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362 Study Questions: "Wulf and Eadwacer" and "The Wife's Lament" (Longman Anthology, translation by Kevin Crossley-Holland)


Vocabulary: blood feud, dual pronouns, elegy, lament, peace weaver

Character Identifications: Wulf, Eadwacer

Introduction Questions: What does the introduction claim about romantic love in Old English literature?
What are some the proposed genres for "Wulf and Eadwacter" and "The Wife's Lament"?
What the terminus ad quem (latest possible date) by when these poems could have been written?
What has Marilynn Desmond suggested about the authorship of these poems?

Reading Questions ("Wulf and Eadwacer"):
In the opening two lines of the poem, "Wulf and Eadwacer," what does the speaker fear will happen to "him"?
What is the parodox in line 12? How would you explain it?

Passage Identifications:

A: Prey, it's as if my people had been handed prey.
They'll tear him to pieces if he comes with a troop.

O, we are apart.

B: . . . When the bold warrior wrapped his arms around me,
I seethed with desire and yet with such hatred.
Wulf, my Wulf, my yearning for you
And your seldom coming have caused my sickness,
My mourning heart, not mere starvation.

362 Study Questions: "The Wife's Lament"

Vocabulary: dual pronouns, elegy, lament, hapax legomenon

Identification: the Wanderer (the earth-walker)

Lecture Notes:

  • How might the Old Norse tradition's The Lay of Brunhilde in the Edda shed some light on a possible interpretation of this poem?
  • What unusual grammatical feature does this poem have in the original Old English concerning its pronouns?
  • Line 25 reads, "Men asked me to live in a forest grove" The word your translator calls "asked" can also mean "commanded," and the "forest-grove" is in Anglo-Saxon herheard. This word is a hapax legomenon--it appears nowhere else in recorded writing. Some editors have suggested it might actually be two words--either her heard "hard place, cruel place" or herh eard "temple-land," i.e., a sacred grove. How does each of these possible readings radically change the setting? How does it radically change our interpretation of the people who commanded her to remain there?
  • In line 27, the wife is told to live in an "earth-cave alone." The lettering is rather blurry, and some scholars suggest the word may be eor∂-scraefe ("earth-room") or ear∂-sele ("earth-hall"). How might these change the setting?
  • How likely is it that the actual author of this poem is female, even though the poetic speaker is female?

Reading Questions:

  • From where will the speaker draw words for this poem?
  • What happened to the wife's lord that made her "fret" at dawn?
  • In line 14, the speaker says she "was seized with longings" (Anglo-Saxon, Ic heafde uhtceare, "I had dawn-grief"). Are these longings nostalgic? Romantic? Sexual? Mournful? What makes you interpret the line one way or another in terms of surrounding context?
  • How did the man's kinfolk behave when the wife went to seek shelter with them? Who laid secret plans to part the two of them?
  • Behind her husband's smiling face, what does he hide?
  • Where did "men" (Anglo-Saxon sum, "someone" or "some people") command her to live?
  • What diction or imagery does the speaker use to characterize her dwelling place?
  • Why do you suppose the wife says young men must have a "smiling face," even though that person experiences heart-ache?

Identifications: the Wife

A: "First, my lord forsook his family
for the tossing waves; I fretted at dawn
as to where in the world my lord ight be.
In my sorrow, I set out then,
a friendless wanderer, to search for my man.
But that man's kinsmen laid secret plans
to part us, so that we should live
most wretchedly, far from each other. . . ."

B: "Men forced me to live in a forest-grove,
Under an oak tree i the earth-cave.
This cavern is age-old; I am choked with longings.
Gloomy are the valleys, too high the hills,
harsh strongholds overgrown with briars."


 

 

 

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