Our first analysis of Old English will be the poem from the Exeter Book of Elegies, “The Wanderer”. Most of the Old English poetry we have available to us today can be traced to only a handful of books or manuscripts. The largest of these is the Exeter Book, which was given to the cathedral by the Bishop Leofric around 1072, though the stories transcribed within it can be traced back further into the oral tradition.

“The Wanderer” focuses on a man, a warrior, that has lost his lord (remember the comitatus) – he goes on not just to lament this loss, but also this loss of friends, family and his entire way of life. The wanderer also reflects on philosophical ideas about what makes a life worth living, and what makes a man truly wise.

 

Remember, these poems were meant to be shared through the oral tradition originally, before they were transcribed into manuscripts. The rhythm created through the use of caesuras and various forms of repetition would have made the memorization and performance of these poems easier, but also more melodic and pleasing to the ear.

For an example, please watch the video below of a performance of part of “The Wanderer”:

Please click here to access a digital copy of “The Wanderer” if you lost your copy from class. 

Additionally, you can follow along with the Old English text and reading below – try to find as many linguistic similarities between the modern translation and the Old English version as you can.

Click here to access an annotated version of the story, with notes we discussed in class.

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