Ne męg him žonne se flęschoma, žonne him žęt feorg losaš, / ne swete forswelgan ne sar gefelan / ne hond onhreran ne mid hyge žencan (94-96). "When that spirit leaves him, his body may neither taste sweetness nor feel pain, neither move his hand nor think with his mind." Bearing in mind the speaker's depiction of his earlier sufferings, one can see the way in which he perceives this suffering as a conditioning for the experience of death, for, unlike the man who experiences life's joys in the city, the seafarer will be deprived of nothing.
After his description of death, the speaker begins describing the last judgment, but before bringing the audience to the judgment scene, he first pauses to consider again the futility of earthly wealth to save the sinful soul from the wrath of God: . . . ne męg žęre sawle že biž synna ful / gold to geoce for Godes egsan, / žonne he hit ęr hydeš ženden he her leofaš (100-103). ". . . nor may to the soul, which is full of sins, / gold [give] help for God's anger, / when he hoards it before, while he lives here." Although many critics claim that this passage refers to a pagan Anglo-Saxon practice of burying dead chieftains with great treasures, the section's primary purpose, as Kenneth Sisam points out (316), is found in its relating of Psalm 49 (48): 7.10:
qui fiduciam habent in fortitudine sua et in multitudine divitiarum suarum superbiunt
fratrem redimens non redimet vir nec dabit Deo propitiationem pro eo
neque pretium redemptionis animae eorum sed quiescet in saeculo
et vivet ultra in sempiternum
"those who have confidence in their own bravery and pride in their great wealth / a man will not redeem a redeeming brother and neither will he give appeasement to God for him / nor for the redemption of the worth of their souls, but he will repose in the world / and live beyond in eternity." Another likely influence on this section is 1 Peter 1:18: scientes quod non corruptibilibus argento vel auro redempti estis de vana vestra conversatione paternae traditionis, "for you know that you were not redeemed by corruptible silver or gold from your vain frequent use of paternal tradition." Certainly these biblical allusions directly influence the homiletic structure of the last half of the poem. This echoing of the Psalm and 1 Peter here do not necessarily invalidate arguments which claim that this passage is a critique of pagan burial customs; rather, their presence here could have resulted from the need for an admonishment against certain earlier beliefs which still survived.
Lines 103-108 assert the strength of God the creator and depict a judgment scene. The Lord appears suddenly in the poem as one with micel . . . egsa (103a), "great, terrible power," who gestaželade stiže grundas [ond] uprodor eoržan sceatas (104-5), "established the firm lands and the heavens above the expanse of the earth." Faced with this fearful Lord, two things can result. First, dol biž se že him his dryhten ne ondrędež cymeš him se deaš unžinged (106), death will come unexpected to the foolish man who fears not the Lord; second, eadig biš se že eažmod leofaž cymeš him seo ar of heofonum (107), the blessed man who loves God will receive the glory of heaven. Aside from line 106, which contains a reference to Psalm 110: 10, initium sapientiae timor Domini, "the beginning of wisdom [is] the fear of the Lord," the importance of such fear is also hinted at earlier in the poem. Although the speaker describes his great anxiety at sea in the first section, he reveals that his fear of God is greater than his fear of physical suffering by again venturing out on such an uncertain voyage. In line 108, the faithful one is rewarded with žęt mod, which refers back to the ar of heaven mentioned in the previous line, foržon he in his meahte gelyfeš (108b), "because he believes in his power." Although some translators render this as the Lord believing in the strength of man, such an interpretation is weakened by the fact that the only meaht which is discussed anywhere in the poem is God's; therefore, the mind's receiving of the grace of heaven must result from one's belief in the Lord's strength. This judgment has ramifications for the soul not only after death, but also at any time in a person's life, since the believer is given grace. The worldly man, on the other hand, who believes only in his own meaht, receives only an unexpected death.
In Lines 109-116, the speaker uses his newly-acquired prophetic tone to advise the man on how to use the mod, which he receives from God, in his daily life:
Stieran sceal strongum mode, ond žęt on staželum healdan, ond gewis werum, wisum clęne,
scyle monna gehwylc mid gemete healdan
wiž leofne ond wiš lažne bealo,
žeah že he hine wille fyres fulne ožže on bęle forbęrnedne
his geworhtne wine. (109-16)
"A man must direct a powerful spirit, and maintain it on the foundation, / and honest in pledges, pure in ways; / with respect for loved one and bitter enemy, / even though he wishes full of fires or burned in a conflagration / his acquired friend." One of the many difficulties of this passage is identifying the subject of the pronoun he in line 113a. If it refers to God, then the speaker is suggesting that one control his love for his friend, who may end up damned. This hardly seems to conform to a Christian ethos. Rather, it must refer to monna gehwylc (111a), who must use the spirit, given by the Lord, for transforming his enemies into friends, or at least regarding them with mildness, even if he wishes them consigned to torment. Mod (109a) echoes the instance of the word in 108a, which, again, refers to grace granted by God. Also, stažel refers to its participle form in the previous line, and implies that the "foundation" on which one must guide the spirit is God. Because wyrd bižswižre / meotud meahtigra žonne ęnges monnes gehygd (115b-116), "fate is stronger, the creator mightier, than any man's mind," the speaker realises that one must subjugate one's mod, which he received from the Lord, to the His will, which can oppose one's own inclinations.
The last eight lines of the poem contain an exhortation to meditate on the Christian life, with a brief reminder of its eternal benefits, and conclude with a formulaic gratias Domine for the gift of worthiness. After all the descriptions of exile and suffering throughout the poem, the speaker finally mentions a place where all people have their home: Uton we hycgan hwęr we ham agen, / ond žonne gežencan hu we žider cumen (117-18), "let us now ponder where we have a home, and then think how we will come thither." Here, the speaker suggests that some sort of ascetic sacrifice is essential for attaining the kingdom of Heaven; whether it is through mortification or denial of hatred, one must use labours, tilien (119a), in order to achieve such an ascent.
The value of The Seafarer as a guide for a monastic audience suffering from some sort of doubt, then, is made clear by the position in which the speaker places the audience. By inviting the listener/reader into the seafarer's experience and awareness at each stage of his crisis and conversion, the poet, or possibly poets, offers a subtle guide for one whose faith is suffering. Considering their access to such works as St. Gregory the Great's Cura Pastoralis and John Cassian's Institutes Monachorum, Anglo-Saxon monks would have considered notions of spiritual struggle commonplace. Such a monastic reader, in a time when encouragement is desired, could read The Seafarer, or almost any other spiritually didactic poem in the Exeter Book, and find a figure with whom he or she could identify. In The Seafarer, such a figure reminds a monastic audience of its purpose for renouncing the world: for žon me hatran sind / Dryhtnes dreamas žonne žis deade life / lęne on londe (64b-66a), "for the joys of the Lord are dearer to me than this dead life, fleeting on land." Whether this poem was composed by a monastic poet or interpolated for an audience of monks remains unclear; however, the vernacular lyric's therapeutic function for such listeners or readers is confirmed by the speaker's description of his dedicating his life to a spiritual purpose.
1. See George Philip Krapp and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, The Exeter Book (New York, 1933), Kenneth Sisam, "The Exeter Book" in Studies in the History of Old English Literature (Oxford, 1953), and Neil Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford, 1957).