In "The Seafarer," why does the seafarer return to the ocean time after time?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Seafarer" is an Anglo-Saxon poem about a man who lives his life on the sea, a seafarer. The poem is one hundred and twenty-four lines long, and most of the first half of the work is a description of how hard life is on the sea. He is cold, tired, and lonely, and 

...the sea took me, swept me back And forth in sorrow and fear and pain.

Despite frozen feet, long nights on watch, long periods of isolation, and lurching waves, this seafarer loves the sea and is inexorably drawn back to life on the ocean. He says that those who only know “the passion of cities” could never understand the pull of the sea for a man like him.  

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 seafarer explains that his heart and soul are connected to the sea; he feels as if the whales’ home is also his home. When he is on the sea, he is moved by the “open ocean" and his heart is "ravenous with desire" to sail to the "widest corners of the world."