Text of the Poem

This tale is true, and mine. It tells
How the sea took me, swept me back
And forth in sorrow and fear and pain
Showed me suffering in a hundred ships,
In a thousand ports, and in me. It tells
Of smashing surf when I sweated in the cold
Of an anxious watch, perched in the bow
As it dashed under cliffs. My feet were cast
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. The hailstorms flew.
The only sound was the roaring sea,
The freezing waves. The song of the swan
Might serve for pleasure, the cry of the sea-fowl,
The death-noise of birds instead of laughter,
The mewing of gulls instead of mead.
Storms beat on the rocky cliffs and were echoed
By icy-feathered terns and the eagle's screams;
No kinsman could offer comfort there,
To a soul left drowning in desolation.
And who could believe, knowing but 
The passion of cities, swelled proud with wine 
And no taste of misfortune, how often, how wearily
I put myself back on the paths of the sea. 
Night would blacken; it would snow from the north;
Frost bound the earth and hail would fall, 
The coldest seeds. 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.
But there isn't a man on earth so proud,
So born to greatness, so bold with his youth,
Grown so grave, or so graced by God,
That he feels no fear as the sails unfurl,
Wondering what Fate has willed and will do.
No harps ring in his heart, no rewards,
No passion for women, no worldly pleasures,     
Nothing, only the ocean's heave;
But longing wraps itself around him.
Orchards blossom, the towns bloom,
Fields grow lovely as the world springs fresh,
And all these admonish that willing mind        
Leaping to journeys, always set
In thoughts traveling on a quickening tide.
So summer's sentinel, the cuckoo, sings
In his murmuring voice, and our hearts mourn
As he urges. Who could understand,      
In ignorant ease, what we others suffer
As the paths of exile stretch endlessly on?
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.
Thus the joys of God
Are fervent with life, where life itself 
Fades quickly into the earth. The wealth 
Of the world neither reaches to Heaven nor remains
No man has ever faced the dawn
Certain which of Fate's three threats   
Would fall: illness, or age, or an enemy's 
Sword, snatching the life from his soul. 
The praise the living pour on the dead 
Flowers from reputation: plant
An earthly life of profit reaped        
Even from hatred and rancor, of bravery 
Flung in the devil's face, and death 
Can only bring you earthly praise 
And a song to celebrate a place
With the angels, life eternally blessed 
In the hosts of Heaven.
The days are gone
When the kingdoms of earth flourished in glory;
Now there are no rulers, no emperors,
No givers of gold, as once there were,  
When wonderful things were worked among them 
And they lived in lordly magnificence. 
Those powers have vanished, those pleasures are dead
The weakest survives and the world continues,
Kept spinning by toil. All glory is tarnished.
The world's honor ages and shrinks,
Bent like the men who mold it. Their faces
Blanch as time advances, their beards
Wither and they mourn the memory of friends.
The sons of princes, sown in the dust.
The soul stripped of its flesh knows nothing
Of sweetness or sour, feels no pain,
Bends neither its hand nor its brain. A brother
Opens his palms and pours down gold
On his kinsman's grave, strewing his coffin
With treasures intended for Heaven, but nothing 
Golden shakes the wrath of God 
For a soul overflowing with sin, and nothing 
Hidden on earth rises to Heaven.
We all fear God. He turns the earth, 
He set it swinging firmly in space, 
Gave life to the world and light to the sky. 
Death leaps at the fools who forget their God. 
He who lives humbly has angels from Heaven 
To carry him courage and strength and belief. 
A man must conquer pride, not kill it, 
Be firm with his fellows, chaste for himself, 
Treat all the world as the world deserves, 
With love or with hate but never with harm, 
Though an enemy seek to scorch him in hell, 
Or set the flames of a funeral pyre 
Under his lord. Fate is stronger 
And God mightier than any man's mind. 
Our thoughts should turn to where our home is, 
Consider the ways of coming there, 
Then strive for sure permission for us 
To rise to that eternal joy, 
That life born in the love of God 
And the hope of Heaven. Praise the Holy 
Grace of Him who honored us, 
Eternal, unchanging creator of earth. Amen.


  1. The word “amen” is an affirmative statement that is usually used to respond to or conclude a prayer. It first appeared in the Hebrew Bible and is used in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions. By concluding his tale with “amen,” the seafarer suggests that his tale is a metaphor for the journey of a pious Christian who suffers for “the love of God / And the hope of Heaven.” Therefore, his account is at least partially didactic because it establishes a path of righteousness for readers to follow in order to reach heaven in the afterlife.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. A “pyre” is a pile of combustible material that is usually used to burn a dead body during a funeral. The seafarer believes that a good, wise person must always practice courage, humility, chastity, and kindness even if there are enemies seeking to destroy her.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The seafarer suggests that wealth and reputation are useless because they carry no importance in the afterlife. Riches cannot be used to lessen God’s wrath against a wicked person; therefore, the seafarer urges the reader not to be tempted by the allure of wealth and fame.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The noun “rancor” refers to bitterness or a long-standing, deep-seated resentment. The seafarer means that the living heap “earthly praise” on the dead, even if their fame and wealth arise from hatred and bitterness.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. According to many forms of Christian doctrine, heaven is a physical location in the afterlife where God and his holy angels live. Humans are permitted to reside in heaven after death if they lived pious lives and repented their sins. The seafarer suggests that earthly wealth is pointless because it does not exist in heaven.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The adjective “fervent” refers to passion or intensity of emotion. The seafarer suggests that his drive to return to the sea is akin to accepting God’s will—for, despite the suffering that awaits him, the joys of serving God far outweigh the temporary pleasures and passions of earthly life.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The verb “to admonish” means to advise or warn against something. Despite the warmth and comfort of summer, which starkly contrasts with earlier images of icy winter storms, the seafarer feels compelled to go out to sea again. In this context, the beauty of blossoming orchards and fields that “grow lovely as the world springs fresh” prompt, or advise, the seafarer to embark on another journey.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. The verb “to unfurl” means to unfold, usually in order to be open to the wind. The seafarer suggests that, just as the sails of a ship unfurl to the wind, the sea-wanderer opens himself to the will of God and Fate.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. The noun “kinsman” is another word for relative, or a person to whom one is related by blood. Life at sea is so miserable that seafarers cannot even find comfort in their families.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The noun “mewing” refers to the characteristic, high-pitched sound made by seagulls. The seafarer reinforces the poem’s increasingly depressing tone by vividly describing the visual and aural images around him.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Lines 7–12 use caesuras to develop the seafarer’s bleak tale. A caesura is a pause within a line of poetry, usually in the form of a period (.), comma (,), em dash (—), or ellipses (...). In this context, caesuras reinforce the poem’s rhythm while also emphasizing the stark, distressing images of the seafarer’s suffering.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. The repetition of words beginning with the letter “s” in line 6 is an example of sibilance. Sibilance involves repeating words containing the letter “s” in order to create a hissing sound when the words are read aloud. The words “smashing,” “surf,” and “sweated” highlight both visual and aural imagery in order to immerse the reader in the seafarer’s experience.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. The repetition of the word “and” in line 3 is an example of polysyndeton, a device in which conjunctions like “and,” “but,” and “or” are repeated in rapid succession. In this context, polysyndeton establishes the poem’s gloomy tone by slowing down the pace of the line in order to emphasize the nouns “sorrow,” “fear,” and “pain.”

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. Lines 1–3 use enjambment, a device in which a sentence, phrase, or thought that originates in one line flows into subsequent lines. Enjambment appears many times throughout “The Seafarer” to create anticipation, urgency, and emotional intensity.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. In the speaker's Christian world, this is as it should be. However, in a pre-Christian warrior society, the weakest could not survive. 

    — Stephen Holliday
  16. Readers sense the ambivalence in the speaker's tone as he laments the passing of an older, pre-Christian, way of life.

    — Stephen Holliday
  17. As with other Old English religious poems, the pagan belief system runs a close second to Christianity. Even though The Seafarer is full of Christian references, the speaker falls quite naturally into the beliefs of his ancestors with the image of Fate doling out death by sickness, age, or war.

    — Stephen Holliday
  18. Another important theme in The Seafarer is exile from family, land, and the comforts of a land-based life. The seafarer constantly looks with longing at what he doesn't have—that is, friends, family, home—but he nevertheless chooses his life of exile at sea.

    — Stephen Holliday
  19. As with Beowulf and The WandererThe Seafarer exhibits the conflict between the pagan and Christian worlds during the transition from paganism to Christianity. References to fate, a clearly pagan concept, will be replaced later in the poem by references to the Christian God.

    — Stephen Holliday
  20. Despite the hard life at sea, the seafarer is pointing out that he goes to this hard life voluntarily. Just as he laments his hard life, he acknowledges that he chooses life at sea rather than life on land.

    — Stephen Holliday
  21. Again, the speaker makes clear the stark contrast between the harshness of life at sea and the pleasures of life on land.

    — Stephen Holliday
  22. The speaker creates a constant tension between the hardships of life at sea and the comparative comfort of life on land.

    — Stephen Holliday
  23. One of the important themes of "The Seafarer" is the speaker's exile from land and the challenges he experiences as a sailor.

    — Stephen Holliday