The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

III. Early National Poetry

§ 9. The Seafarer

The Seafarer is a poem of about the same length as The Wanderer and resembles it in several passages rather closely. The sequence of thought, however, is much less clear. The poet begins by reflecting on the miseries which he has endured when travelling by sea in winter–miseries of which the landsman inhis comfortable castle knows nothing. Yet in 11. 33 ff. he says that he has an irresistible impulse to try the seaman’s life. He who feels this desire cannot be deterred by any of the pleasures of home, however fortunately circumstanced he may be. From 1. 64 onwards he begins a comparison between the transitory nature of earthly pleasures and the eternal rewards of religion, concluding with an exhortation to his heareres to fix their hopes on heaven.

In order to explain the apparent contradictions of the poem some scholars have proposed to take it as a dialogue between an old seaman and a young man who wishes to try the seaman’s life; but there is a good deal of disagreement as to the distribution of the lines. The second half of the poem, with its religious reflections, is believed by many to be a later addition. If that be not the case, it is at least questionable whether we are justified in classing The Seafarer among national poems.