What Christian element is emphasized in "The Seafarer"?

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"The Seafarer" exists as a very early example of Old English poetry. Historically, texts from this period were transmitted through oral tradition, only being written down after centuries. Although appearing very early, around the tenth century, many scholars believe it to have been transmitted orally for many years before.

The poem itself contains numerous Christian elements.

  • "to hwon hine Dryhten / gedon wille" (as to what his Lord / will do to him): This line speaks openly and directly to Christianity. The capitalization of the name "Lord" has historically referred to the Christian God. Here, the idea that only God knows what will happen to any man is illuminated.
  • "Forþon me hatran sind / Dryhtnes dreamas / þonne þis deade lif" (Indeed hotter for me are / the joys of the Lord than this dead life): This line also speaks to Christian elements which are highlighted within the poem. Here, the lines speak to the ideology that when one's mortal life ends, God's heaven possesses "joys" for him or her which their "dead life" cannot offer.
  • "lifge mid englum / awa to ealdre, / ecan lifes blæd" (will live with the angels / for ever and ever, / the glory of eternal life): This line speaks directly to the Christian ideology of life in heaven after death. This line not only mentions the "glory of eternal life"—it also mentions the angels which live in heaven with God.

Therefore, these three sections of lines refer directly to the Christian ideology of God's knowledge of us and our end—as well as life in heaven after one's mortal death.

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The second part of "The Seafarer" contains many references to the speaker's relationship with god.  God is an entity to be feared.  He is the Creator:

He turns the earth,

He set it swinging firmly in space,

Gave life to the world and light to the sky.

In return, god expects men to remember him.

Death leaps at the fools who forget their God.

He who wants to live forever must "live humbly."  He must not be overly concerned with material wealth.  He must not harm others even if wrong is done to him.  These tenets sound very similar to Jesus' "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" or "Turn the other cheek."

God is mighty and capable of giving us eternal life.  But if we get caught up in the riches of the world, if we forget to live humbly or if we forget to praise our god, we will not have the "hope of Heaven." or "eternal joy."

 

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