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The Inner Workings Of The Man’s Mind In The Seafarer

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The complex, emotional journey the seafarer embarks on, in this Anglo-Saxon poem, is much like the ups and downs of the waves in the sea. Through this metaphor, we witness the mariner’s distinct psychological highs and lows in 3 sections of the poem. He mentally moves from isolation and despair, to excitement and finally, to a spiritual reckoning with God. The following explores, and discusses, some of the inner workings of this man’s mind. In the first part of the poem, as the Seafarer looks back on his life, we experience and empathize with the harsh reality, terrible loneliness, sadness, pain and suffering of a life at sea, “…in Old English period…sadness was largely expressed in metaphorical terms”. We can see and hear how emotionally/physically wretched he is, “…in sorrow and fear and pain/Showed me suffering in a hundred ships…and hardship groaned”. His feet were frozen, as was his heart, from the loneliness and desolation, as his metaphoric imagery so vividly shows, “With frozen chains…Around my heart”. As a seaman, he would leave his loved ones for long periods of time, so his hardship knew no tenderness, “Alone in a world blown clear of love”. And he sees no escape from his bitter fate, “For him there is not any protector so powerful on earth who could comfort his destitute spirit”. The poet uses many references to birds, traditionally symbolic of the human soul, to emphasize his longing, laughter is replaced by birds’ anguished cries, high-pitched gulls replace the highs of mead. In the second part of the poem, we see the life on land he misses, “The passion of the cities, swelled proud with wine”. We see a symbolic rebirth in the signs of spring, “Orchards blossom, the towns bloom”. Despite this beauty, the harsh sea beckons, for he is a pelagic creature,“…And how my heart/ Would begin to beat, knowing once more/The salt waves tossing and the towering sea!”.

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Regardless of the emotional toils, he is exalted by the journey. Yet, he knows that no land-dweller can imagine his life’s fate, “…how he must remain, often weary, on the sea”. In homage to Freud, it would seem that the seafarer’s subconscious is in conflict because of his love/hate relationship with the sea. “The land-dweller sees the spring as a time of joy…the seafarer’s point of view … a time of affliction and privation”. Unconsciously, he may seek the comfort and mystery of the womb. The transition to the third part of the poem, shows the seafarer’s fear and reverence for God, questioning what the Lord wants of him. “…he always feels anxiety as to what the Lord may will for him”. With this reference to God, we witness the seafarer’s religious conscious. He is a man who lives simply, hoping his soul will rise into joyous Heaven, “He who lives humbly has angels from Heaven”. “Humility” and self-denial are in the end the only intelligent things to strive for: the Lord will confirm and strengthen that heart desiring them”. Throughout the poem, we see Aristotle’s “psychological reaction of catharsis…that potent stew of sorrow, pity and fear”. We have delved into the profound mind and soul of this ancient seafarer, a man who is strong-willed, drawn to the hardships and thrills of the sea, a profound believer in fate and the power of God. “The Seafarer is a man “speaking to men”, whenever and wherever they live”.

01 February 2021

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