Naturalistic Characteristics in The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and Deor

The found the connections between The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and Deor, including the lack of agency and the references to Wyrd to be very interesting.  Both The Wanderer and The Seafarer begin with a description of suffering and sorrow that is unavoidable, then at a turning point the speakers begin to reference the greatest of God and the goodness of salvation that will come after all the suffering.  The Seafarer begins with a description of the hardships and suffering that he cannot escape as a seafarer, as The Wanderer and Deor begin with a lament of a devastated and destructed place that destroyed building and took loved ones and kinsmen.  At the turning point of The Seafarer, the speaker rejoices in the opportunities and gifts God has given him and begins to look at his life as a seafarer as an adventure and a chance to travel which God has granted him, similarly to the turning point of The Wanderer where the speaker expresses acceptance of suffering and suggests that if one turns to God for mercy they will one day have salvation.  While both The Wanderer and The Seafarer shift from a lamenting, lonely, suffering attitude to an acceptance of the suffering, Doer lacks this happy ending. Instead of ending with a prayer to God or a hope in salvation, Doer ends with a continuation of the description of never ending decay and no hope and no agency.

These elegies, especially Doer reminded me of the naturalist literature of the mid-nineteenth century. This literature was characterized by a lack of agency and lack of control of fate, which I felt the elegies also contained. Although two of my three examples ended with an acceptance and hope for the mercy of God, the speakers still lacked agency in their sorrowful lives and looked at Wyrd as unchangeable, like naturalistic literature saw fate and nature as uncontrollable and set in stone.

4 thoughts on “Naturalistic Characteristics in The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and Deor

  1. I also got a very strong feel of naturalism while reading these poems. What I liked most about these poems, which I undertand is very fitting for this course, is how much emotion it brings about. This sounds very shallow and silly, but severely cold weather alter my mood and how I feel and the past few days have been making me feel quite gloomy. So many of the poems (The Wanderer, The Seafarer, Deor, The Wife’s Lament) all associate loneliness and exile with cold, snow, storms, and hail. Though it may seem like an unimportant detail, I can relate how bad the cold can make things seem, especially if one is already filled with sorrow.

    My favorite poem was Deor because to me it seemed the only one that had a somewhat optimistic outlook on things. Each stanza names a horrible incident that has happened in history, but closes with the phrase “That passed away; so can this”. When lamenting on his own situation, the speaker explains how easy it is to be weighed down with sorrow when one focuses on how bad things are. His use of the repetitive “That passed away; so can this” shows that he does not intend to spend time being sorrowful and that he believes his situation can end positively.

  2. I wanted to hijack the discussion of Deor to point out that, while the emotion of the poem was certainly clear and that the personal note on which the poem ended was satisfying/appealing as a reader, it was also plain to me that this poem very much comes out of a different cultural space. The fact was underscored for me when the editor had to fly in to provide glosses on figures whom the poet could merely assume the audience would have known given the time period. Just like reading Beowulf, Deor reminded me of just how Germanic/Scandinavian pre-Hastings Britain was and the degree to which the English imagination still fixated on that ancestral homeland.

  3. The endings in both “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer” seemed strange and out of place to me, as if they were tacked on later, perhaps by the clerics transcribing them. This could, though, have to do with the relationship between religion and wyrd, or chance that we talked about earlier in class. It seems strange to us now, but would not have been at the time.

  4. The “happy ending” that Deor lacks, something Erin mentioned above, was surprising and somewhat disturbing to me. The poet uses the first five stanzas to tell us that even times of intense suffering can and shall pass. That is certainly a hopeful idea that I can get behind. But the final stanza seems to take a turn. Instead of describing suffering, the poet tells us about his time at “this high-ranking post”. Furthermore, we are told he was “dear to (his) lord”. However, even the good has passed away. The last stanza serves as a grim reminder that while suffering may pass, so can happiness.

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