Speaker Point of View

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The Seafarer: Rhyme, Form & MeterWe’ll show you the poem’s blueprints, and we’ll listen for the music behind the words.Note: This analysis refers to the poem in its original language. Get ready for some Old English, people.Okay, awesome readers, hold on tight, because we're about to get a little technical. Unlike the poetry of say, Shakespeare, which has a predetermined number of syllables per line (ten), a line of Anglo-Saxon poetry doesn't have a set number of syllables. Instead, it has a set number of stresses (syllables with emphasis): four, with a slight pause in between the first two and last two stresses, called a caesura. The first stressed syllable of the second half-line has to alliterate with (have the same first letter as) one or both of the stressed syllables in the first half-line. We know we just threw a lot at you, so let's take a look at lines 48-49 of "The Seafarer" just so we can really see what we're talking about:Bearwas blostmum nima?, byrig f?gria?, (Groves take on blossoms, the cities grow fair,)wongas wlitiga?, woruld onette?; (the fields are comely, the world seems new;)These lines have different number of syllables (11 and 10), but in each case there are four, stresses, a pause between the first and second half-line, and alliteration among the stressed syllables, with the b of berwas, blostmum, and byrig in line 48, and the w of wongas, wlitiga?, and woruld in line 49.It's worth noting that in the translation we've used, the translator makes quite an effort to use alliteration in modern English. Of course it doesn't quite have the same effect, because the stressed syllables are not the same. But it's nevertheless a nod to the repetitive sounds that would have been obvious to Anglo-Saxon ears. If you're interested in developing some Anglo-Saxon ears of your own, you might want to learn more about alliterative verse, which is the technical term for the form we've just described. Other famous Anglo-Saxon poems, like Beowulf and "Caedmon's Hymn" were written in it, too. Plus, you'll be the center of attention at your next dinner party. HYPERLINK "" \o "Speaker" Speaker Point of ViewWho is the speaker, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?Our speaker tells us right off the that bat he's going to "make a true song" about himself. Sounds pretty straightforward and autobiographical, right? We're primed and ready for the story of his life. Except, the problem is, we never really get it. All we truly know about our speaker is that he's spent a whole boatload of time out on the open sea in the middle of terrible winter weather. We know he feels restless, sad, and pretty darn lonely most of the time. But the weird thing is, it's never quite clear why he lives this life. Why does he always have this urge to travel? Why does he refer to himself living in the "paths of exile"? Did he commit a crime? Is he fleeing a war? Or hey, maybe he's just a deep-sea fisherman. Anything's possible, right?At certain points in the poem, the speaker refers to the "sea-weary man," or "those who travel the paths of the ocean." At this point we know he's talking about himself. But these vague terms also broaden his scope a bit. He seems to be claiming that everyone who has experienced what he has feels just the same way and understands just the same things he does. So then this isn't just an autobiography. It's much more universal than that. So what does this speaker, along with all the other sea-weary men know? What's he trying to share with us? Well, the speaker claims that those who have traveled the paths of exile understand that everything in this world is fleeting: gold, friends, even whole civilizations eventually pass away with time. Knowing this, the speaker can't and won't take pleasure in such things. He knows from experience – the only stable thing in life is God.And there's the kicker. The most important thing we can learn about our speaker in this poem is not that he's a traveler, but that he is deeply religious. Sure, he may really be a seafarer, but he's also a pilgrim, and his story is about his own spiritual journey as much as his physical one. HYPERLINK "" \o "Setting" Next Page: SettingThe Seafarer Setting Where It All Goes DownWell, we call him the seafarer, so it only makes sense that this poem takes place at sea. Adrift in the middle of a relentlessly stormy ocean, all the speaker can hear are the sounds of the surf and the cries of seabirds. Snow and hail fall constantly, accompanied by an icy cold that bites at and numbs the fingers and toes. The speaker thinks of less stormy places, like the mead hall where wine flows freely, the harp plays, and women offer companionship, but those exist only in his imagination and memory. At one point, he finds himself back on land as trees begin to blossom and birds sing, marking the beginning of spring. But these things can't make him happy, because he still has his pesky sea legs; he just can't help but long to get back out on the whale road. Why so restless? Why can't our speaker just stay in one place?Well, he tells us that he's trapped in the "paths of exile" (15). You might consider these paths a kind of psychological setting that, for our speaker, is just as real as the ocean or land. This place is one in which he feels constant loneliness, dissatisfaction, and hunger. The only escape is another kind of metaphorical setting, but this time it's a spiritual one: a "belonging life in the love of the Lord" (120-121). This place is the only one that can fill our seafarer's hunger, and bring him home from the stormy sea. Sound CheckRead this poem aloud. What do you hear?We'll tell you straight up: it's pretty darn hard to talk about sound in a poem that has been translated. Anglo-Saxon and modern English are so wildly different that they're basically two totally separate languages. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of the sound play of the original poem has been lost in translation. As we explored in "Form and Meter," this poem was written in something called alliterative verse, which means that in its original Anglo-Saxon this poem was literally overflowing with repeated consonants. Thankfully, our translator has made an effort to preserve all this alliteration by including some of his own. In fact, "The Seafarer" sounds a lot like the "terrible tossing of the waves" that the speaker mentions in line 6. The alliteration of hard consonant sounds in phrases like that one—"terrible tossing," "cold clasps," "kinsmen can comfort" – mirror the alliterations in the original Anglo-Saxon, which smacks up against the poem's lyricism like the pounding of the cold surf that batters the speaker's ship. The harsh sounds mixed with beautiful images make it a somewhat jarring journey.Still, though this translator and many others make an effort to tip their hats to alliterative verse, we think the sounds of this poem are best appreciated in the original Anglo-Saxon. So take a look at our "Best of the Web" section for some audio readings of the poem. What’s Up with the Title?As it turns out, "The Seafarer" is not the title of this poem. In fact, the poem doesn't have a title at all. We know we just rocked your world, so let us do a little explaining to ease your mind. The poem we know today as "The Seafarer" doesn't actually have a title in the manuscript where it was found. "The Seafarer" is the title that editors and translators of the poem gave it at a later date. It makes sense as a title, because the poem is spoken from the point of view of a guy who tells us all about the time he's spent traveling the open ocean, or "seafaring." But the poem is also about a lot of other things: loss, longing, the passing of time, and trust in God, to name a few. Calling the poem "The Seafarer" focuses our attention on just one aspect of it. So what do you think: is "The Seafarer" a good title for this poem? Do you think it might influence our understanding of the poem just a bit too much? What would you name it if you were the editor in charge?Anonymous Calling CardWhat is the poet’s signature style?Kennings and AlliterationAnglo-Saxon poetry is famous for its "kennings" – highly figurative compound noun constructions. That's just a fancy way of saying that kennings squash together two related nouns, so that they mean something new in a metaphorical way. The most famous kenning – the one that most English textbooks mention as their primary example – comes from "The Seafarer." It's "whale-road," which the poem uses in line 63 to describe the ocean (it also pops up in Beowulf). Many of the kennings in "The Seafarer" are often lost in translation. For example, in line 55, "heart" is actually breosthord, or "breast-treasure." The word that's translated as "breast" at line 68, hre?erlocan, literally means "spirit-locker," making this another kenning.Another hallmark of Anglo-Saxon poetry is its alliteration. Each line is composed of two half-lines, which are bound together by alliteration – the repetition of the same sound at the beginnings of words. A line of Anglo-Saxon poetry always contains at least three, and often four or more, alliterations. (For more on this, check out "Form and Meter.") Plus, there's always the issue of subject matter. Much Anglo-Saxon poetry contains tales of brave deeds and the warriors who do them. While "The Seafarer" doesn't have any battle sequences, you might see our speaker as a brave hero, striving against the sea to return home to his God. Bottom line: there's no question about it, this is an Anglo-Saxon poem. Oh, the fact that it's written in Old English helps, too.Winter WeatherSymbol AnalysisOur speaker is definitely under the weather. In fact, he makes the winter weather that troubles him during his sea journey seem like a violent and powerful force. The poem pulls out all the stops to help us feel, hear, and see the same things the seafarer does: relentless cold and violent, howling storms. But is this winter weather just the weather? Or is it something else – something more powerful? When we think about the sea in the poem as being metaphorical, we can't help but apply that same thinking to the winter weather. So what do you think it might represent? Line 8: The speaker says that he has known the "terrible tossing of the waves." The alliteration, or repeated "t" sounds, links back to the "troublesome times" in line 3. These phrases also share the same verb, "known," which further links them. These connections emphasize how the speaker's troubles are related to (or maybe even represented by) the rough ocean conditions.Lines 8-10: In a metaphor, the speaker describes his feet as "fettered by cold" and "bound by frost in cold clasps." The frost and cold become handcuffs or ropes around the speaker's feet. Clearly this icy weather has got our guy feeling trapped. Lines 13-15: The speaker says that he dwelt on the ice-cold sea "for a winter." Winter is a slight pun here, or at the very least uses two meanings of the word, since it is not only the length of time the speaker was at sea, but also the weather conditions. Line 16: When the speaker describes himself as "hung about with icicles," he compares himself to a building in a subtle metaphor. Plus, you just can't help but imagine a burly dude with icicles for a beard. What a great image. Line 17: Saying that "hail flew in showers" makes the hail seem even more intense and ominous, since it doesn't just fall, it flies. Lines 17-18: Using vivid sound imagery, the speaker describes hearing nothing but the "roaring sea" and the "ice-cold wave." This sea is so frigid that you can actually hear the cold. Yikes. Line 22: Saying the storms "beat" the cliff might be a personification, since we usually think of a physical fight when we use this word. The great thing about this line is that it also makes use of sound imagery; we might think of the word "beat" as a drumbeat, in which case the storm is making an awful racket. Line 32: The speaker tells how "frost bound the ground" in a metaphor similar to the one in lines 8-10. This time, though, it's the ground, not the speaker, who's being constrained by the handcuffs of winter weather.Line 33: The speaker calls hail the "coldest of grains," which is an odd connection to make. It seems a bit ironic to, because bread nourishes, while this hail does nothing but make our speaker totally miserableNature (Plants and Animals)Symbol AnalysisAs the speaker travels along harsh winter seas, he sees evidence of nature, particularly in the sea birds that fly above. Unfortunately, nature seems to be a poor substitute for the human companionship that he has left behind back on land. But still, the speaker feels a sort of connection to nature, which helps us understand just how he's feeling inside. Then, with the arrival of spring, nature takes on a different role; it reminds him that it's time to hit the whale-road again. Lines 17-22: The speaker hears the sound of seabirds – the "swan's song," "gannet's noise," "voice of the curlew," and "singing gull" – instead of the sounds of men on land. Giving these birds a voice and song personifies them, which makes them fitting, if inadequate substitutes for the songs of a bard the speaker might hear in the mead hall.Line 23: Storms beat the cliffs "where the tern spoke, icy-feathered." Again, attributing speech to a seabird personifies it. Calling the bird "icy-feathered" tells us that, like the speaker, who is "hung about by icicles," the animals here are really feeling the brutal cold. So there's at least one similarity between our speaker and these seabirds. Line 24: An eagle pursues the icy-feathered tern, crying at it constantly. With this pair, the poem focuses our attention on how nature is truly "red in tooth and claw." The struggle to survive plays out constantly as the eagle pursues its next meal, and our speaker is like the tern; he, too, is struggling for his life.Lines 48-49: Using gorgeous visual imagery, the speaker describes the arrival of spring. Groves "take on blossoms" and the cities and fields grow beautiful. Everything "seems new" because plant life is emerging after a winter of hibernation. This moment is particularly striking because of the long, cold winter that's come before it. It's almost as if we're experiencing the turning of the seasons along with the speaker.Line 52: With the arrival of summer, the voice of the cuckoo "warns" the speaker. Attributing a voice and human-seeming motivation to its cry personifies the cuckoo, just as the seabirds were personified earlier in the poem. Lines 53-54: The cuckoo is the "guardian of summer" that "bodes a sorrow grievous in the soul." With this description, it becomes a symbol of summer's arrival and the sadness it brings.Line 60: The speaker's spirit soars over the "whale's path," which is a metaphor for the ocean. Also, it just sounds cool.Lines 62-63: The scream of the "lone-flier" urges the speaker's heart to travel. This "lone-flier" may be the speaker's own spirit, the cuckoo from line 53, or perhaps another bird. Line 63: The speaker calls the ocean a "whale-road." This is a special kind of Anglo-Saxon metaphor called a kenning – a figurative noun that's a combination of two other nouns. Along with "whale's path" from line 60, this expression connects traveling to nature, and specifically, to animals.Movement and StillnessSymbol Analysis"The Seafarer" is the story of a traveler, a man in constant motion. His motion is matched by the violent rolling of the ship and waves, as well as the restlessness of his own spirit, which at one point leaps from his body to soar over the world by itself. In the end, only the stability of the Lord provides a solution for the frenzied restlessness found in the rest of the poem.Line 2: Immediately after saying he can make a "true song" about himself, the speaker promises to tell us about his "travels." So the subject of the true song is movement from place to place.Line 6: The speaker tells us he has known the "terrible tossing" of the waves. The alliteration of "terrible tossing" links it to the terrible troubles from line 3. It also emphasizes the violent motion of a life at sea.Line 8: Like the waves, the ship's prow tosses violently. This tossing occurs near cliffs, which, we have to say, is a pretty darn dangerous place for a ship to lose control.Lines 8-9: In a metaphor that makes the cold and frost into shackles, the speaker describes his feet as bound and fettered by them. This image of the speaker being trapped in place contrasts with his description of himself as a traveler tossed about by the waves. He's both stuck in one place, and in constant motion.Line 10: The speaker describes his cares as "seething" about his heart in an implicit metaphor that turns them into heat or fire. We usually think of something that seethes as rippling or boiling: the implication is that the speaker's mind is restless.Line 15: Despite describing himself as a constant traveler throughout the poem, the speaker says he "dwelt for a winter in the paths of exile." This is what you might call a paradox. It's a statement that seems contradictory – how can someone dwell in a path? – but reveals its truth on closer examination. Our speaker is both traveling, and dwelling, or staying in one place. Line 17: With a bit of imagery, the speaker describes how hail "flew" in showers. Saying the hail "flew" is different from just saying it fell, since flying connotes rapid motion and, well, intentionality.Lines 58-60: The speaker describes his spirit leaping out of him with a twisting motion, and then soaring widely over the world. Here, his spirit starts moving all on its own, and its flight contrasts with the speaker's feelings of being bound and trapped from lines 8 to 9.Line 68: Still with us? Just a few more to go! Here, the speaker remarks how "one of three things will turn to uncertainty" before a man's fated hour. The "turning" motion of fate connects it with the twisting spirit and rolling waves, all of which the poem depicts as in constant motion. All these moving parts are getting pretty hard to keep track of. Line 103: The speaker describes the world as standing still before the fear of the Lord. So it seems like the one thing that can calm all the frenzy in this poem is the Lord, who causes everything to be still.Line 104: God's creation establishes "firm foundations." The alliteration reminds us of the "terrible tossing" of the waves in line 3, and it provides a nice balance to it, too. Lines 117-118: The speaker advises us to think about where we have our homes, and then ponder how to get there. This "home" he speaks of is heaven, which will put an end to everyone's travels and endless wandering. Remember, according to our guy, God is the one thing that can make everything else stop moving. Yet by placing mention of the journey next to the idea of home, he reminds us that our travels aren't over yet. Lines 122-124: Based on the final lines of the poem, which describe God and the heavenly homeland as the place we should all try to reach, it's possible to read all of the traveling and seafaring in the poem as an extended metaphor for the spiritual journey of the Christian soul. Shmoop recommends rereading this poem with this idea in mind: does it change how you read the rest of it?The Seafarer's Inner Heart, Mind, and SpiritSymbol AnalysisWhen the speaker of "The Seafarer" describes his feelings, he doesn't just say he feels sad or lonely. Instead, he refers to his mind, heart, or spirit which seems pretty divided. In fact, the speaker's spirit/mind/heart tug him around so much that it's a relief to find, at the end of the poem, that God and fate are mightier than "any man's thought": hopefully God will put a peaceful end to this poor guy's restlessness.Line 4: The speaker describes his state of mind by saying he feels "grim sorrow at heart." The Anglo-Saxon word he uses for heart is "breost" (breast). If what he actually means here is "heart," then breast is a metonymy for the heart. Poets employ metonymy by using a word to refer to something that's closely related to it. So in this case, the breast refers to the heart, because the heart is in the chest. Line 11: The speaker says that cares seethed "hot about my heart." So all his worries are centered on his heart. Line 12: In the next line he tells about a hunger that tears the sea-weary soul "from within." The Anglo-Saxon word he uses for "soul" is mod, which is also sometimes translated as "mind." Hunger is slightly personified here, since it tears at him the way a human or animal might. Very uplifting, we know.Lines 26-27: The speaker complains that "no cheerful kinsmen can comfort the poor soul." He might be using soul to refer to the entire person, in which case it is a synecdoche for a person. Lines 33-34: The speaker describes the "thoughts of [his] heart" as "troubled." He seems to view the heart, rather than the mind, as a place of emotion and thought, as if his heart has a mind of its own. To Anglo-Saxons, though, the heart and the mind were pretty much the same thing. Lines 36-37: The wish of the speaker's heart is personified, since it urges his spirit to "go forth." The word for "heart" here is mod, which can also be translated as "mind" and perhaps refers to the side of the heart that thinks, like the one mentioned in lines 33-34.Lines 50-51: The arrival of spring urges the "eager of spirit" and the "mind" to travel.Line 55: The song of the cuckoo causes a sorrow "grievous in the soul." The word for soul in the Anglo-Saxon is breosthord, which literally means "breast-hoard." A hoard is a big pile of treasure, so here the soul is called breast-treasure – a metaphor for the treasure in your breast, or your soul. Tricky stuff!Lines 58-59: The speaker's spirit twists out of his breast to soar all over the world, then returns to him "eager and unsalted." In these lines, the breast is called a hre?erlocan – a "spirit-locker" or "heart-locker." Awesome phrase, right? This description and the twisting motion with which it departs make the spirit seem like an escaping prisoner. Lines 62-63: The scream of the "lone-flier" urges the heart to travel. Seems like there's a close connection between the things of nature and the heart, mind, and soul of the speaker.Line 100: The speaker remarks that just as an aging man's attempt to provide comfort to his friend with gold fails, so the soul is unable to hold onto its gold before the fear of God. The word for soul here is sawle – different from the words the poem has used for mind, spirit, and heart. This word choice indicates that the speaker is talking about something different here, perhaps what we think of as the spirit – the part of a human that survives after death.Line 110: In this line, the speaker uses the word mod for "spirit," indicating the thinking and willing aspect of the spirit.Lines 115-116: After the way the speaker's thoughts and emotions have tugged him around, it's a relief for him to know that there's something that has power over them – God.Doyle Online Writing LabFigurative LanguageSome definitions and examplesMetaphor: A metaphor speaks of something as though it were something else. There are three kinds of metaphor:The descriptive metaphor speaks of something concrete by referring to something else concrete. Take for example: "It was a fine day. The trees swayed like dancers lost in reverie. As they waltzed the afternoon away the breeze continued to wind its mournful tune."(The abstract metaphor explains an abstract principle by comparing it to something more concrete. For example: "My cup runneth over." (The writer of this biblical Psalm speaks of the life that submits to divinity in terms of a cup that is full and continues to be filled.)The embedded metaphor uses a verb or a noun in a non-literal fashion. For example: "The darkness threw itself upon the land with a sigh of relief." (Obviously darkness cannot really throw itself upon the land-- it only seems to do so. The metaphor "The darkness threw itself upon the land" is embedded because it merely suggests that the night is like a lover overwhelmed after a long absence or a man exhausted after a hard day at work.)Simile: A simile is a particular kind of metaphor that speaks of something as similar to something else. You can usually recognize similes by the presence of the word "like" or "as." For example: Alice is a very beautiful young woman: she is as pretty as a rose.Hyperbole: A hyperbole is an exaggeration so great that no one could possible take it literally. For example: "He made my skin crawl." (We don't expect that the speaker in such a case be physically affected by her encounter with another person: she simply doesn't like him and has expressed the extent of her dislike by exaggerating).Understatement: An understatement seeks to express a thought or impression by underemphasizing the extent to which a statement may be true. Understatement is the opposite of hyperbole and is frequently employed for its comedic value in articles, speeches, etc. when issues of great importance are being discussed. For example: "Jen had stolen his watch, put a dent in his car, and kept him from spending time with his buddies. Needless to say, Jack had acquired a less than favorable opinion of his ex-girlfriend."Irony: Irony involves making a statement that means the opposite of what it states literally. Suppose you happen to be experiencing a streak of bad luck: your house has been robbed, your cat just died, your best friend is mad at you, and this morning you backed your car into a tree. You cry in exasperation: "Well that's just great!" Clearly you don't mean that you're happy about this sequence of events: you have just made an ironic statement. You may also encounter irony in pieces of literature or anecdotes. One of the most famous examples of literary irony is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: it is ironic that the lovers die as a result of the plan that was meant to ensure their spending the rest of their lives together.Synecdoche: In synecdoche a part of something represents the whole. For example: "One does not live by bread alone." The statement assumes that bread is representative of all categories of food. Or: "All hands on deck!" The statement equates the workers with the part of the body that performs much of their work-- the hands.Metonymy: In metonymy some attribute of what is being described is used to indicate the whole. When referring to a king, for example, one may instead say "the crown"-- that is, the physical attribute that is usually identified with royalty.Some things to watch out for when employing figurative language:Beware of clichés! Clichés are usually forms of figurative language ("dead as a doornail," "cutting edge," "an axe to grind," "a bone to pick," etc.). Clichés often contain antiquated or obscure terms that do very little to clarify topics of discussion. If you say that an issue is as "dead as a doornail" what does that mean? What does a dead doornail look like? Is a reader who has heard the phrase a thousand times going to take the time to make a comparison between the issue and the cliché? ? Avoid extended metaphors. Occasionally you will come up with a metaphor that illustrates your point so completely that you want to share your ingenuity with the reader. A metaphor should make one point very quickly: its purpose is to clarify and stimulate. Extended metaphors tend to make readers less and less impressed with the comparison the longer it lasts. The same imagery just gets redundant and uninteresting after a while.Avoid mixed metaphors. If you attempt to explain a point using a string of three or four metaphors the reader is likely to get either (1) confused as to which model is the most accurate, or (2) exhausted by reiterations of an idea that they understood the first time through. If the reader is examining your argument critically it is also possible that he will observe inconsistencies among the various metaphors. In any case, you ought to be more interested in discussing the topic directly; figurative language can help you along, but should never become more important than the argument itself.Thus, you should never base an argument on figurative language. No analogy is flawless. Things can be compared on certain levels but there is a point at which every analogy breaks down. If your reader is paying attention to your rhetoric he will be able to refute the thesis of your paper quite easily.The Seafarer QuestionsBring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.The poem we know as "The Seafarer" doesn't actually have a title in its manuscript. Its title was given to it by later editors of the poem. What do you think of this title? What would you name this poem if you were the editor in charge?Why is the speaker in "The Seafarer" so restless and unhappy? Why is he forced to travel "the paths of exile"? A lot of people think "The Seafarer" is an extended metaphor about the spiritual journey of the Christian soul. Do you agree with this interpretation? Why or why not?Who are the "kings and Caesars" the speaker mentions in lines 81-85, and why is he so in awe of them?What kind of life do you think this speaker wants a person to live? What, exactly, is he telling us to do?Which modern genre of music would make a good soundtrack for "The Seafarer"? The Seafarer Theme of DissatisfactionThe speaker of "The Seafarer" is lonely and miserable on the cold ocean. So why, then, does he spend most of his life there? Because his soul is overcome by a constant restlessness, an urge to travel that he just can't fight – that's why. His "heart's thoughts" urge him to travel, although there's a big part of him that just doesn't want to. It seems the only thing that can put an end to the Seafarer's discontent is an eternal life with God. Questions About DissatisfactionCite evidence from textWhy does the speaker travel so much? What's wrong with life on land as the speaker describes it? Why isn't the speaker able to take pleasure in the things most people enjoy?How do we know the speaker feels conflicted? Into what "parts" does he divide himself?Does the speaker seem satisfied with anything? If so, what?The Seafarer Theme of Suffering"The Seafarer" begins with an account of a harrowing journey over a winter seascape, in which the speaker endures the physical effects of winter's cold and the psychological effects of anguish and torment. Life on the sea is rough, and our guy is not a happy camper. He describes himself as wracked by sorrow and worry, unable to take pleasure in any surroundings – no matter how pleasant – because of the darkness inside himself. But somehow, by the end of the poem we realize that seafaring, and the suffering that goes with it, just might be an extended metaphor for the soul's journey to God. In that case, the suffering he endures is an essential part of the journey to eternal life.Questions About Suffering: Cite textual evidence.What different kinds of suffering does the speaker endure?Why do land-dwellers have no understanding of all the suffering that the speaker has gone through? Does the speaker find meaning in his suffering? If so, how?Towards the end of the poem, our speaker talks about growing old. What causes suffering in old age? How do the elderly try to cope with this suffering? Does it work? Why or why not?The Seafarer Theme of Man and the Natural WorldThe seascape through which the speaker of "The Seafarer" travels is as dark and stormy as his thoughts. And that's kind of the point – the natural world acts as a kind of mirror of the speaker's state of mind, especially in the first part of the poem. Even with the arrival of a beautiful spring, though, the speaker doesn't feel any better. At this point, his gloomy mindset clouds his view of the natural world. Spring? That just means it's time for another tiring journey. The cuckoo's song? Its voice sounds "sad," since it marks the beginning of traveling season. So is it that our speaker's restless state of mind influences his view of the natural world? Or is it that the natural world makes him feel restless? The Seafarer Questions About Man and the Natural WorldWhat's the weather like in this poem? How does the speaker feel about it?What role does birdsong play in this poem? How does birdsong make the speaker feel?What effect does the arrival of spring have upon the speaker? Why?What's the difference between nature and the city in this poem? Do they represent different things to our speaker?The Seafarer Theme of Spirituality"The Seafarer" presents two somewhat contradictory conceptions of God. On the one hand, God is similar to the Anglo-Saxon idea of fate – a vaguely ominous force that determines the outcome of events in a person's life, and before whom all human beings are basically helpless. On the other hand, God is the creator of the "firm foundations" on which the world stands, and the solution to our seafarer's restlessness. God is the only truly lasting thing available to mankind, trumping gold, glory, and other earthly pleasures. So, our speaker suggests, we should stop worrying about what God-fate has in store for us, and instead to focus on getting to our true home in heaven. This conclusion poses an interesting interpretation of the poem. Could it be that all of the seafaring in the poem may be an extended metaphor for the spiritual journey of the Christian soul? Changes things up a bit, huh?The Seafarer Questions About SpiritualityWhat is the relationship between God and fate in "The Seafarer"?What distinguishes the poem's God from all of the earthly pleasures the speaker rejects?What does the speaker say we should focus our thoughts on at the end of "The Seafarer"? Has he done so in the course of the poem?Do you think this poem is one giant metaphor for the journey of a Christian soul? Or do you think our seafarer is really just a sailor? Could both interpretations be true at once?The Seafarer Theme of Old AgeIn "The Seafarer," the speaker only talks about aging for a brief ten lines. Nevertheless, it strikes us as a key theme because it represents just how fleeting life on earth can be. Aging becomes a symbol of the transience of earthly glory, of the way everything on this earth fades and passes away with time. The aged man that the poem mentions loses his physical virility and his friends, and is left with pretty much nothing, because you can't take gold, glory, or friends with you into the afterlife. Aging reminds everyone that life on earth is short, but, according to our speaker, life with God lasts forever. Seafarer Questions About Old AgeWhy does this poem compare the loss of glorious rulers with the aging of a single individual? What does this comparison teach us?What does the speaker say happens as a person ages? What are the physical effects of age? The emotional effects?Why does the aging person strew his friend's grave with gold? Does this accomplish what he wants it to? Why or why not?What does old age symbolize in "The Seafarer"? How is it related to other themes and lessons we find in the poem?The Seafarer Dissatisfaction QuotesQuote #1[…] I have suffered grim sorrow at heart,have known in the ship many worries [abodes of care],the terrible tossing of the waves where the anxious night watchoften took me. […] (4-7)He's quite the insomniac, our speaker, keeping an "anxious night watch." A "night watch" is usually something warriors take when they fear an enemy attack, so it seems the speaker might be worried about some ominous invading force that we don't know about.Quote #2[…] cares seethedhot about my heart-- a hunger tears from withinthe sea-weary soul. […](10-12)The seething hotness of the speaker's cares is a stark contrast to the ice-cold environment he describes in the previous lines. The "hunger from within" is violent: it "tears" the sea-weary soul. This last line tells us that the enemy threat the speaker is keeping watch for may not be an outside force at all. Maybe it's just his own restlessness and dissatisfaction.Quote #3[…] Indeed, now they are troubledthe thoughts of my heart, that I myself should strive withthe high streams, the tossing of salt waves— (33-35)His heart's thoughts are troubled, which makes it seem like his heart has a mind of its own. His heart also totally has power over him, causing him to actually want to go back on the ocean, even though it's such a nasty, cold, and violent place. Quote #4the wish of my heart urges all the timemy spirit to go forth, that I, far from here,should seek the homeland of a foreign people— (36-38)Talk about conflicted! The speaker feels his heart urge his spirit to set forth, and in doing so, actually divides himself in three. He's a body, a heart, and a spirit. Quote #5Not for him is the sound of the harp nor the giving of ringsnor pleasure in woman nor worldly glory—nor anything at all unless the tossing of the waves;but he always has a longing he who strives on the waves. (44-47)The seafarer is consumed by a "longing." Could that explain his lack of pleasure in earthly things? It just might, if we knew what he was longing for. But of course, we're kept in the dark here. Quote #6And now my spirit twists out of my breast,my spirit out in the waterways,over the whale's path it soars widelythrough all the corners of the world-- it comes back to meeager and unsated; […] (58-62)Our guy is literally torn into two pieces – his spirit and his body. Even travel all over the world fails to put an end to the seafarer's constant longing. The word "unsated," often used in relation to physical hunger, connects this longing to the hunger that "tears from within" in line 11. Quote #7there are not now kings, nor Caesars, nor givers of gold, as once there were when they, the greatest, among themselves performed valorous deeds and with a most lordly majesty lived. (82-85)The speaker expresses dissatisfaction with the kings of his times, because they're just not nearly as awesome as the kings from the past. Of course, how could anyone compare to those he seems to regard almost as gods, describing them as "the greatest" and living with "a most lordly majesty"? That's a tough act to follow. The Seafarer Suffering QuotesQuote #1I can make a true song about me myself,tell my travels, how I often endureddays of struggle, troublesome times (1-3)Right away in line 2 with the verb "endured," the poem lets us know that the speaker's "true song" is no walk in the park, since this is a word that connotes suffering. And line 3 confirms our suspicions: this song is about trouble and a struggle.Quote #2How I have suffered grim sorrow at heart,have known in the ship many worries [abodes of care]. (4-5)The more literal translation of "worries" as "abodes of care" suggests that the speaker inhabits not just a ship, but also a psychological space of sadness. He carries his suffering around inside himself, almost as if his body is the ship itself. This sorrow overwhelms him so much that he feels like it's an actual place in which he dwells – an "abode."Quote #3[…] This the man does not knowfor whom on land it turns out most favourably,how I, wretched and sorrowful, on the ice-cold seadwelt for a winter in the paths of exile. (12-15)The speaker is convinced that lucky land-dwellers cannot possibly understand what he has gone through. This passage sets up a contrast between life on land and seafaring, associating the former with good fortune. But what is it about these city-folk that makes them unable to get our guy's suffering?Quote #4[…] Indeed he credits it little the one who has the joys of life, dwells in the city, far from terrible journey, proud and wanton with wine, how I, weary, often have had to endure in the sea-paths. […] (26-30)Life in the city is just about as far as possible from the life of a "terrible journey." For one thing, the city-dweller possesses material comforts like wine. For another, there are people around – not just seabirds. Quote #5[…] This the man does not know,the warrior lucky in worldly things what some endure then,those who tread most widely the paths of exile. (53-57)There's that word again: "endure." It's no longer a completely bad thing here, though, since it provides our subject with special knowledge that a lucky warrior cannot possibly have. It seems that suffering may have a purpose after all.Quote #6All that old guard is gone and the revels are over—the weaker ones now dwell and hold the world,enjoy it through their sweat. […] (86-88)One of the consequences of the Fall of Man, according to the Hebrew Bible, was that the earth no longer yielded its fruit freely. As punishment for his disobedience, man had to work hard for his daily bread. This is what our speaker is referring to here when he says that the "weaker ones" must enjoy the world "through their sweat." This reference to the Fall reminds us of another of its consequences: that women will bear children in pain and suffering. Quote #7Age comes upon him, his face grows pale,the graybeard laments; he knows that his old friends,the sons of princes, have been given to the earth. (91-93)You know what's worse than the physical pain you go through as you age? The fact that you have to watch your friends die is worse. No matter how much gold you heap on a person's grave, he's gone forever, beyond your reach. Man and the Natural World QuotesQuote #1How I have suffered grim sorrow at heart,have known in the ship many worries [abodes of care],the terrible tossing of the waves where the anxious night watchoften took me at the ship's prow,when it tossed near the cliffs. […] (4-8)The ocean on which the speaker travels is a dangerous place. Those tossing waves don't just throw the ship out of control – they do it "near the cliffs," where there's a danger of running aground and springing a boat-sinking leak. Right away, at the beginning of the poem, the natural world is a dicey, frightening place.Quote #2[…] Fettered by coldwere my feet, bound by frostin cold clasps. […] (8-10)The cold and frost totally mean business. They've got our speaker shackled, which is an interesting contrast with his description of himself as a traveler in constant motion. He may be physically in motion, but he feels trapped by his environment. Quote #3[…] I, wretched and sorrowful, on the ice-cold seadwelt for a winter in the paths of exile,bereft of friendly kinsmen, hung about with icicles;hail flew in showers. […] (12-17)This passage links together a lot of important themes of the poem: exile, sadness, loneliness, and, of course, extreme winter weather. Being in exile is no cakewalk. In fact, it seems like the most miserable place ever: bad weather, no friends, and icicles. Quote #4[…] There I heard nothing but the roaring sea, the ice-cold wave. At times the swan's song I took to myself as pleasure, the gannet's noise and the voice of the curlew instead of the laughter of men, the singing gull instead of the drinking of mead. […] (17-22)The speaker's focus on these birds shows just how desperate he is for companionship. Even though those birdsongs are a poor substitute for the laughter of men, he's willing to listen because that's pretty much all there is to hear. Quote #5[…] Storms there beat the stony cliffs,Where the tern spoke, icy-feathered;always the eagle cried at it, dewy-feathered; (22-24)These bird cries aren't the wistful sounds they were in lines 17-22. Now they indicate the struggle for life of both tern and eagle as the eagle seeks to make a meal of the smaller bird. Quote #6The shadows of night darkened, it snowed from the north,frost bound the ground, hail fell on the earth,coldest of grains. […] (31-33)It's getting downright nasty out there. This description of worsening winter weather occurs just before the speaker launches into a description about how he feels troubled. So maybe, just maybe, the arrival of the storm signals the arrival of another storm inside our speaker. The weather acts as a barometer of what he's feeling.Quote #7Groves take on blossoms, the cities grow fair,the fields are comely, the world seems new:all these things urge on the eager of spirit,the mind to travel, in one who so thinksto travel far on the paths of the sea. (48-52)If you thought all of the speaker's problems were related to the terrible weather, this passage just might prove you wrong. Even nice weather inspires our guy to get out on the whale road. Here, the connection between the natural world and our speaker's inner state seems a bit more distant. Quote #8So the cuckoo warns with a sad voice;the guardian of summer sings, bodes a sorrowgrievous in the soul.[…] (53-55)These birds just will not shut up. Because its song marks the arrival of warmer weather, the cuckoo becomes a symbol of the time for travel. The speaker does not necessarily want to travel, so its voice sounds "sad" to him. This passage is a perfect example of the way the speaker's mindset influences his interpretation of the natural world around him.The Seafarer Spirituality QuotesQuote #1Indeed there is not so proud-spirited a man in the world,nor so generous of gifts, nor so bold in his youth,nor so brave in his deeds nor so dear to his lord,that he never in his seafaring has a worry,as to what his Lord will do to him.(39-43) In this passage, God does not seem like such a positive force. Even those who are "dear" to God have to worry about what God will "do" to them. In other words, God may direct the course of a person's life in an unfavorable direction. In this, the Lord is a lot like the Anglo-Saxon idea of "fate": an unchangeable, all-powerful destiny before which a person is helpless. Plus, we can't forget to note the two different lords in this passage. There's the lower-case lord, who stands in for earthly wealth. And then there's the upper case Lord, who will either reward or punish man for his deeds. Major distinction.Quote #2[…] Indeed hotter for me are the joys of the Lord than this dead life fleeting on the land. […] (64-66)In a poem in which the cold winter weather is such a negative thing, calling something "hot" is high praise. Here, the Lord is the opposite of death and the "fleeting" life on the land, probably because, in the speaker's mind, God is stable, permanent, and eternal. "Land" comes to represent the earthly world, which will eventually come to an end. Quote #3[…] That is the best epitaph,that he should work before he must be gonebravery in the world against the enmity of devils,daring deeds against the fiend,so that the sons of men will praise him afterwards. (73-77)This passage puts a Christian "spin" on the typical Anglo-Saxon warrior ethic of bravery in battle and eternal life through fame and glory. According to our speaker, instead of human foes, the person who hopes to live forever should accomplish brave deeds against the devil. He should be a Christian warrior.Quote #4And his fame afterwards will live with the angelsfor ever and ever, the glory of eternal life,joy with the Hosts. […] (78-80)Notice that this passage doesn't claim that the person will live forever, but only his fame, or what people say about him. Still, the passage acknowledges that eternal life with the angels is something very desirable indeed.Quote #5Nor can the soul which is full of sinpreserve the gold before the fear of God,though he hid it before while he was yet alive. (100-102)This passage actually mentions two things that the soul might hope to hide: its sinfulness andits gold. In fact, the gold is the soul's sin, since its represents a not-so-virtuous attachment to material things, which gets in the way of the soul's relationship with God.Quote #6Great is the fear of the Lord, before which the world stands still;He established the firm foundations,the corners of the world and the high heavens.(103-106)Ah, so it's the fear of the Lord that finally puts all this restlessness, travel, and motion to a stop. The sense of God's stability is also conveyed by the description of God as creator of "firm foundations."Quote #7A fool is the one who does not fear his Lord – death comes to him unprepared.Blessed is he who lives humbly – to him comes forgiveness from heaven.God set that spirit within him, because he believed in His might.(108-110)This passage calls those who live humbly "blessed." After reading the whole poem, we're pretty sure that the "humble" life is the total opposite of the materialistic "life on land" the speaker has rejected. The seafarer is looking for something lasting and enduring, and he knows that being humble is the way to find it. But what exactly is he going to find?Quote #8[…] Fate is greaterand God is mightier than any man's thought. (115-116)Both God and fate are forces a man can't control, says the poem, so it's better just to accept whatever happens to you and focus your energy elsewhere, on things like being humble, perhaps.Quote #9Let us ponder where we have our homesand then think how we should get thither –and then we should all strive that we might go thereto the eternal blessedness that is a belonging lifein the love of the Lord joy in the heavens. (117-121)Acknowledging your true home isn't all you have to do; you also have to figure out how to get there. The journey home is just as important as the home itself. It's no wonder our speaker is always on the move, then. He's journeying towards his true home, with God. And that home can't be found in any mead hall, right? Seafarer Old Age QuotesQuote #1[…] The glory is fled,the nobility of the world ages and grows sere,as now does every man throughout the world. (88-90)These lines compare the decline of the world's nobility to the aging of a single person. The idea here is that the world's nobility doesn't just go out like a light. Instead, it slowly fades away, pathetically. The same is true of a person, who, in old age, withers toward death. Quote #2Age comes upon him his face grows pale. (91)Instead of saying a person ages, this line speaks of age coming upon a person, like an independent force that overtakes him. We have to say, it's a little terrifying.Quote #3The graybeard laments. […] (92)This guy is so old, he's literally nothing but a gray beard. Now that's aging. Quote #4[…] he knows that his old friends,the sons of princes, have been given to the earth. (92-93)As it turns out, aging comes with a whole pile of emotional suffering, too. Even the most powerful people, like "sons of princes" will eventually kick the bucket, and their friends will have to say goodbye. Quote #5His body fails then, as life leaves him—he cannot taste sweetness nor feel pain,nor move his hand nor think with his head. (94-96)Just as age was an independent force that "came upon" a man, so here is life a force that can come and go at will, at this point departing from the failing body. If there's one thing that's sure in this poem, it's that man doesn't seem to have any control at all over what's happening to him. So why, then, make the effort to live humbly if you don't have any power in the first place? Quote #6Though he would strew the grave with gold,a brother for his kinsman, bury with the deada mass of treasure, it just won't work— (97-99)The elderly person who watches his friend die attempts to provide him with gold as a form of comfort. This gold is almost like a substitute for the elderly person himself, who would like to accompany his friend in death as he did in life. Yet the process ultimately fails, since no one can carry wealth with him beyond the grave. You can't take it with you.Figurative Language GlossaryAllegory: An allegory is a kind of extended metaphor (a metaphor that weaves throughout the poem) in which objects, persons, and actions stand for another meaning.Alliteration: Alliteration happens when words that begin with the same sound are placed close to one another. For example, “the silly snake silently slinked by” is a form of alliteration. Try saying that ten times fast. Allusion: An allusion happens when a speaker or character makes a brief and casual reference to a famous historical or literary figure or event. Anaphora: Anaphora involves the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses or sections. Think of an annoying kid on a road trip: “Are we there yet? / Are we going to stop soon? / Are we having lunch soon?”. Not a poem we’d like to read in its entirety, but the repetition of the word “are” is anaphora.Anthologize: To put in a poetry anthology, usually for teaching purposes, so that students have a broad selection of works to choose from. Usually, the word will come up in a context like this: “That’s one of her most famous poems. I’ve seen it anthologized a lot.” An anthology is a book that has samples of the work of a lot of different writers. It’s like a plate of appetizers so you can try out a bunch of stuff. You can also find anthologies for different periods, like Romantic, Modern, and Postmodern. The Norton, Columbia, and Best American anthologies are three of the most famous.Apostrophe: Apostrophe is when an idea, person, object, or absent being is addressed as if it or they were present, alive, and kicking. John Donne uses apostrophe when he writes this: "Death be not proud, though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadful."Avant Garde: You’ll hear this word used to describe some of the craziest, most far-out, experimental poets. It was originally a French expression that refers to the soldiers who go explore a territory before the main army comes in. Avant garde artists are often people who break through boundaries and do what’s never been done before. Then again, sometimes there’s a good reason why something has been done before…Ballad: A ballad is a song: think boy bands and chest-thumping emotion. But in poetry, a ballad is ancient form of storytelling. In the (very) old days, common people didn’t get their stories from books – they were sung as musical poems. Because they are meant to convey information, ballads usually have a simple rhythm and a consistent rhyme scheme. They often tell the story of everyday heroes, and some poets, like Bob Dylan, continue to set them to music.Blank Verse: Thanks to Shakespeare and others, blank verse is one of the most common forms of English poetry. It’s verse that has no rhyme scheme but has a regular meter. Usually this meter is iambic pentameter (check out our definition below). Why is blank verse so common in English? Well, a lot of people think we speak in it in our everyday conversations. Kind of like we just did: “a LOT of PEO-ple THINK we SPEAK in IT.” That could be a blank verse line.Cadence: Cadence refers to the rhythmic or musical elements of a poem. You can think of it as the thing that makes poetry sound like poetry. Whereas “meter” refers to the regular elements of rhythm – the beats or accents – “cadence” refers to the momentary variations in rhythm, like when a line speeds up or slows down. Poets often repeat or contrast certain cadences to create a more interesting sound than normal prose. Caesura: A fancy word for a pause that occurs in the middle of a line of verse. Use this if want to sound smart, but we think “pause” is just fine. You can create pauses in a lot of ways, but the most obvious is to use punctuation like a period, comma, or semicolon. Note that a pause at the end of a line is not a caesura.Chiasmus: Chiasmus consists of two parallel phrases in which corresponding words or phrases are placed in the opposite order: “Fair is foul, foul is fair.” Cliché: Clichés are phrases or expressions that are used so much in everyday life, that people roll their eyes when they hear them. For example, “dead as a doornail” is a cliché. In good poetry, clichés are never used with a straight face, so if you see one, consider why the speaker might be using it.Concrete Poetry: Concrete poetry conveys meaning by how it looks on the page. It’s not a super-accurate term, and it can refer to a lot of different kinds of poems. One classic example is poems that look like they thing they describe. The French poet Guillaume Apollinaire wrote a poem about Paris in the shape of the Eiffel tower.Connotation: The suggestive meaning of a word – the associations it brings up. The reason it’s not polite to call a mentally-handicapped person “retarded” is that the word has a negative connotation. Connotations depend a lot on the culture and experience of the person reading the word. For some people, the word “liberal” has a positive connotation. For others, it’s negative. Think of connotation as the murky haze hanging around the literal meaning of a word. Trying to figure out connotations of words can be one of the most confusing and fascinating aspects of reading poetry.Contradiction: Two statements that don’t seem to agree with each other. “I get sober when I drink alcohol” is a contradiction. Some contradictions, like “paradox” (see our definition below), are only apparent, and they become true when you think about them in a certain way.Denotation: The literal, straightforward meaning of a word. It’s “dictionary definition.” The word “cat” denotes an animal with four legs and a habit of coughing up furballs.Dramatic Monologue: You can think of a dramatic monologue in poetry as a speech taken from a play that was never written. Okay, maybe that’s confusing. It’s a poem written in the voice of a fictional character and delivered to a fictional listener, instead of in the voice of a poet to his or her readers. The British poet Robert Browning is one of the most famous writers of dramatic monologues. They are “dramatic” because they can be acted out, just like a play, and they are monologues because they consist of just one person speaking to another person, just as a “dialogue” consists of two people speaking. (The prefix “mono” means “one,” whereas “di” means “two”).Elegy: An elegy is a poem about a dead person or thing. Whenever you see a poem with the title, “In Memory of . . .”, for example, you’re talking about an elegy. Kind of like that two-line poem you wrote for your pet rabbit Bubbles when you were five years old. Poor, poor Bubbles.Ellipsis: You see ellipses all the time, usually in the form of “…”. An ellipsis involves leaving out or suppressing words. It’s like . . . well, you get the idea.Enjambment: When a phrase carries over a line-break without a major pause. In French, the word means, “straddling,” which we think is a perfect way to envision an enjambed line. Here’s an example of enjambment from a poem by Joyce Kilmer: 'I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree.” The sentence continues right over the break with only a slight pause.Extended metaphor: A central metaphor that acts like an “umbrella” to connect other metaphors or comparisons within it. It can span several lines or an entire poem. When one of Shakespeare’s characters delivers an entire speech about how all the world is a stage and people are just actors, that’s extended metaphor, with the idea of “theater” being the umbrella connecting everything.Foot: The most basic unit of a poem’s meter, a foot is a combination of long and short syllables. There are all kinds of different feet, such as “LONG-short” and “short-short-LONG.” The first three words of the famous holiday poem, “’Twas the Night before Christmas,” are one metrical foot (short-short-LONG). By far the most important foot to know is the iamb: short-LONG. An iamb is like one heartbeat: ba-DUM.Free Verse: “Free bird! Play free bird!” Oops, we meant “Free verse! Define free verse!” Free verse is a poetic style that lacks a regular meter or rhyme scheme. This may sound like free verse has no style at all, but usually there is some recognizable consistency to the writer’s use of rhythm. Walt Whitman was one of the pioneers of free verse, and nobody ever had trouble identifying a Whitman poem.Haiku: A poetic form invented by the Japanese. In English, the haiku has three sections with five syllables, seven syllables, and five syllables respectively. They often describe natural imagery and include a word that reveals the season in which the poem is set. Aside from its three sections, the haiku also traditionally features a sharp contrast between two ideas or images.Heroic Couplet: Heroic couplets are rhyming pairs of verse in iambic pentameter. What on earth did this “couplets” do to become “heroic”? Did they pull a cat out of a tree or save an old lady from a burning building? In fact, no. They are called “heroic” because in the old days of English poetry they were used to talk about the trials and adventures of heroes. Although heroic couplets totally ruled the poetry scene for a long time, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, nowadays they can sound kind of old-fashioned.Hyperbole: A hyperbole is a gross exaggeration. For example, “tons of money” is a hyperbole.Iambic Pentameter: Here it is, folks. Probably the single most useful technical term in poetry. Let’s break it down: an “iamb” is an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one. “Penta” means “five,” and “meter” refers to a regular rhythmic pattern. So “iambic pentameter” is a kind of rhythmic pattern that consist of five iambs per line. It’s the most common rhythm in English poetry and sounds like five heartbeats: ba-DUM, ba-DUM, ba-DUM, ba-DUM, ba-DUM. Let’s try it out on the first line of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.” Every second syllable is accented, so this is classic iambic pentameter. Imagery: Imagery is intense, descriptive language in a poem that helps to trigger our senses and our memories when we read it.Irony: Irony involves saying one thing while really meaning another, contradictory thing. Metaphor: A metaphor happens when one thing is described as being another thing. “You’re a toad!” is a metaphor – although not a very nice one. And metaphor is different from simile because it leaves out the words “like” or “as.” For example, a simile would be, “You’re like a toad.”Metonymy: Metonymy happens when some attribute of what is being described is used to indicate some other attribute. When talking about the power of a king, for example, one may instead say "the crown"-- that is, the physical attribute that is usually identified with royalty and power.Ode: A poem written in praise or celebration of a person, thing, or event. Odes have been written about everything from famous battles and lofty emotions to family pets and household appliances. What would you write an ode about?Onomatopoeia: Besides being a really fun word to say aloud, onomatopoeia refers either to words that resemble in sound what they represent. For example, do you hear the hissing noise when you say the word “hiss” aloud? And the old Batman television show loved onomatopoeia: “Bam! Pow! Kaplow!”Oxymoron: An oxymoron is the combination of two terms ordinarily seen as opposites. For example, “terribly good” is an oxymoron.Paradox: A statement that contradicts itself and nonetheless seems true. It’s a paradox when John Donne writes, “Death, thou shalt die,” because he’s using “death” in two different senses. A more everyday example might be, “Nobody goes to the restaurant because it’s too crowded.”Parallelism: Parallelism happens a lot in poetry. It is the similarity of structure in a pair or series of related words, phrases, or clauses. Julius Caesar’s famous words, “I came, I saw, I conquered,” are an example of parallelism. Each clause begins with “I” and ends with a verb.Pastoral: A poem about nature or simple, country life. If the poem you’re reading features babbling brooks, gently swaying trees, hidden valleys, rustic haystacks, and sweetly singing maidens, you’re probably dealing with a pastoral. The oldest English pastoral poems were written about the English countryside, but there are plenty of pastorals about the American landscape, too.Personification: Personification involves giving human traits (qualities, feelings, action, or characteristics) to non-living objects (things, colors, qualities, or ideas). Pun: A pun is a play on words. Puns show us the multiple meanings of a word by replacing that word with another that is similar in sound but has a very different meaning. For example, “when Shmoop went trick-or-treating in a Batman costume, he got lots of snickers.” Hehe.Quatrain: A stanza with four lines. Quatrains are the most common stanza form. Refrain: A refrain is a regularly recurring phrase or verse especially at the end of each stanza or division of a poem or song. For example in T.S. Eliot’s Love Song for J. Alfred Prufrock, the line, “in the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo” is a refrain.Rhetorical Question: Rhetorical questions involve asking a question for a purpose other than obtaining the information requested. For example, when we ask, “Shmoop, are you nuts?”, we are mainly expressing our belief that Shmoop is crazy. In this case, we don’t really expect Shmoop to tell us whether or not they are nuts.Rhyming Couplet: A rhyming couplet is a pair of verses that rhyme. It’s the simplest and most common rhyme scheme, but it can have more complicated variations (see “Heroic Couplet” for one example).Simile: Similes compare one thing directly to another. For example, "My love is like a burning flame” is a simile. You can quickly identify similes when you see the words “like” or “as” used, as in “x is like y.” Similes are different from metaphors – for example, a metaphor would refer to "the burning flame of my love."Slam: A form of contemporary poetry that is meant to be performed at informal competitions rather than read. Slam readings are often very political in nature and draw heavily from the rhythms and energy of hip-hop music.Slant Rhyme: A rhyme that isn’t quite a rhyme. The words “dear” and “door” form a slant rhyme. The words sound similar, but they aren’t close enough to make a full rhyme.Sonnet: A well-known poetic form. Two of the most famous examples are the sonnets of William Shakespeare and John Donne. A traditional sonnet has fourteen lines in iambic pentameter and a regular rhyme scheme. Sonnets also feature a “turn” somewhere in the middle, where the poem takes a new direction or changes its argument in some way. This change can be subtle or really obvious. Although we English-speaking folks would love to take credit fort this amazing form, it was actually developed by the Italians and didn’t arrive in England until the 16th century.Speaker: The speaker is the voice behind the poem – the person we imagine to be speaking. It’s important to note that the speaker is not the poet. Even if the poem is biographical, you should treat the speaker as a fictional creation, because the writer is choosing what to say about himself. Besides, even poets don’t speak in poetry in their everyday lives – although it would be cool if they did.Stanza: A division within a poem where a group of lines are formed into a unit. The word “stanza” comes from the Italian word for “room.” Just like a room, a poetic stanza is set apart on a page by four “walls” of blank, white space.Symbol: Generally speaking, a symbol is a sign representing something other than itself. Synecdoche: In synecdoche a part of something represents the whole. For example: "One does not live by bread alone." The statement assumes that bread is representative of all categories of food. Syntax: In technical terms, syntax is the study of how to put sentences together. In poetry, “syntax” refers to the way words and phrases relate to each other. Some poems have a syntax similar to everyday prose of spoken English (like the sentences you’re reading right now). Other poems have a crazier syntax, where it’s hard to see how things fit together at all. It can refer to the order of words in a sentence, like Yoda’s wild syntax from the Star Wars movies: “A very important concept in poetry, syntax is!” Or, more figuratively, it can refer to the organization of ideas or topics in a poem: “Why did the poet go from talking about his mother to a description of an ostrich?”Understatement: An understatement seeks to express a thought or impression by underemphasizing the extent to which a statement may be true. Understatement is the opposite of hyperbole and is frequently used for its comedic value in articles, speeches, etc. when issues of great importance are being discussed. Ex: “There’s just one, tiny, little problem with that plan – it’ll get us all killed!”Sources: to Read a PoemThere’s really only one reason that poetry has gotten a reputation for being so darned “difficult”: it demands your full attention and won’t settle for less. Unlike a novel, where you can drift in and out and still follow the plot, poems are generally shorter and more intense, with less of a conventional story to follow. If you don’t make room for the experience, you probably won’t have one. But the rewards can be high. To make an analogy with rock and roll, it’s the difference between a two and a half minute pop song with a hook that you get sick of after the third listen, and a slow-building tour de force that sounds fresh and different every time you hear it. Once you’ve gotten a taste of the really rich stuff, you just want to listen to it over and over again and figure out: how’d they do that? Aside from its demands on your attention, there’s nothing too tricky about reading a poem. Like anything, it’s a matter of practice. But in case you haven’t read much (or any) poetry before, we’ve put together a short list of tips that will make it a whole lot more enjoyable.Follow Your Ears. It’s okay to ask, “What does it mean?” when reading a poem. But it’s even better to ask, “How does it sound?” If all else fails, treat it like a song. Even if you can’t understand a single thing about a poem’s “subject” or “theme,” you can always say something – anything – about the sound of the words. Does the poem move fast or slow? Does it sound awkward in sections or does it have an even flow? Do certain words stick out more than others? Trust your inner ear: if the poem sounds strange, it doesn’t mean you’re reading it wrong. In fact, you probably just discovered one of the poem’s secret tricks! If you get stuck at any point, just look for Shmoop’s “Sound Check” section. We’ll help you listen!Read It Aloud. OK, we’re not saying you have to shout it from the rooftops. If you’re embarrassed and want to lock yourself in the attic and read the poem in the faintest whisper possible, go ahead. Do whatever it takes, because reading even part of poem aloud can totally change your perspective on how it works.Become an Archaeologist. When you’ve drunk in the poem enough times, experiencing the sound and images found there, it is sometimes fun to switch gears and to become an archaeologist (you know -- someone who digs up the past and uncovers layers of history). Treat the poem like a room you have just entered. Perhaps it’s a strange room that you’ve never seen before, filled with objects or people that you don’t really recognize. Maybe you feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland. Assume your role as an archaeologist and take some measurements. What’s the weather like? Are there people there? What kind of objects do you find? Are there more verbs than adjectives? Do you detect a rhythm? Can you hear music? Is there furniture? Are there portraits of past poets on the walls? Are there traces of other poems or historical references to be found? Check out Shmoop’s “Setting,” “Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay,” and “Speaker” sections to help you get started. Don’t Skim. Unlike the newspaper or a textbook, the point of poetry isn’t to cram information into your brain. We can’t repeat it enough: poetry is an experience. If you don’t have the patience to get through a long poem, no worries, just start with a really short poem. Understanding poetry is like getting a suntan: you have to let it sink in. When you glance at Shmoop’s “Detailed Summary,” you’ll see just how loaded each line of poetry can be.Memorize! “Memorize” is such a scary word, isn’t it? It reminds us of multiplication tables. Maybe we should have said: “Tuck the poem into your snuggly memory-space.” Or maybe not. At any rate, don’t tax yourself: if you memorize one or two lines of a poem, or even just a single cool-sounding phrase, it will start to work on you in ways you didn’t know possible. You’ll be walking through the mall one day, and all of a sudden, you’ll shout, “I get it!” Just not too loud, or you’ll get mall security on your case. Be Patient. You can’t really understand a poem that you’ve only read once. You just can’t. So if you don’t get it, set the poem aside and come back to it later. And by “later” we mean days, months, or even years. Don’t rush it. It’s a much bigger accomplishment to actually enjoy a poem than it is to be able to explain every line of it. Treat the first reading as an investment – your effort might not pay off until well into the future, but when it does, it will totally be worth it. Trust us.Read in Crazy Places. Just like music, the experience of poetry changes depending on your mood and the environment. Read in as many different places as possible: at the beach, on a mountain, in the subway. Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery for a poem to really come alive.Think Like a Poet. Here’s a fun exercise. Go through the poem one line at a time, covering up the next line with your hand so you can’t see it. Put yourself in the poet’s shoes: If I had to write a line to come after this line, what would I put? If you start to think like this, you’ll be able to appreciate all the different choices that go into making a poem. It can also be pretty humbling – at least we think so. Shmoop’s “Calling Card” section will help you become acquainted with a poet’s particular, unique style. Soon, you’ll be able to decipher a T.S. Elliot poem from a Wallace Stevens poem, sight unseen. Everyone will be so jealous.“Look Who’s Talking.” Ask the most basic questions possible of the poem. Two of the most important are: “Who’s talking?” and “Who are they talking to?” If it’s a Shakespeare sonnet, don’t just assume that the speaker is Shakespeare. The speaker of every poem is kind of fictional creation, and so is the audience. Ask yourself: what would it be like to meet this person? What would they look like? What’s their “deal,” anyway? Shmoop will help you get to know a poem’s speaker through the “Speaker” section found in each study guide.And, most importantly, Never Be Intimidated. Regardless of what your experience with poetry in the classroom has been, no poet wants to make his or her audience feel stupid. It’s just not good business, if you know what we mean. Sure, there might be tricky parts, but it’s not like you’re trying to unlock the secrets of the universe. Heck, if you want to ignore the “meaning” entirely, then go ahead. Why not? If you’re still feeling a little timid, let Shmoop’s “Why Should I Care” section help you realize just how much you have to bring to the poetry table.Poetry is about freedom and exposing yourself to new things. In fact, if you find yourself stuck in a poem, just remember that the poet, 9 times out of 10, was a bit of a rebel and was trying to make his friends look at life in a completely different way. Find your inner rebel too. There isn’t a single poem out there that’s “too difficult” to try out – right now, today. So hop to it. As you’ll discover here at Shmoop, there’s plenty to choose from.Sources: is Poetry?What is poetry? At the most basic level, poetry is an experience produced by two elements of language: “sense” and “sound.” The “sense” of a word is its meaning. The word “cat” refers to a small, furry animal with whiskers, a long tail, and, if you’re unlucky, a knack for scratching up all your new furniture. We can all agree that’s what “cat” means. But “cat” also has a particular sound when you say it, and this sound is different from similar words for “cat” in other languages. Most of the things that you hear, say, or read in your daily life (including the words you are reading right now) put more emphasis on meaning than on sound. Not so with poetry. Have you ever repeated a word so many times that it started to sound strange and foreign? No? Try saying that word “cat” twenty times in a row. “Cat, cat, cat, cat, cat, cat . . .” Kind of weird, right? Well, guess what: you just made poetry out of a single word – that is, you turned the word into an experience that is as much about sound as it is about sense. Congratulations, poet!Or let's imagine that you type the words “blue” and “ocean” on a page all by their lonesome selves. These two little words are quite ordinary and pop up in conversations all the time. However, when we see them isolated, all alone on a page, they might just take on a whole new meaning. Maybe “blue ocean” looks like a little strand of islands in a big sea of white space, and maybe we start to think about just how big the ocean is. Or you could reverse the order and type the words as “ocean blue,” which would bring up a slightly different set of connotations, such as everyone’s favorite grade-school rhyme: “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”Poetry is also visual, and so it’s a good idea to pay attention to how the words are assembled on the page. Our imaginations are often stirred by a poem’s visual presentation. Just like a person, poems can send all kinds of signals with their physical appearance. Some are like a slick businessman in a suit or a woman in an evening gown. Their lines are all regularized and divided neatly into even stanzas. Others are like a person at a rock concert who is dressed in tattered jeans, a ragged t-shirt, and a Mohawk, and who has tattoos and piercings all over their body! And some poems, well, some poems look like a baked potato that exploded in your microwave. It’s always a good idea to ask yourself how the appearance of words on the page interacts with the meaning of those words. If the poem is about war, maybe it looks like a battle is going on, and the words are fighting for space. If the poem is about love, maybe the lines are spaced to appear as though they are dancing with one another. Often the appearance and meaning will be in total contrast, which is just as interesting.OK, that’s a very broad idea of what poetry is. Let’s narrow it down a bit. When most people talk about poetry, they are talking about a particular kind of literature that is broken up into lines, or verses. In fact, for most of history, works divided into verse were considered more “literary” than works in prose. Even those long stories called “epics,” like Homer’s The Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid, are actually poems.Now, you’re thinking: “Wait a minute, I thought verses belong to songs and music.” Exactly. The very first poets – from Biblical times and even before – set their poems to music, and it’s still acceptable to refer to a poem as a “song.” For example, the most famous work by the American poet Walt Whitman is titled, “Song of Myself.” Because of their shared emphasis on sound, poetry and music have always been like blood brothers.The last thing to say about poetry is that it doesn’t like to be pinned down. That’s why there’s no single definition that fits all of the things that we would call “poems.” Just when you think you have poetry cornered, and you’re ready to define it as literature broken into lines, it breaks free and shouts, “Aha! You forgot about the prose poem, which doesn’t have any verses!” Drats! Fortunately, we get the last laugh, because we can enjoy and recognize poems even without a perfect definition of what poetry isSources:"The Seafarer"SummaryThe seafarer is telling his story of his travels and tribulations, of how he endured much sorrow in his time spent in ships at sea. When he took the night's watch at the ship's prow, he observed the wildness of the waves and the sharp rocks. His feet were frozen and immovable, and he felt a raging hunger gnawing at his mind.A land-dweller cannot conceive of the experience of the exile, estranged from his kinsmen and spending the freezing winter alone at sea. All the seafarer hears is the roaring of the sea waves and sometimes the songs of the birds. He cannot hear the laughter of men or drink mead with them. He only experiences the powerful storms and the call between terns and screeching eagles. The seafarer has no protector on the sea.Men who live in the city and are red-faced with wine and the ease of life, experience little difficulty and would find it hard to fathom how the fatigued seafarer makes the sea his home. The shadows deepen and the snow falls, with frost and hail covering the earth.The seafarer feels compelled to undertake a new journey to a foreign country over the sea. On land there is no man who would be fearless about a sea journey and what the Lord has in store him, even if he were courageous in deeds or gracious in his rule. A sea-journeying man does not think of women or treasure or worldly pleasures; he only thinks about the waves, and is always longing.When the world is reviving with spring, the seafarer feels it in his heart to undertake his journey. The cuckoo's song foretells the arrival of summer and brings the knowledge of the coming sorrow into the man's heart. Rich men on land do not know what exile "to the end of the world" is like.The seafarer's heart leaps across the seas and his mind travels the waves, wandering for miles and returning with a feeling of dissatisfaction and yearning. The bird's cry "urges the heart" to take up the watery ways. Joy in the Lord is better than the "dead life" that is fleeting on earth. The wonders of the earth will pass and cannot survive forever. Illness, old age, and the sword are uncertain until they occur, and can all take a man's life. All men should thus look to perform great deeds against the devil so the children of the men who live after him will honor him and his fame will live on forever when he counts himself amongst "the heavenly host."The kings and rulers and "gold-giving" lords are gone; their splendid deeds, rich holds, and vast hosts are passed away. Now only weak men hold power in the world and dignity is vanished. As flowers bloom and fade, so do men. Old age makes their faces grow pale and their body lose its senses, their minds weaken. Even if a man puts gold into his grave or buries his brother with his gold, the gold that he gathers on earth help his soul which is full of sin. God's wrath is great. It is through Him that the earth and sky were created. Any man who does not fear God is foolish, and death will catch him unawares. Humility brings God's mercy. God gave men souls because they trust in His strength.Analysis"The Seafarer" is a 124-line poem in Old English that is often viewed as a companion piece to "The Wanderer." It is one of the most famous Anglo-Saxon elegies and is found only in The Exeter Book. It has an alliterative rhyme scheme. Unlike "The Wanderer", it is slightly easier to understand and does not face the same thorny problems of interpretation. There seems to be only one narrator, an anhaga (solitary figure) who speaks of his sea journeys and then transitions into a discussion of the ephemerality of life on earth. Critics see the poem as a lament in light of the narrator's suffering; a verse homily in regard to the preaching element; and a wisdom poem due to the admonition to trust in the Lord and look to the afterlife. Some critics believe the sea journey mentioned in the first half is an allegory, especially due to the poet's use of idiom to express homiletic ideas and unite the first and second parts of the poem. The first half of the poem finds the seafarer reflecting upon the difficulty of his life at sea. The weather is freezing and harsh, the waves powerful, the only sounds being those of birds and the roar of the sea. This is in contrast to the life of land dwellers, which is characterized by ease and comfort. In the second part of the poem the speaker changes his tone and says he wants to undertake a new journey to the land of the exiles. He calls the reader's attention to the impermanence of earthly life and the irrelevance of material gain. Death will come for all men and they must look to their Creator for life everlasting in Heaven. The evocation of Christian themes is much more blatant in this poem than "The Wanderer"; the poet's exhortation for men to follow Christian values is unambiguous. Also different from the other poem is the seafarer's self-imposed exile.Critics who see the poem as an allegory posit that the exile is Adam and his descendants who were cast out of the Garden of Eden. The Christians who belong to the "city of God" are exiles, and thus the seafarer's spiritual journey toward his home in Heaven is what is being expressed through the decision of an exile cast off from his home and kin. Other critics see the poem as expressive of the seafarer's journey as a pilgrimage. Voluntary exiles and pilgrims populate the work of the Anglo-Saxons –one such example being the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 891 –and this seafarer may be journeying to try and improve his status after death. He has gained wisdom that a man's life is transitory, and one must not place his faith in worldly wealth. Famed scholar Stanley Greenfield characterizes the seafarer's attitude toward his imminent journey as one of "hesitancy and trepidation," for "here is a resurrection of the anguish which the seafarer suffered in the past intensified now by the thought of a new and more irrevocable exile from earthly felicity." The shift in the poet's tone actually adds more honesty, unity, and complexity. The poet is ambivalent about "the ascetic life."Julienne H. Empric's article on the "experience of displacement" in the poem focuses on how "The Seafarer" moves from the particular to the general, the knowable to the unknown, and the temporal to the eternal. The seafarer speaks of the land-dweller as a contrast to himself, and by doing so demonstrates that the seafarer is wiser and more experienced in hardships. He is essentially establishing his credentials for offering advice to readers. The seafarer has rid himself of earthly pleasures and now mistrusts them. He prefers the joys of the Lord to the offerings of the world, and disdains the ignorance and inexperience of the land-dwellers. Of course, the seafarer must at one time have been a land-dweller, and "he knows, is deprived of, then willingly relinquishes the land-joys, especially the companionship of lord and fellows." ................
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