“The Wanderer” is an Anglo-Saxon poem about a lonely wanderer hopelessly alleviating his woes in the posthumous period of his fallen lord. Characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon period, the poem portrays themes of fraternity and loyalty, allegiance, and the tradition of a warrior’s passing. The imagery of the warrior, “the byrny-clad warrior, / The prince in his splendor” (86/87) comes traditional as well as communal gatherings of thanes and kings: “he dreams of the hall-men. / The dealing of treasure, the days of his youth. / When his lord bade welcome to wassail and feast.” (30-33).
The death of a king, as assumed to be the rank of the fallen kin, is a traditional subject matter for Anglo-Saxon culture; being a warlike culture they feature battle as a daily test of ability centered around the protection and allegiance to one’s king.
The poem itself is centered on a very lonely and lamentable atmosphere. Cold, bitter, forlorn, the wanderer himself roams in scenery similar to his emotional weariness, and these themes of solitude are addressed consistently by the imagery and the personal reflection of the wanderer.
The atmosphere is dreary and interpreted by the speaker “Beholding gray stretches of tossing sea. / Sea-birds bathing, with wings outspread, / While hailstorms darken, and driving snow.” (40-43). The setting is hardly a solace for the wanderer’s weary heart but it is clear that the imagery is not intended to be a natural reflection of a traditional day but a symbolic reflection of the wanderer’s inner torment; harborer of the sage’s lament.
The style of the poem has the necessary elements of an Anglo-Saxon poem. The Caesura splitting apart two half-lines and in phrases such as “Homeless and helpless he fled from fate.” (5) you have the necessary alliteration to organize the content of the poem. The poem also reflects elements of an Elegy.
An Elegy, defined as a poem about the passing of life and the eternal lament of the main character, reveals itself in the cold aura of the imagery and the main subject of the poem itself: the sadness of a deceased kinsman. Elements of an Ubi Sunt, another specific form of Anglo-Saxon poetry, are evident in “The Wanderer” for its nostalgic memories of feasts in the mead halls and “Even in slumber sorrow assaileth. / And, dreaming he claspeth his dear lord again.” (35/36).
The sage, as characterized as the speaker of the poem, regrets when he “Fettered my feelings, far from my kin,” (19). His physical and emotional exile consume the better part of his days, which once upon a time were spent in comfort with happy lords and plentiful comrades. The imagery is most suitable, but what should be noted is its more crucial importance in this specific poem, for what makes him a wanderer is the vast scenery of seas, shores, halls, earth, night, day, which are all apparent in the poem.
Descriptive though they are, what is more essential is the variety that characterizes the character as a wanderer indifferent to his surroundings due to inner turmoil. So the imagery is subtle, yet plentiful.
The other speaker, the narrator, adds his little footnote of the “happy man who seeketh for mercy / From his heavenly Father, our fortress and strength.” (107/108) which comes unexpectedly for its offer of hope and romantic faith but perhaps serves more as a pitiable solace for the wanderer.
It is a reflection of weariness and emotional cruelties that bitterly immortalize the wanderer and his forlorn exile. Immortal woe and restlessness relentlessly encompass the wanderer of this Anglo-Saxon poem.