Friday, March 21, 2014

the seafarer | title

The title of THE SEAFARER is derived from a 1200-year-old Anglo Saxon poem, quoted in the front of the script.  Playwright Conor MacPherson also cites a passage from"Kubla Khan".  

The Seafarer (c. 755)

                      He knows not
           Who lives most easily on land, how I
           Have spent my winter on the ice-cold sea
           Wretched and anxious, in the paths of exile
           Lacking dear friends, hung round by icicles
           While hail flew past in showers…


Kubla Khan 

                      Beware! Beware!
           His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
           Weave a circle round him thrice,
           And close your eyes with holy dread,
           For he on honey-dew hath fed,
           And drunk the milk of paradise.

                                      - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Wikipedia summary of The Seafarer poem foregrounds the Christian themes which are also present in MacPherson's play...

The Seafarer is an Old English poem recorded in the Exeter Book, one of the four surviving manuscripts of Old English poetry....  In his account of the poem in the Cambridge Old English Reader, Richard Marsden writes, “It is an exhortatory and didactic poem, in which the miseries of winter seafaring are used as a metaphor for the challenge faced by the committed Christian….” One may say that it is a contemplative poem that teaches Christians to be faithful and to maintain their beliefs.

It is told from the point of view of an old seafarer, who is reminiscing and evaluating his life as he has lived it. ... The seafarer describes the desolate hardships of life on the wintry sea. He describes the anxious feelings, cold-wetness, and solitude of the sea voyage in contrast to life on land where men are surrounded by kinsmen, free from dangers, and full on food and wine. The climate on land then begins to resemble that of the wintry sea, and...the speaker shifts his tone from the dreariness of the winter voyage and begins to describe his yearning for the sea....

Marsden points out that although at times this poem may seem depressing, there is a sense of hope throughout it. That hope is centered on eternal life in Heaven. The poem begins as a narrative of a man’s life at sea and then changes to become a praise of God, thus giving the reader hope. At line 66b, the speaker again shifts, this time not in tone, but in subject matter. The sea is no longer explicitly mentioned; instead the speaker preaches about steering a steadfast path to heaven. He asserts that “earthly happiness will not endure", that men must oppose “the devil with brave deeds”, and that earthly wealth cannot travel to the afterlife nor can it benefit the soul after a man's death....

It is helpful to think of the seafarer's narration of his experiences as an exemplum, used to make a moral point; and to persuade his hearers of the truth of his words. .... An understanding of the poem was offered in the Cambridge Old English Reader, namely that the poem is essentially concerned to state: "Let us (good Christians, that is) remind ourselves where our true home lies and concentrate on getting there."

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