Some issues and themes to consider when writing about The Wanderer.
- Issues of who is speaking at any point in the poem and how many characters are involved have proven critically problematic. Earlier views saw the poem as a fragmented text, combining pagan elements with Christian interpolations, but this is not now a widely-held view. You need to have a sense of the basic arguments over character and speech boundaries; the following two articles may help you explore this issue:
R. M. Lumiansky, 'The Dramatic Structure of the Old English Wanderer.' Neophilologus 34 (1950)
Gerald Richman, 'Speaker and Speech Boundaries in The Wanderer' Journal of English and Germanic Philology 81 (1982)
- Do you find any linguistic differences between the speeches apparently given by the eardstapa and the snottor on mode? Could these be different aspects of the same character? Why does the poet choose to present ideas with direct speech? Are there tensions between the exhortation to keep one's thoughts locked away and the obviously verbal character of the poem itself?
- "Swa cwæð" (l. 6 ) is not a common way of introducing speech in OE verse (see the Notes on The Battle of Maldon for some of the usual ones). Does it refer to what has just been said or what is about to be said? Is there perhaps a deliberate ambiguity? Are we meant to feel some confusion, mimetic of the speaker's (or speakers') own state(s) of mind?
Solitude and exile
- The term "anhaga" (lines 1 and 37) appears elsewhere in Old English literature to refer to those who are separated from society: "Ne mæg þæs anhoga, leodwynna leas, leng drohtian, wineleas wræcca, is him wrað meotud, gnornað on his geoguþe, ond him ælce mæle men fullestað, ycað his yrmþu, ond he þæt eal þolað, sarcwide secga, ond him bið a sefa geomor, mod morgenseoc." (Resignation, l. 89 ff.) In Maxims, the anhaga is a poor creature, exiled to live in the woods, while in Guthlac it is an epithet given to death. Why does the poet immediately introduce this character as anhaga? What are the implications and connotations of this?
- How does the presentation of the natural world affect our sense of the speaker's plight? Look for words relating to weather and the seasons in particular, and consider the possible use of pathetic fallacy by the poet. You may also find words relating to binding and enclosing applied both to the mind and the natural world.
- Look for vocabulary relating to the mind and interiority. To what extent are we meant to imagine the poem as a soliloquy, upon which we are an unintended and eavesdropping audience? How does the poet describe the speakers' internal states?
- "eðle bidæled" (l. 20) - expressions of deprivation abound in OE descriptions of exiles or the isolated. Grendel is twice described as "dreamum bedæled", Satan in Christ and Satan is "goda bedæled", and so on.
- The poet sometimes expresses himself using gnomic or proverbial-sounding statements - "Wyrd bið ful aræd", the statements of the Her bið section, the Wita sceal geþyldig passage, and so on. Why might he choose to use such a style?
- Consider the poet's use of time. He begins with "oft" - meaning either often or always - and the speech at line 8 begins with the same word. How does this affect our sense of the passing of time? What techniques does the poet use to reflect past, present and future?
- The poet uses a few obviously repeating structures - "Eala", "Hwær cwom", and "Her bið" are the three major ones. But look for others, too - for example, compare the half-lines at 50b and 55b. What is the effect of these repetitions? Are they oppressive, or do they have the soothing qualities of a well-known religious liturgy? What do they do to the movement of the narrative?
Intertextuality and formulae
- Read The Ruin and The Seafarer for general analogues to the ideas expressed in Wanderer.
- l. 5: "Wyrd bið ful aræd!" - compare this with:
The Seafarer, l. 115: "Wyrd biþ swiþre, meotud meahtigra þonne ænges monnes gehygd."
Solomon and Saturn II, l. 258: "Wyrd bið wended hearde, wealleð swiðe geneahhe".
- Consider the following passage from Andreas (l. 307 ff.): "Hu gewearð þe þæs, wine leofesta, ðæt ðu sæbeorgas secan woldes, merestreama gemet, maðmum bedæled, ofer cald cleofu ceoles neosan? Nafast þe to frofre on faroðstræte hlafes wiste ne hlutterne drync to dugoðe. Is se drohtað strang þam þe lagolade lange cunnaþ." This expresses ideas about exile and seafaring which are srikingly similar to both Wanderer and Seafarer.
- The Eala passage: "Eala drihtenes þrym. Eala duguða helm. Eala meotodes miht. Eala middaneard. Eala dæg leohta. Eala dream godes. Eala engla þreat. Eala upheofen. Eala þæt ic eam ealles leas ecan dreames". (Satan laments his downfall in Christ and Satan, l. 163 ff.)
- The ubi sunt passage: "Hwaer com middaneardes gestreon? Hwaer com weorlde welen? Hwaer com folce fegernes? Hwaer comen tha men the geornlucost eahte tyloden, and othrum ofte yrfe laefden?" (Anonymous homily on the transcience of earthly delights, from manuscript Bodley 343). Consider also Satan's lament from Hell: "Hwær com engla ðrym, þe we on heofnum habban sceoldan?" (Christ and Satan, ll. 36-7).
Be careful of...
- Making generalisations about religion in the poem. Don't assume that wyrd is a pagan leaving which connotes heathen religion. In Resignation, for example, the Christian God is referred to as "wyrda waldend" (ruler of fates/destinies), suggesting that wyrd is not necessarily a concept which cannot be reconciled with Christianity. This is not to say that you shouldn't raise the possibility, but try not to make totalising assumptions.
- Misidentifying speakers. This is a difficult poem because its action is not event-based, making locating a particular passage more challenging than it might be in, say, Maldon. You need a very clear sense of the structure of the poem and a scheme in your mind for identifying different speakers and their speeches.
- Overstating the "heroic code" in your discussion of the life the Wanderer appears to have left behind. Is this life one that could really have been lived by an Anglo-Saxon person, is it a literary fantasy, is it wishful thinking, is it deliberately archaic, is it a metaphor for exile from God while one is alive?