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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~

The Wanderer

The Wanderer is estimated to have been written before the year 1000 CE, perhaps one or two generations before William of Normandy conquered England. The writer (who remains anonymous all these centuries) relates of a tale of an attack on his village when he was young and gives much thought to the martial spirit and code of integrity that comprised the warrior culture of the Ancient Anglo-Saxons. More than likely much of the text was Christianized as it was discovered and interpreted much later on, and includes two references to the Christian god, but I believe it still is an interesting work of art that has relevance to the Heathen way of life.

Translation by Benjamin Thorpe:

‘Oft the lonely one experiences compassion,
the Creator's kindness; though he with sorrowing mind,
o'er the watery way, must long
agitate with his hands the rime-cold sea,
go in exile tracks; his fate is full decreed.'-- (5)

So said a wanderer, of his hardships mindful,
of hostile slaughters, his dear friends' fall.--
' Oft I must alone, each morn,
my care bewail: there is now none living,
to whom my thoughts I dare (10)

tell openly. I in sooth know,
that it is in man a noble quality,
that he his soul's coffer fast bind,
hold his treasure. Strive as he will,
the weary-minded cannot fate withstand, (15)

nor the rugged soul'd help effect;
even the ambitious a sad one oft
in their breast's coffer fast bind.
So I my thoughts must,
oft miserable, from country separated, (20)

far from my friends, in fetters bind,
since that long ago my bounteous patron
earth's cavern cover'd, and I abject thence
went, stricken with years, over the billowy mass;
sad sought the hall of some munificent lord, (25)

where I far or near might find
one who in the mead-hall my ** might know,
or me friendless would comfort,
allure with pleasure. He knows who tries,
how hapless is care as a comrade (30)

to him who little has of faithful friends;
him an exile's track awaits, not twisted gold;
a trembling body, not earth's riches:
he remembers the hall-retainers, and receipt of treasure;
how him in youth his bounteous patron (35)

train'd to the feast; but pleasure all has fall'n;
for he knows who must his dear lord's,
his lov'd master's lessons long be depriv'd of,
when sorrow and sleep at once together
a poor solitary often bind, (40)

that seems to him in mind, that he his lord
embraces and kisses, and on his knee lays
hands and head, as when he ere at times,
in former days, his gifts enjoy'd;
then wakes again the friendless mortal, (45)

sees before him fallow ways,
ocean fowls bathing, spreading their wings,
rime and snow descending with hail mingled;
then are the heavier his wounds of heart,
painful after dreaming; sorrow is renew’d, (50)

when his friends' remembrance through his mind passes;
when he greets with songs, earnestly surveys
the seats of men, swims again away.
The spirit of seafarers, brings there not many
known songs: but care is renew'd (55)

to him who must send very abundantly
over the billowy mass his weary spirit;
therefore I cannot think, throughout this world,
why my mind it saddens,
when I the chieftains' life all consider; (60)

how they suddenly their halls resign'd,
the proud kinsmen. So this mid-earth
every day declines and falls;
therefore may not become wise a man, ere he has pass'd
his share of winters in the world. The sagacious must be patient,
must not be too ardent, nor too hurrying of fortune,
nor too faint a soldier, nor too reckless, (67)

nor too fearful, nor too elate, nor too greedy of money,
nor ever too vaunting, ere he be well experienced.
a man must wait, when he a promise utters,
till that he, bold of spirit, well know (71)

to what his breast's thoughts shall lead.
The prudent man should understand, how ghastly it will be,
when all this world's wealth shall stand waste,
as now divers, over this mid-earth, (75)

with wind shaken walls stand,
with rime bedeck'd: tottering the chambers,
disturb'd are the joyous halls, the powerful lie
of joy bereft, the noble all have fall'n,
the proud ones by the wall. Some hath war destroy'd, (80)

borne on their journey hence; one the fowl hath borne away
o'er the deep ocean; one the hoar wolf 
by death hath separated; one with gory countenance,
in an earth-grave a man hath hidden.
So o'erwhelm'd this world the Creator of men, (85)

till that of the inhabitants, in the briefest moment,
the old works of giants stood desolate. 
But he who this wall'd place wisely devis'd,
and this dark life profoundly contemplates,
wise in spirit, afar oft remembers (90)

his many battles, and these words utters:
Where is horse, where is man? where is the treasure-giver ?
where are the festive sittings ? where are the joys of the hall?
Alas bright cup ! alas mail'd warrior ! (94)
alas chieftain's splendour ! how the time has pass'd,

has darken'd under veil of night, as if it had not been.
Stands now behind the beloved warriors
the wall of wonderous height, with worm carcases foul.
The men has swept away the spearmen's band, (99)
the slaughter-greedy weapon, and fate omnipotent

and these stone shelters storms dash,
fierce-rushing; binds the earth
the winter's violence; then comes dusky,
darkens, the shade of night, from the north sends
the rough hail-shower, to men's grievance. (105)

Irksome is all the realm of earth,
the fates' decrees change the world under heaven:
here is wealth transient, here is a friend transient,
here is man transient, here is a kinsman transient;
all this place of earth hall become desolate.'-- (110)

so spake a sage in mind, sat apart in meditation.
Good is he who holds his faith. Never his affliction too quickly should
a man from his breast make known, unless he ere the remedy can
vigorously forward. Well it is for him who seeketh mercy,
comfort, at the Father in heaven, where all our fastness standeth.