In "The Seafarer," how does the speaker feel about life at sea?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In the Anglo-Saxon poem "The Seafarer," the narrator shares the pitiless battering of nature on his person and his difficulty in being separated from the company of other people. Ironically, being a sailor seems to be his life’s calling rather than a punishment. He does not desire to live in "foreigners' homes," neither does he wish to return to his homeland. His entire world is the sea.

In the poem he speaks with excitement that comes with this difficult life. Rather than seeing danger, he may be exhilarated by his experiences, even in the face of his terrible loneliness:

And yet my heart wanders away, 
My soul roams with the sea, the whales' 
Home, wandering to the widest corners
Of the world, returning ravenous with desire, 
Flying solitary, screaming, exciting me 
To the open ocean, breaking oaths 
On the curve of a wave.

The sailor also describes the unforgiving conditions on the water. The winds, the frost and the cold are severe. There are hailstorms, "roaring sea" and "freezing waves." Nature’s mighty fist repeatedly punishes him. He is "a soul left drowning in desolation." He knows sorrow, fear and pain, sailing on a hundred ships and having visited a thousand ports. He notes:

…the sea took me, swept me back

And forth in sorrow and fear and pain...

Again the seafarer describes how cruel life on the sea can be:

Of smashing surf when I sweated in the cold

Of an anxious watch, perched in the bow

As it dashed under cliffs.

Images of ice, cold and loneliness abound:

On an ice-cold sea, whirled in sorrow,

Alone in a world blown clear of love,

Hung with icicles. The hailstorms flew.

The only sound was the roaring sea...

The mariner notes that he might find comfort in the beauties of the world at sea, however, the reader can assume that in the face of his solitary existence, any splendor in nature is not enough. Considering the birds, he likens their “death-noise” to laughter. Rather than finding this a comforting image, it is instead frightening.

The seafarer knows that those that live on dry land could never truly understand what his life is like—so unimaginably different than their own. Living on the ocean is an exceedingly difficult life, perhaps only understood by others who spend their days in the same way.

This sailor is a man who irrevocably joined to the ocean—destined for the entirety of his life to make a living on the open seas regardless of how exacting and severe a life it may be. Those on land cannot understand his way of life, but neither can they appreciate the satisfaction it brings even with the most difficult of conditions. Despite the sailor's lot, he shows no desire to live any other way. Though it be ferocious and unforgiving, a life at sea is in his blood and he accepts his place in the world.

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