"The Seafarer" is one of the very few existing poems written in Old English. As with the Old English epic Beowulf, we don’t know the author or the precise date, since the work was transmitted orally until eventually being handwritten by Anglo-Saxon monks.
The poem’s speaker tells of his dangerous and difficult experiences on the cold and rough sea, comparing this to a life of ease on land. The central idea is that man, to satisfy the longings of his soul, must take such a difficult journey in his efforts to know God and follow (or find) his fate.
In the first half of the poem, the poet characterizes the sailor’s situation:
No harps ring in his heart, no rewards,
No passion for women, no worldly pleasures,
Nothing, only the ocean’s heave.
These lines express the idea that man must turn away from the ways of the world to seek God and spiritual fulfillment. The pleasures of civilization are many . . .
And yet my heart wanders away,
My soul roams with the sea, the whale’s
He must go even if it means subjecting himself to the dangers of the open sea. Although the spiritual journey is treacherous, the seeker must press on regardless:
Thus the joys of God
Are fervent with life, where life itself
Fades quickly into the earth.