Horgan, in the disingenuous words of T.A.Shippey, The Year's Work in English Studies, 1979, divides the poem into "five units of stanza-and-refrain, with a final coda".
Stanza I (1-12a), followed by Refrain 1 (12b-17)
The speaker describes his misery and suffering when he journeyed over the sea in times past.
The man on land does not understand how he, a poor unhappy exile without friendly kinsmen, spent the winter.
Stanza II (18-26), followed by Refrain 2 (27-33a)
He contrasts his life then with that of men enjoying the life in hall. But his poverty of spirit was not such as might be alleviated by a friendly kinsman.
This fact is incomprehensible to the man who enjoys life in hall, who cannot make out why the seafarer, in his weariness, has had to endure on the path of the ocean.
Stanza III (33b-55a), followed by Refrain 3 (55b-57)
Verse from line 43:
Here's why my thoughts are dashing now against my heart,
That I myself should venture on the waves' salt tumult;
Here's why my heart's desire is ever urging on my soul
To venture forth, seek out the home of strangers far away !
It is because throughout the earth no man exists
So high of heart, so lavish of his gifts, so valiant in his youth,
So daring in his deeds, his lord so well-disposed towards him
That never has he care about his journey on the sea,
And what the Lord will bring him to !
Stanza IV (58-67), followed by Refrain 4 (68-71)
Verse ll. 58-64a :
Here's why my soul is raging now beyond my breast
My spirit with the torrent of the the sea
Is soaring far and wide across the world's domain,
Over the face of the earth, and then returns to me
Unsatisfied and hungering, why the lone flyer
Urges my soul resistlessly upon destruction's
Path, across the expanse of waters.
It is because the joys of God are more
Inspiring to me than this dead and fleeting
Life on land; because I don't believe
The riches of the earth will last forever !
Stanza V (72-96), followed by Refrain 5 (97-102)
Verse ll. 72-96:
Here's why for everyone the finest tribute
Men can pay (what they will praise him for
Who, living on, refer to him in after-days)
Will be that, ere he must depart, he brings
To pass by loving acts on earth in answer
To the malice shown him by his foes
By deeds of daring towards the Devil, that
The sons of men extol him after, and
His praise lives on forever with the angels,
The glory of eternal life, and bliss
Among the chivalry of Heaven.
Gone are the days and all the mighty pomps
Of earthly kingship, when the sovereigns
And emperors and gold-dispensing lords
That once there were of yore vied in performing
Deeds of glory, lived in most majestic
Splendour. They are no more. All this chivalry
Has fallen, their joys have passed away.
A lesser breedf lives on and holds this world,
Possesses it with toil and trouble. Glory
Is brought low: earth's nobility grows
Old and sere, as now does every man throughout
Stanza VI (103-108).
Epilogue. Great is the terrible power of God, before which the world which He founded is vanishing away. The man who does not fear God is a fool: death will come upon him unexpected. The man humble of heart is blessed: mercy descends on him from heaven --- God makes his heart strong, because he trusts in His power.
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