Criticism of Psychological Influence of “The Seafarer”

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The Anglo-Saxon Poetry “The Seafarer” by unknown author reflects the inner conflict of a sailor between his fear of the ocean and the restless urge to travel, and reveals the religious meaning of adversity and self-realization. The narrator began the poem by stating his miserable and desolated feelings on an ice-cold sea. The sea swept the speaker “back/and forth in sorrow and fear and pain” . He emphasised the voyage was dangerous and uncertain by providing detailed sense feelings: his “feet were cast/in icy bands, bound with frost”. 

The awful sensory feelings and darkness of the night increased narrator’s fear and gloom which made him more worried about his safety. He often “sweat in the cold/of an anxious watch”, staying alert for the smashing surf and under cliffs. This is a less readily perceived suffering of spirit or mind other than physical suffering. In the voyage, what tortured the narrator the most is not the hard condition, but the loneliness and lostness he suffered from sailing alone on a boundless sea. 

“The cry of the sea-fowl, / the death-noise of birds instead of laughter”. It is human nature to find the social interaction with others. However, the ocean cut the seafarer’s connection with the rest of the world. He spent more time listening to the birdsong than laughing with friends and companying his family. There is nowhere he can pour out his sorrowful feelings. The stress repressed in his heart triggered him to be more anxious and depressed. Everything in the world of a sorrow mind is all sorrow. So, the natural world the speaker described was actually a mirror of his mind state. In his point of view, the sea “whirled in sorrow”. Even the arrival of vibrant spring could not soften his sadness. He felt even worse, because it represented the start of a new suffering journey.

Sailing on the sea is lonely and miserable, then why the seafarer still choose to spend most of his life on the ocean instead of being a land dweller? The seafarer admitted the thought of going out on the sea terrifies him, oppressed his heart, but he still desired to leave the land and to seek another world regardless all possible dangers: nothing on land will entice him to remain. His heart only beat when he put himself back on the sea, “knowing once more / the salt waves tossing and the towering sea”. The ocean has irresistible appeal to him. As he said, this fate is “stronger…than any man’s mind”. The seafarer has a brave and restless heart to push himself break out of the shell and realize his meaning of life. 

He didn't want to indulge in a pleasant and stable life. He might feel sorrow and struggling on the journey, but when he settled down on the land, he actually missed the thrilling life he has went through. All the fame, pleasure, and wealth vanished beyond the grave. Only men, with “courage and strength and belief” (108), who endeavored are allowed to live in the heaven. Seafarer’s exile to the sea was self-imposed. He undertook his journey to ensure his entrance into the heaven. Adversity to the seafarer is a test on the faith and discipline from God to help him learn and grow.    

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