The Influence Of The Elegiac Tradition On The Development Of Literature

1184 words - 5 pages

Throughout his existence, man has consistently used the art of storytelling, whether communicated orally or through written form, as a venue for the expression of various ideals and as a way to explain and provide solutions for natural phenomena and other matters out of his control. This universal attempt to find a greater sense of purpose in life is characteristic of all human civilizations, but it is perhaps the Anglo Saxon civilization that provided the basic foundation upon which much of Western thought and literary tradition was later developed. Written sometime between 449 and 1066 B.C. by an anonymous author, "The Seafarer" used the elegiac tradition as a way to convey an ultimate message of unwavering faith and good conduct to its audience. Present in the poem are three major characteristics of elegiac tradition: the expression of fear for the future, the morning of the past, and most importantly faith. These three fundamental characteristics of elegiac lyric influenced the later development of intellectual thought in the Western world and can be seen particularly in the various stories and morals of the Bible. The Anglo Saxon elegiac tradition of expressing fear for what may come in the future stemmed from the largely unpredictable and transient nature of life for its people. The oncontrollable onslaught of mother nature combined with constant conflict and warfare created an environment very hard for the induvidual to survive in where loss was all too familiar. The narrator of "The Seafarer" describes this feeling very well when he says, "No man has ever faced the dawn/ Certain of which of Fates' three threats/ Would fall: illness, or age, or an enemy's/ Sword, snatching the life from his soul." (Lines 60-71) Life for the Anglo Saxon was much like traveling by sea- a journey in which the state of the next moment is never truly known. The poem's opening immediately gives this impression: "This tale is true and mine It tells/ How the sea took me, swept me back/ And fourth in the sorrow and fear and pain/ Showed me suffering in a hundred ships./ In a thousand ports, and in me." (Lines 1-5) Despite the fact that the narrator does not know exactly when or how he demise should befall him, he does offer a solution, or a greater truth rather, in why life is this way. Through his suffering on earth, the individual shall be able to enjoy a better state of being in his afterlife. This belief is most clearly expressed wen the narrator says, "the prais the living pour on the dead/ Flowers from reputation plant/ An earthly life of profit reaped/ Even from hatred and rancor, of bravery/ Flung in the devil's face, and death/ Can only bring you earthly praise/ And a song to celebrate a place/ With the angels. life eternally blessed/ In the hosts of Heaven." (Lines 73-78) This departure from the pagan beliefs and rituals of earlier Anglo Saxon culture in which earthly possessions were valued immensely, signifies a very...

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