In what ways is the seafarer in exile in the Old English poem "The Seafarer"? 

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"The Seafarer " is an allegorical poem that charts one man's spiritual journey from a life of material ease and luxury to a state of blessed holiness. In this sense, the seafarer is exiled not just from society, but from his former self, a self mired in a world...

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"The Seafarer" is an allegorical poem that charts one man's spiritual journey from a life of material ease and luxury to a state of blessed holiness. In this sense, the seafarer is exiled not just from society, but from his former self, a self mired in a world of meaningless, empty pleasure. The passing joys of the present are fundamentally worthless; achieving a future state of blessedness is what matters most of all.

The seafarer is very much a creature of his time. He is profoundly influenced by a developing monastic spirituality within Christendom. This growing taste for ascetic self-denial transformed the typical desires of Saxon pagans—the conviviality of the mead hall, the pleasures of the flesh, heroic adventures on the high seas—into a deep longing for the Christian heaven. Exile from our fleeting material existence here on earth leads to a permanent home in eternity in one of the many mansions in God's house.

Loyalty to home and hearth, one's kin, and one's liege, was of inestimable importance in Anglo-Saxon culture. However, the seafarer is prepared to acknowledge a greater loyalty still, one to his heavenly Lord and King:

Forþon me hatran sind Dryhtnes dreamas þonne þis deade lif læne on londe.

(Indeed hotter for me are the joys of the Lord than this dead life on land.)

In Anglo-Saxon society, exile was a punishment inflicted upon someone by their lord and master. Yet, the seafarer's exile is self-imposed; he has taken upon himself a power and a responsibility hitherto exclusively belonging to his secular ruler. The possible implications are radical. In order to reach heaven and complete the spiritual journey of Christianity, it is necessary to sever the artificial bonds of society and enter into a personal relationship with God, one that transcends the myriad obligations owed by an Anglo-Saxon warrior to his earthly king.

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“The Seafarer” is an Anglo-Saxon poem that was passed on orally and then written in Old English, most likely by monks during the first millennium. The poem is generally considered to be a metaphorical look at the hardships involved in man's spiritual journey.

Usually when we use the term “exile” we are referring to the act of pushing someone out of one's community, forcing them to live apart and sometimes alone. In the Burton Raffel translation (which is often used in high school literature anthologies) the word “exile” appears about halfway through:

. . . Who could understand,
In ignorant ease, what we others suffer
As the paths of exile stretch endlessly on?

The exile to which the speaker refers is his spiritual journey in search of God. The poet uses the hardships of the cold ocean journey metaphorically to represent the difficulty of leaving behind worldly pleasures to focus on God. It is important to note that this exile is self-imposed, as we see
earlier in the poem:

And who could believe . . . how often, how wearily I put myself back on the paths of the sea

Despite the obvious privations of his life choice, he has separated himself from mankind on purpose. Finding God is more important.  

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