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In lines 55–56 of “The Seafarer,” the speaker says, “Who could understand, / In...

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PiLxT | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 4, 2013 at 5:01 PM via web

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In lines 55–56 of “The Seafarer,” the speaker says, “Who could understand, / In ignorant ease, what we others suffer.” Based on evidence from the poem, what do the seafarer and people like him endure?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 4, 2013 at 5:53 PM (Answer #1)

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The anonymous speaker of the Anglo-Saxon poem "The Seafarer" laments, in the lines you mention, that no one who lives on the land could ever understand the hardships a seafarer must endure.

The speaker of the poem tells about some of his physical hardships.

[The] smashing surf when I sweated in the cold

Of an anxious watch, perched in the bow

As it dashed under cliffs. My feet were cast

In icy bands, bound with frost,

With frozen chains, and hardship groaned

Around my heart. Hunger tore

At my sea-weary soul.

This is a picture of life on the sea, weary hours spent on watch as the cold wind and waves turn his feet into frozen blocks. These details also suggest another kind of hardship, beyond the physical. The poet talks about hardships which are not physical, such as hardships groaning at his heart and hunger tearing at his "sea-weary soul."

He continues his lament:

No man sheltered

On the quiet fairness of earth can feel

How wretched I was, drifting through winter

On an ice-cold sea, whirled in sorrow,

Alone in a world blown clear of love,

Hung with icicles. The hailstorms flew.

The only sound was the roaring sea, 

The freezing waves.

The speaker repeats the imagery of the iciness of the cold sea with hailstorms and hanging icicles. Even more, though, he implies that the sea is noisy and unfair (as opposed to the land which he says has a "quiet fairness"). He lives his life in a world which is physically cold but also emotionally frozen; he lives "alone in a world blown clear of love." There is much noise and movement around him, but there is no love or human compassion for a man of the sea. He must settle for the sound of birds instead of the laughter of humans. 

No kinsman could offer comfort there,

To a soul left drowning in desolation.

Despite all of these hardships, the seafarer is always ready to return to the sea after having been on land for a time. Black nights, cold waves, snow, frost, and hail are all deterrents for others, but eventually

The time for journeys would come and my soul Called me eagerly out, sent me over The horizon, seeking foreigners' homes.
   

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