The Seafarer Anglo-Saxon Poetry

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Beowulf and The Seafarer

Anglo-Saxon Poetry

AP Literature / Mrs. Obbagy
Terms to know
Oral Poetry: traditional poetry that was recited from memory
Scop: a professional poet who served as the memory and history of the tribe
Comitatus: Literally, this means “escort” or “comrade;" this term identifies the concept of

warriors and lords mutually pledging their loyalty to one another;

old German code of loyalty
Wergild: “man payment” is the practice of paying a slain man’s family to atone for the deed and to prevent them from taking revenge against the manslayer
Heroic Tradition: in epic poetry, the hero is larger than life, often performs super-human feats
Elegiac Tradition: a poem of mourning, usually over the death of an individual; may also lament over the passing of life and beauty or a meditation on the nature of death. An elegy is a type of lyric poem, usually formal in language and structure, and solemn or even melancholy in tone.
Litotes: understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary (as in “not a bad singer” or “not unhappy”
Alliteration: the use of words that begin with the same sounds near one another (as in wild and wooly or a babbling brook)
Kenning: a two-word metaphorical name for something, such as “the whale-road” for the sea
Caesura: a break or pause, either created with punctuation or implied, within a line of poetry. (always found in Anglo-Saxon poetry)
End-Stop: a line of poetry that ends with punctuation of some sort (not a required element)


The Primitive Heroic Ideal

  1. Idea of Kingship was important to Germanic peoples; the ideal of kingly behavior was the chief spiritual force behind the civilization they developed.

  1. Hero-king strove to do better than anyone else at the things the migratory life of their people demanded:

    1. Sail a ship

    2. Swim a river or bay

    3. Tame a horse

    4. Choose a campsite and build defenses

    5. Plow a field

    6. Build a hall

    7. FIGHT (above all else)

  1. Skill and courage were the primary qualities of being a king/hero.

  1. All members of the tribe tended to imitate the heroic ideal.

  1. A successful king won loyalty form his followers and rewarded their loyalty with generosity (e.g. sharing spoils of war).

  1. It was the people’s duty to defend their king in battle; giving up one’s life defending or avenging a king’s death was a heroic act.

  1. In a non-Christian society where no reward of afterlife was promised, heroic acts led to a more important end than practical success, a name that will live on after death.

  1. The paradox of the heroic ideal is hat only by dying heroically could one achieve immortality.

Christian Influence
Celts and Romans had been converted to Christianity, but the Anglo-Saxons brought their pagan beliefs and folk traditions with them when they invaded and conquered Britain in the fifth (5th) century. It was not until they were converted to Christianity that they began to write things down. As a result, their written poetry combines folk tradition with Christian ideas. In 597 St. Augustine was sent as a missionary to England to King Ethelbert of Kent. The King converted to Christianity, which began the eventual conversion of the Anglo-Saxon people. Since that time the influence of Christian ideas on English literature has been profound.

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