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Anglo-Saxon poetry is most known for its regard to the timely darkness of the world they were written in. Both from the Anglo-Saxon period, “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer” exhibit strong characteristics of literature of the time. Accompanied by a strong relationship in theme and purpose of the two poems, the tones of the narrators create polarity that distinguishes “The Wanderer” from “The Seafarer.”
“The Wanderer” begins with a strong impression of a melancholy tone perceived by the reader as he begins to tell his story as an exile, living in near solitude and helplessness. He describes his situation: “No one knew me now, no one offered comfort, allowed me feasting or joy.” It is obvious through this passage that his conflict is interpersonal—he is not with anybody who will offer him what he once would never have to ask for. Believing that the world was corrupt because of these on-land struggles, his tone becomes dark and his words spit hatred of evolving times when “warmth is dead.”
However, the same idea of the unwelcoming feeling the land its inhabitants bear is presented in “The Seafarer,” only the narrator takes on the situation with what can only be described as a passion. The narrator essentially finds a way out and utilizes the sea as an escape. Though his narration is riddled with complaints of hunger, chill, and lack of shelter, the seafarer prefers the hardships of home at sea than on land, in a world he claims is “blown clear of love.” The seafarer faces the internal conflict of where he should be—in the desolate, roaring waters or in a social environment on land. He also mentions the changing of times and how the world has “bent like the men who mold it,” which is further incentive for the narrator’s preference to the sea. His picture of the sea is that of a potential journey, which essentially would make the journey worth any turmoil.
The main difference in tone comes from the narrators’ perspectives. Where the wanderer is left without any choice but to live as an outcast, the seafarer chooses to outcast himself. Because the wanderer is in this position, the telling of his conflict reflects the emotion behind loneliness, rejection, and lack of direction. The seafarer, on the other hand, knows exactly what he is putting himself through and chooses the tumultuous life at sea because he is seeking journey and adventure, which he feels is not available to him on land.
At points in both poems, there is both a sense of hopelessness and of hope. There is a theme that corruption lies in society, and the people—lords and rulers in particular—are no longer at the aid of people or peers. The wanderer is an exile and the seafarer is urged into solitude due to this corruption. Thematically, faith also plays a large role as both the wanderer and seafarer believe God is a rock in a shaken society. While the wanderer has nowhere to go and nobody left to accept him, he places his faith in God to lead him and assure him everything will piece together. For the seafarer and his conflict, his solitude will not become a problem in reaching spiritual achievement because God is stable despite the rough seas of his life. The idea of God being hope is prevalent in both. Christianity is a single light that shines in the dark Anglo-Saxon age, and is mentioned in both “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer.”
This presence of faith intertwined with the dark settings presented relate both poems to common characteristics of Anglo-Saxon poetry, one characteristic being the presence of war and turmoil, both which appear in “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer.” The prominent purpose of the poems is to detail these struggles and conflicts found within the narration, including the struggle of changing social philosophies and a lack of growth through experience. Both narrators reference to a decline from what was a “golden age” of rulers and emperors to a world where only the strong survive; the ability to accept this change in social morals is an ongoing challenge. Both speakers have also realized the impact of life experience after gaining knowledge of life as a result of their situations; the wanderer understands what makes a man wise, while the seafarer comes to realize that his permanent home will be in Heaven, away from the dying world. These growths were brought on by experiences both good and bad, which the wanderer and the seafarer feel there is a severe lack of among people who choose to only live in comfort.
No two works of literature can be exactly the same, but “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer” draw some very similar parallels in terms of theme and purpose that directly relate them to the characteristics of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is the subtle differences in the general tones of the speakers that separate these two poems into their own identities, but within the same category of elegiac Anglo-Saxon poetry.
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