The Wanderer: Life in a Transient World

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The Wanderer: Life in a Transient World

Upon their invasion of England, the Anglo-Saxons carried with them a tradition of oral poetry. The surviving verse, which was frequently transcribed and preserved in monasteries makes up the body of work now referred to as Old English Poetry. "The Wanderer," an anonymous poem of the eighth or ninth century, reflects historical Anglo-Saxon life as well as the influence of Christianity during the period.

Because both Christian and Anglo-Saxon heroic elements exist in "The Wanderer," there is cause for analysis of the structural and textual unity of the poem. Initially, it might appear that these elements are introduced to contrast one another in an attempt to show inconsistency by contrasting secular and religious passages in order to show incoherence between the two as guiding principles. But further textual analysis shows that these inconsistencies do not exist. The purpose of positioning the two side by side is to illustrate a contrast in theme between the passing of this world and the changelessness and security of the heavenly kingdom.

The text of "The Wanderer" is structured to encompass two separate time periods, which implicitly reveals the contrasting themes. The first part of the work describes the experiences of a lonely warrior who has lost his lord and kin to battle. But the author is reflecting upon these experiences as they occurred in the past. The position that the Wanderer had taken up is summarized early in the poem in the third person: "So spoke the earth-walker, remembering hardships, fierce war-slaughters-the fall of dear kinsman" (69). This reference to an exile wanderer summarizes his own situation, which he develops in the following passages. Structurally, t...

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...70). Further, he acknowledges that these things are meant to pass as all things do as he approaches the ultimate reality of the earthly world, "all this earthly habitation shall be emptied" (70). No comfort is to be found in a world were all things will come to an end as one progresses through a fleeting life.

The purpose of displaying earthly reality as transient is to contrast it with the theme of a heavenly kingdom. As the poem ends, the Wanderer notes that there is, "comfort from the Father in heaven, where all stability resides" (70). The heart of Anglo-Saxon life will pass for all as it did for the Wanderer. Comfort is not to be found in that transient world, but in the world beyond, through security in the heavenly kingdom.

Works Cited

"The Wanderer." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. 6th _ed. New York: Norton, 1993. 68-70.

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