Movement and Stillness
"The Seafarer" is the story of a traveler, a man in constant motion. His motion is matched by the violent rolling of the ship and waves, as well as the restlessness of his own spirit, which at one point leaps from his body to soar over the world by itself. In the end, only the stability of the Lord provides a solution for the frenzied restlessness found in the rest of the poem.
- Line 2: Immediately after saying he can make a "true song" about himself, the speaker promises to tell us about his "travels." So the subject of the true song is movement from place to place.
- Line 6: The speaker tells us he has known the "terrible tossing" of the waves. The alliteration of "terrible tossing" links it to the terrible troubles from line 3. It also emphasizes the violent motion of a life at sea.
- Line 8: Like the waves, the ship's prow tosses violently. This tossing occurs near cliffs, which, we have to say, is a pretty darn dangerous place for a ship to lose control.
- Lines 8-9: In a metaphor that makes the cold and frost into shackles, the speaker describes his feet as bound and fettered by them. This image of the speaker being trapped in place contrasts with his description of himself as a traveler tossed about by the waves. He's both stuck in one place, and in constant motion.
- Line 10: The speaker describes his cares as "seething" about his heart in an implicit metaphor that turns them into heat or fire. We usually think of something that seethes as rippling or boiling: the implication is that the speaker's mind is restless.
- Line 15: Despite describing himself as a constant traveler throughout the poem, the speaker says he "dwelt for a winter in the paths of exile." This is what you might call a paradox. It's a statement that seems contradictory – how can someone dwell in a path? – but reveals its truth on closer examination. Our speaker is both traveling, and dwelling, or staying in one place.
- Line 17: With a bit of imagery, the speaker describes how hail "flew" in showers. Saying the hail "flew" is different from just saying it fell, since flying connotes rapid motion and, well, intentionality.
- Lines 58-60: The speaker describes his spirit leaping out of him with a twisting motion, and then soaring widely over the world. Here, his spirit starts moving all on its own, and its flight contrasts with the speaker's feelings of being bound and trapped from lines 8 to 9.
- Line 68: Still with us? Just a few more to go! Here, the speaker remarks how "one of three things will turn to uncertainty" before a man's fated hour. The "turning" motion of fate connects it with the twisting spirit and rolling waves, all of which the poem depicts as in constant motion. All these moving parts are getting pretty hard to keep track of.
- Line 103: The speaker describes the world as standing still before the fear of the Lord. So it seems like the one thing that can calm all the frenzy in this poem is the Lord, who causes everything to be still.
- Line 104: God's creation establishes "firm foundations." The alliteration reminds us of the "terrible tossing" of the waves in line 3, and it provides a nice balance to it, too.
- Lines 117-118: The speaker advises us to think about where we have our homes, and then ponder how to get there. This "home" he speaks of is heaven, which will put an end to everyone's travels and endless wandering. Remember, according to our guy, God is the one thing that can make everything else stop moving. Yet by placing mention of the journey next to the idea of home, he reminds us that our travels aren't over yet.
- Lines 122-124: Based on the final lines of the poem, which describe God and the heavenly homeland as the place we should all try to reach, it's possible to read all of the traveling and seafaring in the poem as an extended metaphor for the spiritual journey of the Christian soul. Shmoop recommends rereading this poem with this idea in mind: does it change how you read the rest of it?