The Seafarer

The Seafarer

May I for my own self song’s truth reckon,
Journey’s jargon, how I in harsh days
Hardship endured oft.
Bitter breast-cares have I abided,
Known on my keel many a care’s hold,
And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent
Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship’s head
While she tossed close to cliffs. Coldly afflicted,
My feet were by frost benumbed.
Chill its chains are; chafing sighs
Hew my heart round and hunger begot
Mere-weary mood. Lest man know not
That he on dry land loveliest liveth,
List how I, care-wretched, on ice-cold sea,
Weathered the winter, wretched outcast
Deprived of my kinsmen;
Hung with hard ice-flakes, where hail-scur flew,
There I heard naught save the harsh sea
And ice-cold wave, at whiles the swan cries,
Did for my games the gannet’s clamour,
Sea-fowls, loudness was for me laughter,
The mews’ singing all my mead-drink.
Storms, on the stone-cliffs beaten, fell on the stern
In icy feathers; full oft the eagle screamed
With spray on his pinion.
Not any protector
May make merry man faring needy.
This he little believes, who aye in winsome life
Abides ‘mid burghers some heavy business,
Wealthy and wine-flushed, how I weary oft
Must bide above brine.
Neareth nightshade, snoweth from north,
Frost froze the land, hail fell on earth then
Corn of the coldest. Nathless there knocketh now
The heart’s thought that I on high streams
The salt-wavy tumult traverse alone.
Moaneth alway my mind’s lust
That I fare forth, that I afar hence
Seek out a foreign fastness.
For this there’s no mood-lofty man over earth’s midst,
Not though he be given his good, but will have in his youth greed;
Nor his deed to the daring, nor his king to the faithful
But shall have his sorrow for sea-fare
Whatever his lord will.
He hath not heart for harping, nor in ring-having
Nor winsomeness to wife, nor world’s delight
Nor any whit else save the wave’s slash,
Yet longing comes upon him to fare forth on the water.
Bosque taketh blossom, cometh beauty of berries,
Fields to fairness, land fares brisker,
All this admonisheth man eager of mood,
The heart turns to travel so that he then thinks
On flood-ways to be far departing.
Cuckoo calleth with gloomy crying,
He singeth summerward, bodeth sorrow,
The bitter heart’s blood. Burgher knows not —
He the prosperous man — what some perform
Where wandering them widest draweth.
So that but now my heart burst from my breast-lock,
My mood ‘mid the mere-flood,
Over the whale’s acre, would wander wide.
On earth’s shelter cometh oft to me,
Eager and ready, the crying lone-flyer,
Whets for the whale-path the heart irresistibly,
O’er tracks of ocean; seeing that anyhow
My lord deems to me this dead life
On loan and on land, I believe not
That any earth-weal eternal standeth
Save there be somewhat calamitous
That, ere a man’s tide go, turn it to twain.
Disease or oldness or sword-hate
Beats out the breath from doom-gripped body.
And for this, every earl whatever, for those speaking after —
Laud of the living, boasteth some last word,
That he will work ere he pass onward,
Frame on the fair earth ‘gainst foes his malice,
Daring ado, …
So that all men shall honour him after
And his laud beyond them remain ‘mid the English,
Aye, for ever, a lasting life’s-blast,
Delight mid the doughty.
Days little durable,
And all arrogance of earthen riches,
There come now no kings nor Caesars
Nor gold-giving lords like those gone.
Howe’er in mirth most magnified,
Whoe’er lived in life most lordliest,
Drear all this excellence, delights undurable!
Waneth the watch, but the world holdeth.
Tomb hideth trouble. The blade is layed low.
Earthly glory ageth and seareth.
No man at all going the earth’s gait,
But age fares against him, his face paleth,
Grey-haired he groaneth, knows gone companions,
Lordly men are to earth o’ergiven,
Nor may he then the flesh-cover, whose life ceaseth,
Nor eat the sweet nor feel the sorry,
Nor stir hand nor think in mid heart,
And though he strew the grave with gold,
His born brothers, their buried bodies
Be an unlikely treasure hoard.

— Anon. (Old English, pre-10th century)



  1. This guy is not happy. Sounds like he is a captive on this boat. Obviously they are traveling in the winter at the beginning of the poem, but it sounds like he is coming into spring by the end. I believe that Burgher is his master or owner. Burgher dies at the end of the poem, and our writer makes it sounds as if no one is going to miss this guy. Doesn’t even sound like he wants this guy to have a good “after life”. I believe our author is happy to see Burgher go…

  2. Sorry, I did not find the questions to answer until after the first post….

    I believe that the “other” in this poem is Burgher. Our author defines him as a royalty of sorts. He is definitely the person who owns and runs the boat our author is capitve upon. I can only tell he is the “other”, because he is the only other person that is made reference to in this poem. I am not too sure about what this tells us about Anglo-Saxon culture. I know nothing about Anglo-Saxon culture…

  3. This is Megan. I am responding to the poem “The Seafarer.” The author of the poem juxtaposes two very different Anglo-Saxon lifestyles: the seafarer and the burgher. The seafarer sacrifices human companionship and earthly treasures in pursuit of a better life. The burgher, on the other hand, enjoys the comfortable lifestyle that is the product of his wealth and position in society. For the seafarer the burgher is “the other.” The burgher has everything the seafarer longs for in life. However, the seafarer is disdainful that the burgher’s love is for his earthly treasures and not for life itself. The reader gets a sense that the seafarer holds the burgher responsible for his sorrowful life on the sea. This poem reveals that Anglo-Saxon society was made up of classes with defined social roles. It also alludes to the fact that Anglo-Saxon chieftains and leaders were buried with their possessions. Finally, the poem also suggests that the Anglo-Saxons were expert seamen, as revealed by the ability for the seafarer to endure harsh winter conditions.

  4. Hi, my name is Chelsea Chabreck and I am responding to the poem “The Seafarer”. I am not sure if I interpreted the poem correctly, but I do have some ideas. The poem “The Seafarer” is about a man held captive on a ship from winter through spring. He is unhappy because he is all alone and all he ever sees is water leading to more ocean. Burgher is considered the “other” because he is the person holding the main character captive plus he’s the only other character. I think the author is happy when Burgher dies because he is now free.

  5. My name is Samantha and i am a junior in animal science. I think that the “other” in this poem is the captain (Burgher)of the ship. We know this because the author starts out by saying he is going to describe his experience on a boat during winter. Then the author begins to talk about some one else (refers to this “other” as he/my lord) and describes him as wealthy and as some one who wants to be well known for his bravery and wealth. This “other” is in charge of the ship and is on a sort of quest to acieve glory and riches. This story tells us that in Anglo-Saxon culture treasure and wealth are important to the status of people, because at the end of the poem as the “other” ages and dies he is buried with all his treasure.

  6. The speaker experiences much sorrow and despair. He speaks of the harsh winter and his loneliness, while the ocean overcomes his passion to be happy. Allen makes a good point by saying that “the other” may be Burgher because he is the only other character mentioned in the poem. He is defined as a prosperous man that doesn’t know sorrow. The poem’s tone of remorse and misery makes it an example of Anglo-Saxon poetry.

  7. This is Ashley. The Seafarer was madly jealous. He turned cold not by what “the other” being the Burgher possessed and he did not. He longed for land, yet he stood on the bows of the ship to stare at it as the boat passed. He made himself oppressed and in disdain towards the Burgher. He saw someone in a better situation and he automatically convinced himself that it was yet a better situation. He could have made his predicament better mentally and worked out and compromised for his downfalls rather than constantly point out the disadvantages of being on the sea. He tries to use the audience to pity him. He does well with the line about missing his kinsman. Of course an audience would undermine the Burgher who is seemingly in “heaven” to pity the Seafarer who is miserable because his lack of. The way he begins the poem is really theatrical. His use of a journey’s jargon. It can be interpreted that he is referring to tall tales, (when someone retells a story that is no that great and adds little events that never really happened to make the story great). So he protesting the story he has not told yet, to at the time an unbiased audience. Story stretching is common in Anglo-Saxon verses.

  8. I feel that Burgher is the “other” in this poem. The poem talks about living on the loveliest land and then talks about ice-cold sea and weathering for winter maybe to prepare for winter. Later on in the poem it talks about the different seasons and different types pf weather.
    I think that in the anglo saxon culture social status is very important to everyone and to have a grave with gold means you have a high social status.

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