What does the poem's speaker describe in the first stanza of "The Seafarer"?

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"The Seafarer " is an Anglo-Saxon poem by an anonymous author. It exists in one manuscript and has been translated many times by modern poets, a reflection of the timeless themes of solitude and isolation it conveys. It is one of the Old English elegies and shares concepts with...

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"The Seafarer" is an Anglo-Saxon poem by an anonymous author. It exists in one manuscript and has been translated many times by modern poets, a reflection of the timeless themes of solitude and isolation it conveys. It is one of the Old English elegies and shares concepts with others such as "The Wife's Lament" and "The Wanderer," such as the idea of a person exiled from his or her tribe, or rather, the group of people from whom the speaker would have expected care. The first stanza of this poem addresses this in the idea of "breostceare,"literally "breast-care," or nurture. The speaker says he has experienced a "bitter" form of this, which means that he has been offered the opposite of what he would have expected. He has not been cared for by his people.

The speaker is introducing the poem to follow by setting the scene. He promises to tell the truth about himself and the hardships he has suffered. He has toiled, he says, and would like to tell us how this came to be and how it relates to the lack of appropriate "breostceare" he has received.

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"The Seafarer" describes the physical and emotional struggles of being out at sea. The speaker describes having to endure the loneliness of sea-travel as well as the difficult winter weather. He says that the cold numbed his feet. Ice and hail pounded the ship. The only thing he could hear was the rush of waves and occasionally a bird's call.

The speaker remembers feeling quite isolated, describing himself, in Ezra Pound's interpretation of the poem, as a "wretched outcast." He envied the lives of those who stay on dry land and longed to return to the warmth and family he might have there. The speaker describes having to sit up on a night-watch to ensure the security of the ship. His hunger, the physical discomfort of the winter sea, and his loneliness were compounded in these dark moments.

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