This must be the mature poet looking back over his past life; a boy would scarcely have these anticipations of such a fate in store for him. But when he begs for a "clew," he is putting himself back in the time when he, and by extension every human being, sought an answer to the meaning of suffering and death in the natural world. The bird, symbol of nature on the sensory level, does not give the answer; it comes from the sea, the "old crone rocking her cradle." The sea, therefore, symbolizes the principle of maternity, which is to say birth and life. She whispers "death," but coming from the rocker of the "cradle," the implication is that death is but a natural transition to rebirth.
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