The modern word 'weird' bears only a superficial resemblance to its etymological descendent, wyrd. What now stands for 'strange' and 'queer' only has an archaic connection to its classical meaning of 'Fate'. During the process of evolution, however, the word went through many phases, especially during the formation of the English language by the Anglo-Saxons.
Wyrd appears fairly often in Old English poetry and prose, indicating a certain importance in Germanic society. By following the changes the word undergoes, it is also possible to follow some of the changes that the culture undergoes as well. A fine example of Old English poetry that employs wyrd on four separate occasions - with four separate meanings - is The Wanderer.
What began as a word firmly rooted in what can only be termed 'heathen' culture eventually began to take on much more religious overtones. The word wyrd, though originally pagan in meaning, had found an entirely Christian colouring by the time of its use in The Wanderer.
Before beginning an analysis of a single word that appears four times in this poem, it is important to establish a few assumptions about the nature of the piece itself. Many an article and essay have been written about The Wanderer, trying to define its theme, genre, even its narrator. Yet the wonderfully ambiguous nature of the poem defies any single explanation, so it remains up to the critical reader to develop his own opinion.
For the purpose of this paper, it is believed that The Wanderer is, in essence, a heathen/pagan poem, rooted firmly in the Germanic culture from whence it hails. H...
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...y Exile of the Wanderer." Neophilologus 73 (1989): 119-129.
Dunning, T.P., and A.J.Bliss, eds. The Wanderer. London: Methuen & Co, 1969
Lochrie, Karma. "Wyrd and the Limits of Human Understanding: a Thematic Sequence in the Exeter Book." JEPG 85 (1986): 323-331
Timmer, B.J. "Wyrd in Anglo-Saxon Prose and Poetry." Neophilologus 26 (1941): 213-128.
Timmer, B.J. "Heathen and Christian Elements in Old English Poetry." Neophilologus 29 (1944): 180-185.
1Due to the lack of punctuation in The Wanderer, it is nigh impossible to know who is narrating, or to whom he/she is referring to at any given time.
2The actual meaning of "sundor æt rune" remains ambiguous. Though "apart in meditation" seems the most likely, interpretations such as "reading runes" have been put forward.
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