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362 Study Questions: "The Wanderer"

Vocabulary: Old English, Anglo-Saxon, oral-formulaic, elegy, lament, fame/shame culture, cyning, hlaford, thegn, lyric, conflict (internal), ubi sunt motif, wyrd

Identification: the Wanderer (the earth-walker)

Lecture Notes:

  • In a shame/fame culture, what happens to a thegn who outlives his hlaford or cyning?
  • What are two possible significances of the Anglo-Saxons describing the ocean as having "yellow waves"?
  • What is unusual about Anglo-Saxon terms for various colors as opposed to modern terms for colors?
  • How is the concluding line an example of monastic propaganda?

Introduction Questions: How does the editor describe the general mood or tone of "The Wanderer"? Does he see this as typical or atypical of Anglo-Saxon poetry?

Reading Questions:

  • Elegies normally are not considered to have plots. Can this poem be read as having signs of internal conflict, however? Discuss this idea.
  • The term translated as "fate" at the end of the first paragraph is the Anglo-Saxon word wyrd. How does knowing the original meaning of this word alter our understanding of the opening lines?
  • In the fourth paragraph, several kennings appear. What do you suppose the kenning "gold-friend" means? What about the compound "winter-sad"?
  • What is the paradox about the companion of a man with no protectors at the top of page 101? Who (or what personified abstraction) is his cruel companion?
  • What does the wanderer dream of when he falls asleep? What does he discover when he awakens?
  • What does the setting appear to be? (I.e., where is the Wanderer if he has to stir with his arms "the frost-cold sea" and he awakens to see "yellow waves" where "the sea-birds bathe"?)
  • What are the traits of the "wise man" in Anglo-Saxon thinking, as indicated by this poem?
  • Many critics read the last lines as a bit of Christian propaganda. Where does the poet suggest the Wanderer can find comfort and stability?


A: "He who is alone often lives to find favor, mildness of he Lord, even though he has long had to stir with his arms the frost-cold sea, troubled in heart over the water-way, had to tread the tracks of exile. Fully fixed is his fate." So spoke the earth-walker, remembering hardships, fierce war-slaughters--the fall of dear kinsmen.

B: "Where has the horse gone? Where is the young warrior? Where is the giver of treasure? What has become of the feasting seats? Where are the joys of the hall? Alas, the bright cup! Alas, the mailed warrior! Alas, the prince's glory! How that time has gone, vanished beneath night's cover, just as if it never had been!"

C: So spoke the man wise in heart, sat apart in private meditation. He is good who keeps his word; a man must never utter too quickly his breast's passion, unless he knows first how to achieve remedy, as a leader with his courage. It will be well with him who seeks favor, comfort from the Father in heaven, where for us all stability resides.




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