What Christian attitudes are found reflected in the following elegies: "The Wanderer" and "The Seafarer?"

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rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like many of the Anglo-Saxon texts that have been preserved, these poems come out of a pagan oral tradition. When Christianity spread to Britain and Northern Europe, the old poems acquired a Christian element that sometimes stands in contrast to their pagan roots. 

Both poems reflect on the bitter lonliness of the life of the traveller and the hardship of sea voyages. In “The Wanderer,” the poet has lost his people; he is utterly alone in the world: there is none alive to whom he dares express his “innermost thoughts;” he contemplates the fallen state of the world—“Indeed I cannot think / why my spirit / does not darken / when I ponder the whole / life of men / throughout the world, / How they suddenly left the hall, / the proud thanes.” In The Wanderer, the ultimate evil of the pagan world—to be without kinsmen, utterly forgotten—is conflated with a kind of cosmic or spiritual destruction: “all the foundation of this world / turns to waste!” The Christian god is a fearsome agent of destruction, on the one hand, and, in the conclusion of the poem, the only source of mercy and consolation for the poet.

In ”The Seafarer,” much of the poem again works to present the world as cold and hostile place that must be endured. Like the poet in “The Wanderer,” the poet here is also utterly alone and without kinsmen. Unlike “The Wanderer,” however, this poem develops a more detailed contrast between the pagan and Christian world views. The old ways of glory have passed: “the days are gone / of all the glory / of the kingdoms of the earth; / . . . All that old guard is gone / and the revels are over.” In its place is a new worldview, one where fear of God is supreme: “Great is the fear of the Lord, / before which the world stands still; / He established / the firm foundations, / the corners of the world / and the high heavens.” The poem ends with a admonition (“Let us ponder / where we have our homes / and then think / of how we shall all get thither”) and a prayer of thanks for God’s love.



literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both "The Wanderer" and "The Seafarer" contain references to Christianity. Anglo-Saxons passed on their epics and poetry through oral tradition. While originally Pagan, the Anglo-Saxons began to accept and practice Christianity and this change was reflected in the first written texts.

As for the Christian attitudes found in the elegies/laments, both illustrate the problems one faces when God is ignored. Both speakers tell readers of lives that have passed on--deaths of friends, family, and kings. Now, alone, each poetic persona sails along continuing to do what they know how to do.

In the end, both speakers give readers their final words of wisdom. Each proceeds to tell readers about the importance of God and of belief in him. In "The Wanderer," the speaker mentions how everything is gone--horses, money, friends, kinsmen. The only thing which the speaker can cling to is faith. It is in this faith that one can find "mercy / consolation from the Father in heavens, / where, for us, all permanence rests."

The speaker in "The Seafarer" also recognizes the importance of faith. For this speaker though, righteous fear is of the utmost importance. One must fear the Lord in order to come to heaven: "Blessed is him who lives humbly / --to him comes forgiveness from heaven." Again, as with "The Wanderer," the speaker is educating the reader on the importance of faith and a relationship with God.

Regardless of which poem one looks at, each illustrates a Christian attitude. Both explain the importance of faith in God and the knowledge that God is all one will have after death.