Is the sea mentioned only in Beowulf or is it a common element in all Anglo-Saxon poetry? Is the sea described the same way as in Beowulf?
In Beowulf there is one reference after another to the sea. When Scyld died, “his people caried him to the sea, which was his last request,” where he drifted out into the beyond on a “death ship.” In the Geat land Beowulf, a “crafty sailor,” and his men “shoved the well-braced ship out on the journey they’d dreamed of,” to rescue the Danes from Grendel. “From far over the sea’s expanse,” the Geats came, “brave men who come over the sea swells.” In his welcoming speech Hrothgar recalls that the hero’s father “sought us Danes over the rolling waves,” and his warrior Unferth remembers that the hero “struggled with Brecca [youthful companion] in the broad sea in a swimming contest … risked his life in the deep water … hugged the sea, gliding through the boiling waves … toiled seven nights in the sea.” A Dane “was tending to every courtesy” for Beowulf, for “such in those days could a seafarer expect.” King Hrothgar and Queen Welhtheow gave rich gifts “to those on the mead-bench who made the sea-journey.” In the Finnburh Episode, Hengest had to spend the winter months with Finn because “he could not steer his ring-prowed ship on the cold sea.” “Guthlaf and Oslaf spoke of their grief after the sea-journey.” The Danes carried Hildeburh, the queen of Danish ancestry, “over the sea.” “The surging waters” received Beowulf as he swam in pursuit of Grendel’s mother. During the battle Hrothgar and his retinue stared down at the “turbulent water.” Finally Beowulf returned, “protector of sailors, strong swimmer, to land.” Hrothgar, i...
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across wastes of water: far warmer to me
are the Lord’s kindnesses than this life of death
lent us on land. . . .
The Seafarer concludes with a rather lengthy prose exhortation to his heareres to fix their hopes on heaven.
The characters in the Old English poem Beowulf certainly delighted in the seas. From this essay it can be appreciated that their attitude toward the sea is both conflictingg with and comparable with that expressed in other Old English poems.
Alexander, Michael, translator. The Earliest English Poems. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.
TheSeafarer. In The Earliest English Poems, translated by Michael Alexander. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
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