In the Old English poem "The Seafarer," what are the seafarer's responses to "harps," "rewards," "passion," and the other pleasures of life on land?

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The seafarer does not get to experience "the sound of the harp," "the pleasure of women," or other worldly pleasures and rewards. He feels that the rewards of life, including gold, "just won't work," and he says that God will never accept a person whose soul is sinful, even if that person is buried with treasure. The seafarer forgoes the earthly pleasures that people on land experience as he braves his solitary life on the sea. When he is faced with the delights of the city, he feels a "longing" to return to life on the ocean. His mind is always on what awaits him in the afterlife. Even after his spirit soars over the sea, it comes back to him "unsated," and he is far more interested in the "joys of the Lord" than what he refers to as "this dead life/fleeting on the land." The joys of everyday life are fleeting, meaning that they do not last, and his mind is always on the eternal and the spiritual rather than on earthly delights.

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"The Seafarer" is one of the very few existing poems written in Old English. As with the Old English epic Beowulf, we don’t know the author or the precise date, since the work was transmitted orally until eventually being handwritten by Anglo-Saxon monks.

The poem’s speaker tells of his dangerous and difficult experiences on the cold and rough sea, comparing this to a life of ease on land. The central idea is that man, to satisfy the longings of his soul, must take such a difficult journey in his efforts to know God and follow (or find) his fate.

In the first half of the poem, the poet characterizes the sailor’s situation:

No harps ring in his heart, no rewards,

No passion for women, no worldly pleasures,

Nothing, only the ocean’s heave.

These lines express the idea that man must turn away from the ways of the world to seek God and spiritual fulfillment. The pleasures of civilization are many . . .

And yet my heart wanders away,

My soul roams with the sea, the whale’s


He must go even if it means subjecting himself to the dangers of the open sea. Although the spiritual journey is treacherous, the seeker must press on regardless:

Thus the joys of God

Are fervent with life, where life itself

Fades quickly into the earth.



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