The Wanderer

One of my favourite Anglo-Saxon poems. It’s a long one, but I think it’s definitely worth reading! For those of you who have read The Northumbrian Saga, you may recognise the beginning of the Poem.


Often the solitary one
finds grace for himself
the mercy of the Lord,
Although he, sorry-hearted,
must for a long time
move by hand
along the waterways,
the ice-cold sea,
tread the paths of exile.
Events always go as they must!

So spoke the wanderer,
mindful of hardships,
of fierce slaughters
and the downfall of kinsmen:

Often I had alone
to speak of my trouble
each morning before dawn.
There is none now living
to whom I dare
clearly speak
of my innermost thoughts.
I know it truly,
that it is in men
a noble custom,
that one should keep secure
his spirit-chest (mind),
guard his treasure-chamber (thoughts),
think as he wishes.
The weary spirit cannot
withstand fate ,
nor does a rough or sorrowful mind
do any good .
Thus those eager for glory
often keep secure
dreary thoughts
in their breast;

So I,
often wretched and sorrowful,
bereft of my homeland,
far from noble kinsmen,
have had to bind in fetters
my inmost thoughts,
Since long years ago
I hid my lord
in the darkness of the earth,
and I, wretched, from there
travelled most sorrowfully
over the frozen waves,
sought, sad at the lack of a hall,
a giver of treasure,
where I, far or near,
might find
one in the meadhall who
knew my people,
or wished to console
the friendless one, me,
entertain (me) with delights.
He who has tried it knows
how cruel is
sorrow as a companion
to the one who has few
beloved friends:
the path of exile holds him,
not at all twisted gold,
a frozen spirit,
not the bounty of the earth.
He remembers hall-warriors
and the giving of treasure
How in youth his lord (gold-friend)
accustomed him
to the feasting.
All the joy has died!

And so he knows it, he who must
forgo for a long time
the counsels
of his beloved lord:
Then sorrow and sleep
both together
often tie up
the wretched solitary one.
He thinks in his mind
that he embraces and kisses
his lord,
and on his (the lord’s) knees lays
his hands and his head,
Just as, at times, before,
in days gone by,
he enjoyed the gift-seat (throne).
Then the friendless man
wakes up again,
He sees before him
fallow waves
Sea birds bathe,
preening their feathers,
Frost and snow fall,
mixed with hail.

Then are the heavier
the wounds of the heart,
grievous with longing for the lord.
Sorrow is renewed
when the mind surveys
the memory of kinsmen;
He greets them joyfully,
eagerly scans
the companions of men;
they always swim away.
The spirits of seafarers
never bring back there much
in the way of known speech.
Care is renewed
for the one who must send
very often
over the binding of the waves
a weary heart.

Indeed I cannot think
why my spirit
does not darken
when I ponder on the whole
life of men
throughout the world,
How they suddenly
left the floor (hall),
the proud thanes.
So this middle-earth,
a bit each day,
droops and decays –
Therefore man
cannot call himself wise, before he has
a share of years in the world.

A wise man must be patient,
He must never be too impulsive
nor too hasty of speech,
nor too weak a warrior
nor too reckless,
nor too fearful, nor too cheerful,
nor too greedy for goods,
nor ever too eager for boasts,
before he sees clearly.
A man must wait
when he speaks oaths,
until the proud-hearted one
sees clearly
whither the intent of his heart
will turn.
A wise hero must realize
how terrible it will be,
when all the wealth of this world
lies waste,
as now in various places
throughout this middle-earth
walls stand,
blown by the wind,
covered with frost,
storm-swept the buildings.
The halls decay,
their lords lie
deprived of joy,
the whole troop has fallen,
the proud ones, by the wall.
War took off some,
carried them on their way,
one, the bird took off
across the deep sea,
one, the gray wolf
shared one with death,
one, the dreary-faced
man buried
in a grave.
And so He destroyed this city,
He, the Creator of Men,
until deprived of the noise
of the citizens,
the ancient work of giants
stood empty.

He who thought wisely
on this foundation,
and pondered deeply
on this dark life,
wise in spirit,
remembered often from afar
many conflicts,
and spoke these words:

Where is the horse gone? Where the rider?
Where the giver of treasure?
Where are the seats at the feast?
Where are the revels in the hall?
Alas for the bright cup!
Alas for the mailed warrior!
Alas for the splendour of the prince!
How that time has passed away,
dark under the cover of night,
as if it had never been!
Now there stands in the trace
of the beloved troop
a wall, wondrously high,
wound round with serpents.
The warriors taken off
by the glory of spears,
the weapons greedy for slaughter,
the famous fate,
and storms beat
these rocky cliffs,
falling frost
fetters the earth,
the harbinger of winter;
Then dark comes,
nightshadows deepen,
from the north there comes
a rough hailstorm
in malice against men.
All is troublesome
in this earthly kingdom,
the turn of events changes
the world under the heavens.
Here money is fleeting,
here friend is fleeting,
here man is fleeting,
here kinsman is fleeting,
all the foundation of this world
turns to waste!

So spake the wise man in his mind,
where he sat apart in counsel.
Good is he who keeps his faith,
And a warrior must never speak
his grief of his breast too quickly,
unless he already knows the remedy –
a hero must act with courage.
It is better for the one that seeks mercy,
consolation from the father in the heavens,
where, for us, all permanence rests.

Source: Anglo-Saxons.net

A H Gray

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