The speaker of the poem is both drawn to the sea and repelled by it. As the poem begins, we sense the latter attitude as he describes his experience battling nature:
In icy bands, bound with frost,
With frozen chains, and hardship groaned
Around my heart. Hunger tore
At my sea-weary soul. No man sheltered
On the quiet fairness of earth can feel
How wretched I was, drifting through winter
On an ice-cold sea, whirled in sorrow,
Alone in a world blown clear of love,
Hung with icicles.
As difficult a mistress as the sea can be, just a few lines later the speaker describes his compulsion to return to the sea again and again:
And how my heart
Would begin to beat, knowing once more
The salt waves tossing and the towering sea!
The time for journeys would come and my soul
Called me eagerly out, sent me over
The horizon, seeking foreigners' homes.