Psychological Criticism of “The Seafarer”

December 7, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Anglo-Saxon Poetry “The Seafarer” by unknown author reflects the inner conflict of a sailor between his fear of the ocean and the restless urge to travel which reveals the meaning of adversity and self-realization. The narrator begins the poem by stating his miserable and desolated feelings on an ice-cold sea. The sea swept the speaker “back / and forth in sorrow and fear and pain” (2-3). He emphasises the voyage is dangerous and uncertain by providing detailed sense feeling: his “feet were cast / in icy bands, bound with frost” (8-9). The awful sensory feelings and darkness of the night increase narrator’s fear and gloom which made him more worried about his safety. He often “sweat in the cold / of an anxious watch” (6-7), staying alert for the smashing surf and under cliffs. This is a less readily perceived suffering of spirit or mind other than physical suffering. (Mandel 540) In the voyage, what tortures the narrator the most is not the hard condition, but the loneliness and lostness he suffered from sailing alone on a boundless sea. “The cry of the sea-fowl, / the death-noise of birds instead of laughter” (20-21). It is human nature to find the social interaction with others. However, the ocean cuts the seafarer’s connection with the rest of the world. He spent more time listening to the birdsong insteading of laughing with friends and companying his family. There is nowhere he can pour out his sorrowful feelings.

The stress repressed in his heart triggers him to be more anxious, and depressed. Everything in the world of a sorrow mind is all sorrow. So, the natural world the speaker described is actually a mirror of his mind state. In his point of view, the sea “whirled in sorrow” (15). Even the arrival of vibrant spring can’t soft his sadness. He feels even worse, because it represents the start of a new suffering journey. Sailing on the sea is lonely and miserable, then why the seafarer still choice to spend most of his life on the ocean instead of being a land dweller? The seafarer admits the thought of going out on the sea terrifies him, oppresses his heart (Mandel 544), but he still desire to leave the land, and to seek another world regardless all possible dangers: nothing on land will entice him to remain (Calder 267). His heart only beat when he put himself back on the sea, “knowing once more/the salt waves tossing and the towering sea” (34-35).

The ocean has irresistible appeal to him. As he said, this fate is “stronger…than any man’s mind” (115-116). The seafarer has a brave and restless heart to push himself break out of the shell and realize his meaning of life. He doesn’t want to indulge in a pleasant and stable life. He might feel sorrow and struggling on the journey, but when he settle down on the land, he actually miss the thrilling life he has went through. All the fame, pleasure and wealth vanish beyond the grave. Only man with “courage and strength and belief” (108) who endeavor all the hardship are allowed to live in the heaven. Seafarer’s exile to the sea is self-imposed. He undertakes his journey to ensure his entrance into the heaven. Adversity to the seafarer is a test on the faith and discipline from God to help him learn and grow.

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