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The seafarer as an elegy

An elegy is a reflective poem in a solemn and sorrowful mood. Usually it deals with sorrow or mourning for the dead. Elegy may be of personal or general. Whatever be the generic names of the Anglo-Saxon personal poems, the fact remains that they are essentially elegiac. The elegies have a tone of unrelieved melancholy which dominates Anglo-Saxon secular poetry. The seafarer is an Anglo-Saxon elegy consisting of 124 lines. It does not explicitly convey sorrow or mourning for the dead but an all pervading elegiac tone concerning personal frustration and wastage of time prevails all through including an exposure to sorrowful exile of life on the sea.
The seafarer as an elegy

From line 1 to line 63, a sad tone flows. It begins with the reflection on the hardships and miseries of the sea on a frail boat. Men who have not undergone these hardship would not realize the experiences of a seafarer. The way the seafarer gives an account of his sea-life full of hardships naturally conceives the elegiac elements. The seafarer is 'sitting day-long at an oar's end clenched against clinging sorrow'. The sentence refers to the central theme of an elegy--the speaker is grief and sorrow stricken. Besides, the expression 'Breast-drought I have borne, and bitternesses too' amply justifies his deep elegiac mood. Severe cold nailed his feet, frost shrank on its chill clamps, hunger fed on a mere-wearied mind-- all these utterances are steeped in melancholic tone.

Reflecting upon the sorrowful condition of the seafarer, the speaker makes a contrast between a blissful land-life of a human being and the adversity stricken sea-life of a Voyager. 'No man blessed with a happy land-life is like to guess how I, aching-- hearted, on ice-cold seas have wasted whole winters...cut off from kind....hung with hoar frost'. It echoes Gray's great Elegy.' Their lot forbade..forbade to wade....'. The utterance picturises the sorrowful mind of a bemoaning sea voyager. Frustration seizes him and he measures his life as a total wastage, as if , it was fated for him.

Next, the elegiac note is heightened when the speaker portrays the life of a solitary seafarer who does not have any human being around to share his feelings and pains. What he has are the sounds of the waves and the voices of the sea-birds of different kinds. A human voice cannot be compensated by that of the bird species nor a despairing soul can be consoled by them. 'Hail flew in showers, there was no sound there but the slam of waves along an icy sea...the swan's blare, for men's laughter there was curlew call, the cries of gannets and music of the gull...eagle scream...' In a painful tone he utters, "No friend or brother by to speak with the despairing mind.' With a heavy heart the speaker says that the miserable life of a sea Voyager cannot be perceived by a man who leads a well fortified happy life. 'This he litter believes whose life has run sweet in the burghs, no banished man...on the ways stretching over the salt plains.' This is, in fact, the culmination of elegiac voice, a depressed and a despairing soul. Just like Thomas Gray's reflection on the inevitable end of human life in his great Elegy. 'The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, ...all that wealth e'er gave .. The paths of glory lead but to the grave,' the poet elegiacally moralises his convention about the transitoriness of the earthly life. 'I do not believe earthly estate is everlasting...... Days are soon over.. Kings are not now, kaisers are not..' He also realises that old age seizes him, the strength of the youth diminishes to feebleness. 'age fares against him, his face bleaches his thatch thins...his friends are given to the ground, that grieves his white head...he cannot stir a finger.' He then philosophies that burying a dead body with heap of gold in the grave cannot appease God's anger. A sin-freighted soul will face the wrath of God, 'but gold hoarded ... cannot allay the anger of God towards a soul sin-freighted'. Since sorrow or grief is the soul of an elegy , 'The Seafarer' rightly retains that.


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