Beowulf and The Seafarer: The Stories of Fate in God, Glory, & The Sea
A former president of the United States of America, Harry S. Truman, had once said, “actions are the seed of fate; deeds grow into destiny.” This quote can also be contributed to two of the famous Anglo-Saxon tales, Beowulf and The Seafarer. In these two stories, one can find two contrasting beliefs in fate and the sea from the story’s main characters. Beowulf is acquiescent to fate and is humble before the force of the sea, whereas the narrator of The Seafarer is fearful of the powers of fate and the sea is unwilling to accept them. Beowulf and the narrator of the Seafarer both believed in fate, as they were willingly about to put their lives in peril. Both characters acted out in bravery; Beowulf (the hero of Hrothgar’s kingdom) when he knew he was going to die before defeating the dragon (who was very boastful when he came to fight), and the Seafarer (the narrator who tells his tale at sea), when he would go out to sea and began to tell his adventures. This reoccurring theme of fate endures vast importance to both stories, as it forms significant values to these characters and the actions the make throughout the tales.
In the story Beowulf, the main character (being Beowulf) is seen for his miraculous deeds of saving King Hrothgar’s kingdom. Through his actions throughout the tale, Beowulf gives himself a godly appearance, ending the lives of several villains such as Grendel and his mother. In this case, he believes that God and the presence of fate work together. He vaunts of his encounters with the monstrous sea-creatures, saying, “I treated them politely. . . Offering the edge of my razor-sharp sword.” This statement reveals Beowulf’s unassailable bumptiousness and self-confidence. Beowulf is obligated to observe fate but does not feel that it should rule him in entirety. He says, “Fate will unwind as it must.” In this case, he believes that fate is to direct his life and does not intend on using it to regulate his actions. Additionally, Beowulf’s actions test his fate for the sea once encountering one of the townsmen warriors, Unferth. As Unferth begins to taunt him, Beowulf replies brashly, saying to Unferth, “Neither he nor you can match me,” in attempt to interrogate him about his strength and to make a fool of him in front of his fellow peers. Beowulf begins to test fate through this growing argument with Unferth but has more powered-driven respect for the sea. He knows of the powers of the sea from his laborious race with Brecca, but he remained humbled and ventured through the waters because of this veneration.
In contrast to Beowulf’s points of views, the narrator in The Seafarer incorporates the idea that fate will destroy all peoples and take everything away. Within the poem, the narrator states that, “fate is stronger.” In this case, fate is an almighty power that no man can control. In addition, he says, “God is mightier than any man’s mind.” This shows that the narrator in The Seafarer is fearful to surrender these unearthly powers, as he is under the impression that it will interfere with his relations to God Himself. When “wondering what fate has willed and will do,” the Seafarer, who fears fate and remains ambivalent toward the sea, is afraid of this power to the point where it has taken over his life. Even while ashore, when visiting his favorite mead hall, he long looks forward to the ventures of the sea.
Furthermore, both Old English poems, Beowulf and The Seafarer, deliberately discuss fate at the sea. Beowulf contains many references to the sea, one after another. For example, after Scyld died, it is stated that, “his people carried him to the sea, which was his last request.” Additionally, once the Geats made notice of the harsh attacks happening to the Danes from Grendel, it is said that Beowulf, a “crafty sailor,” and his men, “shoved the well-braced ship out on the journey they’d dreamed of. . . From far over the sea’s expanse . . . brave men who come over the sea swells,” (these “brave men” being the Geats). With these references in the poem, it shows the amount of emotional appreciation that Beowulf and his men had for the sea. Once Beowulf dies after his great battle with the dragon, his final wish is for his warriors to bid the raising of “a splendid mound on the shore-cliffs after [his] funeral fire. . . [for] sea-fareres shall afterward call it Beowulf’s Mound when they pilot shifts far over the ocean’s mists.”
Another Old English poem, The Seafarer, explains how the narrator (the Seafarer himself) has a deep connection with the sea. Though the later poem is substantially shorter than Beowulf, the feelings, nevertheless, expressed therein about the sea reflect some of the same found in Beowulf. The narrator begins with, “The tale I frame shall be found to tally: the history is of myself”. By saying this, the narrator begins to reflect with the audience on the miseries which he has endured when travelling by sea in winter–miseries of which the landsman knows nothing. He continues with, “No man blessed with a happy land-life is like to guess how I, aching-hearted, on ice-cold seas have wasted whole winters; the wanderer’s beat, cut off from kind. . .” In this instance, the Seafarer speaks of his life on and connection on sea and the fate it has led him to. His connection with the sea is personal, as he describes how no man on land can relate to what he has endured on sea during those harsh winters.
So, what exactly did Harry Truman mean by his past heartening quote? By saying that, “actions are the seed of fate” and “deeds grow into destiny,” he means that every action one makes in life will determine their true fate, allowing their deeds to grow into destiny; even when it comes to actions of characters in stories, such as the splendiferous Beowulf and the timorous Seafarer. The theme of fate has a huge intended purpose in both tales of Beowulf and The Seafarer. These texts stress this theme throughout the connections and interactions made with God, glory, and the sea, putting their lives at risk for the purposes that they believe are right; even if these connections and acts of courageousness are contrasting in some forms. These can be pulled throughout specific details in the text, stating the brave interactions that took place in the stories. Even through battling with devilish monsters, the vigorous powers of the sea, and the eventual sensation of fear, the characters from Beowulf and the Seafarer have both successfully described the themes of fate through the substantial demeanors made throughout both tales.
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