“Home is where the heart is” .Discuss in relationship to the seafarer.
This is an interesting concept to apply to The Seafarer, whose narrator seems to feel a sense of belonging whilst travelling the sea despite the fact that he is obviously disillusioned with its hardships .The main character undergoes a transformation in what he considers home and this dramatically affects his life and lifestyle. Towards the end of The Seafarer the poet forces us to consider our mortality, and seems to push the notion that life is just a journey and that we will not truly be at home until we are with God .
The first instance of a sense of home in this poem comes with the description of the former life of the narrator in his pre-seafaring days. He leaves his old life for some unspecified reason, telling us that he was “cut off from his kinsmen”, and he talks about this with a definite sense of regret and loss. Winter on the sea is presented as an “exile” or “wrcan”1 , a form of punishment where someone is forced to leave their homeland, the place where they belong. It seems that in the early stages of the poem the seafarer identifies his life with his kinsmen on land as his home, the place that he belongs.
At first he does not seem content with his seafaring life. During the early descriptions of his time there, it is painted as a life of hardship and penance. Images and adjectives of the sea and life there are harsh and foreboding-“ice cold”, “hung round with icicles” , “fettered with frost”. The sea is seen as cold, and not just in the physical sense .It is remote, a place of despair , an earthly purgatory, where there is “always anxiety …. as to what the Lord will bestow on him”2. The narrator is cut away from the comforts of human companionship and his former life and home. He learns to take his pleasure in nature and the natural , such as the song of the swan(ylfete song) 3, but he implies that these are not conventional pleasures and that the “normal” man would not be able to fathom the harshness of the seafaring lifestyle .
Over time he has come to identify himself with the sea , and has found a new sense of exhilaration and a different purpose for his existence there. Whatever the reason for his initial departure from land , he no longer seems to acknowledge that as his home and this is noticeable to the reader (the poem was to be given the editorial name The Seafarer , a name where the narrators identity is inextricably linked to the sea). Despite its dangers, he informs us that he constantly feels a longing to return to the waves when he is on land4, and there is a definite sense that he feels at home there, even with its lack of what we would conventionally identify with a concept of home, i.e., family, security and comfort. The seafarer’s notion of home becomes in some way a lack of home, he has abandoned a conventional home life because, he says, that it is “the desire of the heart”. For him, home has become the place where his heart finds fulfilment, or perhaps it may be more accurate to say that home is substituted by a place where his heart finds fulfilment. In a real sense , he has no home at all.
An increasingly important link between home and lifestyle becomes evident, the two are seen as symbiotic-“Let us also attempt to win therehome to the eternal bliss” .The narrator’s new “home” on the sea allows him to become closer to God and the kingdom of heaven, and is portrayed as a life of spiritual purity , whereas those on land (who live a life of relative luxury) are seen as morally deprived and lacking in virtue . Home becomes indicative of the emphasis and direction in an individuals life , and in some ways the poem seems to be a denunciation of the conventional home life because of it’s secularity-“Blessed is he who lives humbly, mercy comes to him from heaven”5 . In place, it provides the model of the seafarer’s life to highlight that our expectations of life should not be so material in origin for this materialism leads away from the Kingdom of Heaven. Home, then, is not just a place where the heart finds fulfilment , but also where we can live a life that leads towards God .
In these later stages of the poem religion and afterlife become of central importance to both the poem and in our existence. Life is constantly referred to as fleeting, transient, and the advice that we must actively seek God in our lives is freely given, for heaven is to be our eternal home , where we will “live afterwards among the angels”6.What ever home we make for ourselves on Earth, we must keep in perspective that it is only temporary.
To conclude, there are two main opposing representations and aspects of home presented in this poem, from what is seen as the “norm”, the narrators life on land, to the “favoured”, the narrators life at sea. Home is irrevocably linked to lifestyle and should not just be where the heart is,(though there is a sense that our “Heart’s fulfilment” is important) but should more importantly be a place where we can live a life that will bring us towards heaven, which the poem portrays as our eternal home .The Seafarer is a poem which urges us to think in depth about calls us to carefully “consider where we possess our home, and then think how we com thither.”
01: Mitchell, Bruce and Robinson, Michael A Guide To Old English, fifth edition 1992 , Blackwell Publishers , Oxford .
2: Translation received in lectures (no details)