Preserved in the Exeter Book, The Wanderer is a manuscript copied approximately in 975. It figures amongst the largest surviving collection of Old English Poetry.
It's a lament on the loss of companions in arms, of a lord- perhaps one such as the legendary Beowulf, and of a 'mead hall', lieu so important to ancient Anglo-Saxon life.
It consists of a soliloquy of an exile, of what hard experience has taught him, and the apparent wisdom, such as- 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.
This apparent wisdom, recorded from ancient manuscripts written long before they were copied in the year 975, contrasts revealingly with the pompous presumptuousness of certain political pretenders today.
The mention of ash spears, greedy for slaughter, reminds one of phrases from Homer's Iliad, despite the immense passage of time (1775 years) between the written creation of the Iliad and this, equally elegiacal example of Old English poetry.
Here is the second half of the prose, when the earth-walker recalls the memories of his kinsmen and warrior companions, who then fade away like spirits in the mist above the waters.
'(...)Then the wounds are deeper in his heart, sore for want of his dear one. His sorrow renews as the memory of his kinsmen moves through his mind: he greets them with glad words, eagerly looks at them, a company of warriors. Again they fade, moving off over the water; the spirit of these fleeting ones brings to him no familiar voices. Care renews in him who must again and again send his weary heart out over the woven waves.
"Therefore I cannot think why the thoughts of my heart should not grow dark when I consider all the life of men through this world- with what terrible swiftness they forgo the hall-floor, bold young retainers. So this middle-earth each day fails and falls. No man may indeed become wise before he has had his share of winters in this world's kingdom. The wise man must be patient, must never be too hot-hearted, nor too hasty of speech, nor too fearful, nor too glad, nor too greedy for wealth, nor ever too eager to boast before he has thought clearly. A man must wait, when he speaks in boast, until he knows clearly, sure-minded, where the thoughts of his heart may turn.
The wise warrior must consider how ghostly it will be when all the wealth of this world stands waste, just as now here and there through this middle-earth wind-blown walls stand covered with frost-fall, storm-beaten dwellings. Wine-halls totter, the lord lies bereft of joy, all the company has fallen, bold men beside the wall. War took away some, bore them forth on their way; a bird carried one away over the deep sea, a wolf shared one with Death; another a man sad of face hid in an earth-pit.
So the Maker of mankind laid waste this dwelling-place until the old works of giants° stood idle, devoid of the noise of the stronghold's keepers. Therefore the man wise in his heart considers carefully this wall-place and this dark life, remembers the multitude of deadly combats long ago, and speaks these words:
'Where has the horse gone? Where 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 bight 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! The wall, wondrous high, decorated with snake-likenesses, stands now over traces of the beloved company. The ash-spears' might has borne the earls away- weapons greedy for slaughter, Fate the mighty; and storms beat on the stone walls, snow, the herald of winter, falling thick binds the earth when darkness comes and the night-shadow falls, sends harsh hailstones from the north in hatred of men. All the earth's kingdom is wretched, the world beneath the skies is changed by the work of the fates. Here wealth is fleeting, here friend is fleeting, here man is fleeting, here woman is fleeting- all this earthly habitation shall be emptied.' "
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 the remedy, as a leader with his courage. It will be well with him who seeks favour, comfort from his Father in heaven, where for us all stability resides.'
°This probably refers to Roman ruins.
Intro text, top backround image and lower vignette © Mirino. Text from The Wanderer from The Norton Anthology English Literature, Volume 1. Superimposed character from Beowulf (Paramount Pictures). With many thanks. Photo-montage by Mirino. February, 2012