Study Guide

The Seafarer Setting

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Well, we call him the seafarer, so it only makes sense that this poem takes place at sea. Adrift in the middle of a relentlessly stormy ocean, all the speaker can hear are the sounds of the surf and the cries of seabirds. Snow and hail fall constantly, accompanied by an icy cold that bites at and numbs the fingers and toes. The speaker thinks of less stormy places, like the mead hall where wine flows freely, the harp plays, and women offer companionship, but those exist only in his imagination and memory.

At one point, he finds himself back on land as trees begin to blossom and birds sing, marking the beginning of spring. But these things can't make him happy, because he still has his pesky sea legs; he just can't help but long to get back out on the whale road. Why so restless? Why can't our speaker just stay in one place?

Well, he tells us that he's trapped in the "paths of exile" (15). You might consider these paths a kind of psychological setting that, for our speaker, is just as real as the ocean or land. This place is one in which he feels constant loneliness, dissatisfaction, and hunger. The only escape is another kind of metaphorical setting, but this time it's a spiritual one: a "belonging life in the love of the Lord" (120-121). This place is the only one that can fill our seafarer's hunger, and bring him home from the stormy sea.

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