The Wanderer

Here is a translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem “The Wanderer,” one of my favorites.  It perhaps best captures the unique quality of the Anglo-Saxon thought.

Often the solitary one

finds grace for himself

the mercy of the Lord,

Although he, sorry-hearted,

must for a long time

move by hand [in context = row]

along the waterways,

(along) the ice-cold sea,

tread the paths of exile.

Events always go as they must!

So spoke the wanderer,

mindful of hardships,

of fierce slaughters

and the downfall of kinsmen:

Often (or always) I had alone

to speak of my trouble

each morning before dawn.

There is none now living

to whom I dare

clearly speak

of my innermost thoughts.

I know it truly,

that it is in men

a noble custom,

that one should keep secure

his spirit-chest (mind),

guard his treasure-chamber (thoughts),

think as he wishes.

The weary spirit cannot

withstand fate (the turn of events),

nor does a rough or sorrowful mind

do any good (perform anything helpful).

Thus those eager for glory

often keep secure

dreary thoughts

in their breast;

So I,

often wretched and sorrowful,

bereft of my homeland,

far from noble kinsmen,

have had to bind in fetters

my inmost thoughts,

Since long years ago

I hid my lord

in the darkness of the earth,

and I, wretched, from there

travelled most sorrowfully

over the frozen waves,

sought, sad at the lack of a hall,

a giver of treasure,

where I, far or near,

might find

one in the meadhall who

knew my people,

or wished to console

the friendless one, me,

entertain (me) with delights.

He who has tried it knows

how cruel is

sorrow as a companion

to the one who has few

beloved friends:

the path of exile (wræclast) holds him,

not at all twisted gold,

a frozen spirit,

not the bounty of the earth.

He remembers hall-warriors

and the giving of treasure

How in youth his lord (gold-friend)

accustomed him

to the feasting.

All the joy has died!

And so he knows it, he who must

forgo for a long time

the counsels

of his beloved lord:

Then sorrow and sleep

both together

often tie up

the wretched solitary one.

He thinks in his mind

that he embraces and kisses

his lord,

and on his (the lord’s) knees lays

his hands and his head,

Just as, at times, before,

in days gone by,

he enjoyed the gift-seat (throne).

Then the friendless man

wakes up again,

He sees before him

fallow waves

Sea birds bathe,

preening their feathers,

Frost and snow fall,

mixed with hail.

Then are the heavier

the wounds of the heart,

grievous with longing for the lord.

Sorrow is renewed

when the mind surveys

the memory of kinsmen;

He greets them joyfully,

eagerly scans

the companions of men;

they always swim away.

The spirits of seafarers

never bring back there much

in the way of known speech.

Care is renewed

for the one who must send

very often

over the binding of the waves

a weary heart.

Indeed I cannot think

why my spirit

does not darken

when I ponder on the whole

life of men

throughout the world,

How they suddenly

left the floor (hall),

the proud thanes.

So this middle-earth,

a bit each day,

droops and decays –

Therefore man

cannot call himself wise, before he has

a share of years in the world.

A wise man must be patient,

He must never be too impulsive

nor too hasty of speech,

nor too weak a warrior

nor too reckless,

nor too fearful, nor too cheerful,

nor too greedy for goods,

nor ever too eager for boasts,

before he sees clearly.

A man must wait

when he speaks oaths,

until the proud-hearted one

sees clearly

whither the intent of his heart

will turn.

A wise hero must realize

how terrible it will be,

when all the wealth of this world

lies waste,

as now in various places

throughout this middle-earth

walls stand,

blown by the wind,

covered with frost,

storm-swept the buildings.

The halls decay,

their lords lie

deprived of joy,

the whole troop has fallen,

the proud ones, by the wall.

War took off some,

carried them on their way,

one, the bird took off

across the deep sea,

one, the gray wolf

shared one with death,

one, the dreary-faced

man buried

in a grave.

And so He destroyed this city,

He, the Creator of Men,

until deprived of the noise

of the citizens,

the ancient work of giants

stood empty.

He who thought wisely

on this foundation,

and pondered deeply

on this dark life,

wise in spirit,

remembered often from afar

many conflicts,

and spoke these words:

Where is the horse gone? Where the rider?

Where the giver of treasure?

Where are the seats at the feast?

Where are the revels in the hall?

Alas for the bright cup!

Alas for the mailed warrior!

Alas for the splendour of the prince!

How that time has passed away,

dark under the cover of night,

as if it had never been!

Now there stands in the trace

of the beloved troop

a wall, wondrously high,

wound round with serpents.

The warriors taken off

by the glory of spears,

the weapons greedy for slaughter,

the famous fate (turn of events),

and storms beat

these rocky cliffs,

falling frost

fetters the earth,

the harbinger of winter;

Then dark comes,

night shadows deepen,

from the north there comes

a rough hailstorm

in malice against men.

All is troublesome

in this earthly kingdom,

the turn of events changes

the world under the heavens.

Here money is fleeting,

here friend is fleeting,

here man is fleeting,

here kinsman is fleeting,

all the foundation of this world

turns to waste!

So spake the wise man in his mind,

where he sat apart in counsel.

Good is he who keeps his faith,

And a warrior must never speak

his grief of his breast too quickly,

unless he already knows the remedy –

a hero must act with courage.

It is better for the one that seeks mercy,

consolation from the father in the heavens,

where, for us, all permanence rests.


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