10 September 2010
Beauty in the Breakdown
For many writers and musicians, some of the best artistic works are born from moments of heartbreak and loss. This motif can be traced all the way back to Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is most noticeable in an elegy, or a lyric poem mourning the loss of someone or something. Three elegies in particular, The Seafarer, The Wanderer, and The Wife’s Lament, lament the loss of their home and community, due to exile. Despite the enduring pain of exile on the three speakers, they are all able to find beauty in their situation, however small.
Often times, the saying “home is where the hearth is” can be applied to anyone without fail. However, for people like the speaker in The Seafarer, home is not a building but rather a body of water: the sea. The speaker must suffer under a terrible sort of “double-exile.” Whenever he is on land he longs to be at sea, but whenever he is at sea, he lacks the community of people that are so often found on land. Even while he is at sea, the speaker conveys an impression of loneliness and isolation in when “[his] soul roams the sea, the whales’ home, wandering the widest corners of the world…” Using the kenning whales’ home shows that even when he is at sea he feels like nothing more than a tourist. Despite all his hardship, the speaker in The Seafarer is able to find a solitary bliss in his exile: God. His time apart from society allows an almost objective view of the world, by helping him realize the splendor of God’s power and grace. This is evidenced by his remark that “He turns the earth, He set it swinging firmly in space, gave life to the world and light to the sky.” In spite of the hardships brought about by exile, the speaker is able to find beauty not in something tangible, but in a higher power.
Human beings need a place to belong, or a sense of community. In The Wanderer, the speaker’s exile is not of his own volition, and,...