The Wanderer is an ode to time and space. It asks existential questions which are not answered in the brief conclusion but appeal to God. This structural anomaly has seen critical attention to The Wanderer shift dramatically over the last century. Early 20th-century critics thought that the conclusion to the poem was added later to Christianize the piece, but later critics said that it was part in a consistent, coherent argument for God. The Seafarer has been criticized for having a structural divide. This essay will discuss how the poet can use a lexis that is pre-Christian to argue for God’s existence. The argument is not constrained and advocates for a release from cultural norms. Instead, the argument promotes fluidity based on a belief of pyschological, spiritual freedom. It is this contrast between the rigidity and fluid that best exemplifies Saxon struggle for a Christian identity by using pre-Christian resources.
The Wanderer displays a paradox that has divided critics. It explicitly refers to Christianity at the beginning and end, while the main body of The Wanderer lacks any active Christian elements. In fact, the closing and opening lines are dominated by biblical language. Line 2 contains “metudes miletse” and line 115 contains “Fder on Heofonum”. The conclusion is a message that security and meaning are found within the devout belief of God. Contrary to this didacticism however, the rest the poem is not filled with explicit Christian features. It instead contains Old Germanic imagery which originates from pre-Christian traditions. Deep sadness is evoked by losing the “meoduhealle,” (27), which some critics have called the narrator’s spirit center. The narrative follows the lamentations of an eardstapa (6), who dwells on the transitory nature of worldly objects. Even if we remove the notion that the poem is associated with pagan gods, the tone of the majority of the piece remains secular. This includes references to the Beasts of Battle (“sumne hara wulf”) (82), which are reminiscent of heroic poems like the Battle of Maldon. While this does not contradict the Christian conclusion, it makes the seemingly closed ending seem more restricted. Early critics stated that the majority (110) of the poem displays a fluidity that poses existential questions.
There is no mention of God’s explanations until the end; the laments are centered on the temporary nature of temporal goods. This is what could lead to the conclusion being more rigid than the main text. It appears that the last lines are devoted to a prescriptive religiosity imperative. Some 20th-century critics suggested that the introduction & conclusion were later additions of the poem. These additions were made to Christianize an Old Germanic, and possibly pagan-influenced work. While critics have since been corrected, it seems that this is a reflection of some inconsistency between the poem’s structure compared to its fluidity.
The Seafarer is another text that seems to draw from both a preChristian as well as a Christian tradition. Previous critics also tried to divide it into two sections. This was based on a drastic shift in lexis/imagery. The poem’s first half is dedicated to the anxiety of the speaker due to losing kinsmen. “Nenig hleomga,” (27), is told along with his journey as a solo traveler. (1) These images are very much rooted in the Old Germanic culture. This contrasts with lines 106-106, which might display a more didactic conclusion than The Wanderer’s. The poet stresses “eadignesse”, a state of mind that can be obtained through “lufan Dryhtnes,” (121).
The Seafarer’s poem is more explicit, while the idea is present in both poems. The Seafarer suggests that God is eternal joy and earthly temporality are not. These conclusions, at least on initial reading, stand in stark contrast with most of The Wanderer’s poetry. The apparent didacticism could be viewed as restrictive compared to the hero stories told in both. The Seafarer poet, line 111, arguably calls to contain and compartmentalize human thought.
However, we disagree with the claim that The Wanderer’s conclusion is closer than the rest. It does have a preChristian-influenced lexis. And it naturally follows from the narrative, much like a philosophical argument. The conclusions of both The Seafarer (and The Wanderer) make reference to “wryd” which is a pagan-derived notion of fate. This demonstrates how even the most didactic sections of their works conform to a preChristian-based lexis. Although this argument suggests that the poems’ middle and ends are not so distinct, one shouldn’t be tempted to define fluidity and rigidity only in terms Christianity or paganism. This logic is susceptible to historical anachronism.
Beginning in 1940, critics challenged the “interpolation thesis” in older readings. They claimed that the conclusion adopted pre-Christian rhetoric and that it actually contained “no necessarily primitive elements”. These critics argue that language commonly considered pagan, such a “wryd”, has not been used in the poems’ original pre-Christian meaning. Wryd is instead used as a concept to determine fate. J Timmer, a critic, asserts that a pre-Christian conclusion and prehistoric body cannot be used to judge the conclusion of the poem. Timmer’s argument may be valuable in moving the discussion of this conclusion away form a perceived dichotomy.
Wryd words may not have the same pagan connotations as before, but it is possible to argue that they are an attempt to communicate a Christian message by combining a pre-Christian lexis with a Christian message. These associations, even though they are “pagan in their associations”, still contribute to the discussion on how a pagan vocabulary can lead to a religious conclusion. Lawrence Beaston, critic, says that while the speaker may have experienced the consolation of Christ, his hardships do not seem to have been diminished. Beaston extends his point by pointing out that, in order to regain his former culture, the narrator must – at a language level – comply with it due to its nature.
While it may seem like the attempt to fuse pre-Christian and Christian beliefs is a common theme, it is possible to argue that poems’ language suggests that the authors reject confinement and have adopted a Christian glosson. It is wrong to assume that the fluidity of this poem’s ending is compromised because it contains a religious message. The Wanderer/Seafarer narrators arguably find narrative freedom in searching for god. The Wanderer’s beginning narrator declares that he claims: “aet bif in eorle. Faeste binde he his hordcofan.
This passage suggests that warrior-culture (“eorle”) can foster a feeling of mental entrapment. Even though he initially feels lost in the meaninglessness of this culture, the speaker realizes that he can also be freed from the kind of containment created by a “binde”, a combination of the spiritual, and the physical. In fact, the segment’s use of past tense suggests the speaker may not be restricted by this form of containment. This sentiment is expressed in the conclusion: “welbi am e him are seperated beorn of breostumcyan” (114). The narrator laments the temporary natures of material things but places faith in the eternal divine nature of God to liberate his thought.
The Seafarer’s narrator suggests that all men should behave with restraint at line 111. However, this is not to limit human thought (as was previously stated), but to be more considerate in how one acts towards others. Seafarer promotes a love-thy-neighbor type morality. He directs both his restraint to “leofne”, as well as “lane” (112). The “hyge” (58), the narrative voice, also liberates itself from any previous constraints: “Foron nu hyge hoorfe, ofer hirelocan” (58). The Wanderer’s narrator attains divine reconciliation and unbound voice by dwelling on the world’s transitory nature, as well as extending his mind towards God. Although the conclusion tone of both poems is different, they both demonstrate that fluidity can be achieved by both speakers if they dedicate themselves to their religion.
The progression to Christian salvation is also evident in The Wanderer and The Seafarer’s overarching metaphors. These represent both spiritual and bodily journeys. The former poem has the narrator saying “geond langlade, longe ceolde” (3). In the second, he says “gecunnad, cearselda fela”, (5). These are the literal journeys taken by the lordless and the spiritual quest towards God that conclude the poem. They can be seen to be narrative reflections of the progression of an argument. Many critics of The Wanderer denied that there was any pagan element. Instead, they suggested that the poem serves as an argument for Christianity. R. Lumiansky, for instance, breaks down each section in the poem like a sequence of propositions. This includes the “(1) statement from the eardstapa”: In spite his hardships, many exiles look forward to God’s mercy.” to the “(7) The eardstapa’s” conclusion: Have faith and trust God.
The Wanderer’s rhetorical device is an internal monologue, which is communicated through appeals to the wisdom and experience of “snotter-on-mode” (111). This device is almost comparable to philosophical dialogue. Critics are keen to highlight the potential influence of Boethius (12th century), who used dialogue to his advantage in Lady Philosophy. It is possible to accept the poem’s structural structure as conjunct. The argument is similar to one used by philosophers. But, it becomes difficult to determine if the piece is restricted or open-ended. The narrator, as stated above, conforms to part of his Old Germanic cultural identity through the lexis of this poem, but paradoxically, he wants to escape the trappings of his culture’s preoccupation with temporary objects. The reader will decide if the elegies end in an unstructured and fluid fashion or if they are coherent and coherent.
Maybe a call to Boethius could help us see the truth of the paradox. Boethius claims that human souls are only truly free when they are wrapped in the divine in his classic work, The Consolation of Philosophy. The narratives reveal a struggle between fate, free will, and the repeated use “wyrd”, which represents a battle of rigidity (fate), versus fluidity(free will).
So, although the conclusion to the poem is an argument of cogent similar to Boethius’s, the content itself is an expression of freedom. The argument attempts to show a Christian way through the residue use a preChristian vocabulary. As the rigid elements of the fluid and the rigid permeate almost all lines from the beginning to the end, it would be an exaggeration to claim that the conclusion undermines its fluidity. The last lines of the poem represent the culmination this ongoing linguistic/structural struggle. Although it seems to be didacticism initially, it can also serve as an appeal to God to gain freedom of thought.
Craigie, W.A. “Interpolations & Omissions within Anglo Saxon Poetic Texts.” Philologica II (1923-24) p19
Lawrence Beaston tells the story of a wanderer’s remarkable courage in the face of adversity. He demonstrates how this individual overcomes obstacles and faces life’s challenges with bravery and strength. Neophilologus 89 (2005)
Tillich, Paul. The Courage To be. Yale University Press published New Haven in 1977.
Lacy D.Paul “Thematical & Structural Favourities: The Wanderer & Ecclesiastes”, Neophilologus 82 (1998) pp125-137
Lumiansky R. “The Dramatic Architecture of the Old English Wanderer”. Neophilologus 34 (1950) pp104-112
Timmer. J. “Wyrds of Anglo-Saxon Poetry and Prose” Neophilologus 26 (1941) Pp220-221
Lawrence Beaston’s “The Wanderer’s Courage” explores the bravery of people who take the risk to travel away from their home in order to pursue their dreams. Neophilologus 89 (2005)
Lumiansky R. “The Dramatic Architecture of the Old English Wanderer”. Neophilologus 34 (1950) pp104-112
Relihan Joel C. Consolation in philosophy. Hackett Publishing (2001.) p74