The poem translated below, has been interpreted as a dialogue between a weather-beaten old sailor and a youth eager to go to sea. The parts are not assigned in the original MS., and the only warrant for our dialogue form lies in the structure of the poem itself.
The Old Sailor:
The Old Sailor:
The Seafarer is a poem of 124 lines, of unknown date and authorship, preserved in the Exeter Book. It probably belongs to the eighth century. The first part, ll. 1-64, describes the joys and hardships of the seafaring life, and is filled with high poetry. The second part contains practical exhortations, echoed from the gnomic verses, and is full of dreary prose. This second part, omitted in the translation, is almost certainly a later addition, made by one or more monkish scribes. The German scholar Rieger first interpreted the Seafarer as a dialogue between an old sailor and a youth eager to o to sea. For the literature on the subject, and the divisions suggested by other critics, see W. W. Lawrence, Journal of Germanic Philology, 1902, Vol. IV, p. 461. The assignment of parts as given in our translation differs slightly from that of Rieger. Professor Lawrence agrees with Kluge that the latter portion, ll. 64b-124, is a pious appendix, but he tires to prove the first part the „lyric utterance of one man.š It is clear that we have in the Seafarer the interplay of different and mutually exclusive lyric moods, suggested by life at sea. It is also clear that the same poet felt and expressed both moods, and that one mood is chiefly retrospective, based on experience, and the other perspective, based on anticipation. Whether the poet consciously dramatized these moods into an objective dialogue between an old sailor and a young man is a minor question. When a critic (Boer) says he cannot determine „whether the dialogue is carried on by two persons or whether a single man is talking with himself,š we realize how perilously near to vain hair-splitting such a discussion may carry us. The main point is that the poem is lyric, not dramatic; it presents the interplay of lyric moods, and not the conflict of dramatic characters. The main, and perhaps the only justification for printing the poem in dialogue form is that so far from doing violence to ist essential meaning and poetic values, it rather brings these into relief. For a precisely analogous dialogue of moods, compare Walt Whitman‚s „Give me the Splendid Silent Sun,š where the mood inspired by life in the country alternates and conflicts with that inspired by life in the city.
Recerntly Ehrisman (Beiträge, 1909, Vol. 35, p. 212) has argued for a didactic unity for the whole poem. According to this interpretation, the pictures of the seafarer‚s life, with their contrasts of joy and sorrow, are introduced merely as a symbol of the Christian‚s life on earth, followed by the joys of heaven. It must be admitted that there is much in Anglo-Saxon Christian poetry to encourage such a view, and I have no doubt that the author of the religious appendix understood the earlier sea-poem in this sense, and appropriated it to his symbolic Christian-mystical purposes, but this is far from proving the unimaginative, unoriginal, unemotional, homiletic addition to have been part of the original fine sea-piece, and in fact its raison d‚etre and final purpose. Browning‚s sea-piece Amphibian is a good example of a genuine blending of the real and the symbolic-mystical, in a uniform poetic key.
68. — 1. True is the tale, etc. This line has more alliterations than the strict rule permits.
69. — 11. Hunger‚s pangs, etc. Literally „Hunger from within bit to shreds the courage of me sea-wearied.š Cf. Job, xviii: 12, „His strength shall be hunger-bitten.š — 28. Little he dreams, etc. The translation omits the preceding line and a half, where there is an evident break or fault in transcription. — 36. The tumble and surge of seas tumultuous, etc. This and the following lines are an expansion of the original „hean streamas, sealtyþa gelac,š the high seas, and the play of the salt billows.
70. — 68. Give me the gladness of God‚s great sea. I have frankly taken a liberty with the original text here, and the literalist will call my version perversion. Peccavi fortiter! 423 At this point the homiletic addition is welded on to the genuine poem, and it is done in the following fashion: „As for me the joys of the Lord are more pleasing than this life-in-death, that passeth away on land.š From here on to the end, the depth of poetic feeling shoals rapidly, and the rhythm breaks. The sympathetic translator who has felt the heave and lift of the ground-swell under him thus far is tempted to answer the pious homilist with his „dryhtnes dreamas,š in Kipling‚s words: