What do the first five stanzas mean in the poem Seafarer by Burton Raffel?

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gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, let us clear up one crucial point: "The Seafarer" wasn't written by Burton Raffel. Raffel translated this poem from the Old English (and some translations don't provide stanza breaks, so it's possible for different readers to discuss it and confusion to result).

Now, turning to the poem, the first stanza blends a wish or oath of truthfulness with a general announcement of the poem's themes: it is about a life spent at sea.

The second stanza describes the many nights spent guiding the ship.
The third describes how the poet suffered in the cold-- ice chaining him to the deck, etc.
The fourth reflects on his distance from an anonymous man on the shore, and how that person doesn't know what he goes through.
The fifth (assuming we're dividing the stanzas the same way) returns to the physical suffering he's gone through, and the sixth again discusses his isolation, rather poetically.

Taken together, they are a meditation on how completely the sea shaped the poet's life, how he has suffered as a result, and how alone the sea makes him.


revolution | Student

It is telling the audience about the poet's numerous sufferings and difficulties, pain and sadness that had engulfed his entire life during his arduous experiences in the ill-fated trips at ships and ports and his journey out at sea, battering dangerous elements and enduring harsh conditions. The poet begs the audience to understand his honest and about his personal self-experience that he had come and how it revolutionized his entire life.

Read the study guide:
The Seafarer

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