illustration of a bald, bearded man's face superimposed upon a stormy ocean

The Seafarer

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Given that many people have little idea of how those of former times viewed themselves or their cultural worlds, is it indeed possible for modern readers to relate to an art form and a cultural perspective that is so utterly foreign to postindustrial and postmodern reality? Should we even try to read “The Seafarer” from the original audience’s point of view? If this seems impossible, then how should we read this poem? Can we read it any way we wish using reader’s response?

Since “The Seafarer” constitutes a form of lyric poetry called elegy—that is, a private reflection upon the tragic aspects of life’s transitory nature— how is it similar or dissimilar to elegies from later periods of English literature, such as John Milton’s “Lycidas” or Thomas Grey’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”? Is there some quality that links all these poems together despite the vast differences that exist between them as to time and cultural perspective? If so, then what exactly in “The Seafarer” makes it elegiac?

Even if we no longer share cultural memory with the writer of “The Seafarer,” we do share at least some sense of the passing of the good old days? Everyone has some sort of precious memory of their own glory days toward which they feel a mixture of joy and regret. It could be adventures from the golden days of childhood or the swift passing away of childhood’s good feelings. Break up into small groups and brainstorm your own elegies of sorrow for the passage of time and the disappearance of your own “Golden Age.”

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