How does "The Seafarer" reveal the Anglo-Saxon ideal of loyalty and tragedy of separation or exile from one's lord?

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amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an excellent question.  The seafarer isn't quite like other Anglo-Saxon literature like Beowulf where there is a definite king and a warrior willing to give his life to protect the king.  However, the key ideas of loyalty and separation do apply when you think of the sea as the seafarer's lord.  The sea is his life--his heart.  When on the sea, the seafarer is his happiest, regardless of the cold, the wind, the icy bands, and the harsh weather that cause his body to age prematurely.  When he is on land, all he can think of is getting back to the sea.  He should be his happiest on land...the comforts of home, the fire, the food, drink, the company of women, but his heart aches for the sea, and he can't wait to get back to it.  Part of the separation anxiety he must feel is the realization that his body will give out eventually, and his separation from the sea will be permanent at some point in the future.  All that having been said, he is most at home on the water and would just as soon give his life at sea than to spend it comfortably on land mourning his love from afar.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Though the seafarer has made his life one of adventures on the high seas, he still ruminates on what he is missing from his life on shore. One of the aspects of life at home that he rues missing is his life with his lord at home. He writes, "Indeed there is not so proud-spirited/a man in the world . . . that he never in his seafaring/has a worry,/as to what his Lord/will do to him." The seafarer, brave and honorable though he is, misses everyday Anglo-Saxon life, which is shaped by feudalism. He refers to missing the sound of the harp, the giving of rings, and the pleasure of women. When this poem was written, life in England was ruled by lords, and the seafarer shows loyalty to his lord at home. At the end of the poem, he also shows loyalty to a greater lord, God, as he thanks God, whom he refers to as "the eternal Lord." He feels that his life is ultimately dedicated to the glory of the eternal Lord.

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The Seafarer

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