One of the best-known Old English poems, “The Seafarer,” is written in an elegiac mood. It somberly laments the speaker’s misery and finally offers consolation for his sorrows. Like other Old English elegies, including “The Wanderer” and “The Wife’s Lament,” “The Seafarer” uses vivid imagery and figurative language to create its mood.
From Sorrow to Peace
Adjectives that describe emotion and suffering are particularly important in conveying the speaker’s sense of loss, as are descriptions of the bleak marine setting. The speaker combines the two several times; for example, he describes himself as “wretched and sorrowful on the ice-cold sea.” The end of the poem sees the speaker looking outward from his own condition, considering that since nothing on Earth lasts, people should anticipate eternal life joyously no matter what they experience in the here and now. One of the final sentences encapsulates the whole poem’s trajectory: “Let us ponder / where we have our homes / and then think / how we should get thither” to heaven.
Elissa Hansen has more than nine years of editorial experience, and she specializes in academic editing across disciplines. She teaches university English and professional writing courses, holding a Bachelor of Arts in English and a certificate in technical communication from Cal Poly, a Master of Arts in English from the University of Wyoming, and a doctorate in English from the University of Minnesota.