In The Wanderer, translated by Charles W. Kennedy, there are many prevalent Anglo-Saxon themes. In the poem the narrator is a man who has spent countless winters on the sea. It is evident that this refers to the theme of exile. One can infer that exile, in context, is the state of being banished or away from your home during which one may come to realize his true purpose and find meaning in the world. The main topic of the poem is the cause for this exile and the effect on the narrator (the wanderer). He uses the persona of the wanderer as a metaphor of himself.
When the poem opens the exile of the narrator is immediately stated, “Off to the wanderer, weary of exile, Cometh God’s pity, …”(1-2). This informs the readers that it has been long since the wanderer has begun his exile. He is tired and weary, and God himself shows him pity. The character no longer had a home or a place of importance to him. He has no friends or loved ones in which he can confide in. “ No man is living, no comrade left. To whom I dare fully unlock my heart.”(10-11). The loss of those mentioned is the source for the character’s exile. He wants a new home, somewhere he will be accepted and can be at peace again.
Exile brings the wanderer sadness, for he comes to realize that all he has lost is not to be found. “His fortune is exile, not gifts of fine gold; a heart that is frozen, Earth’s winsomeness dead”(28-30). The word winsomeness means charm and delightfulness. This shows that the narrator recognizes (but doesn’t want to believe) the fact that he cannot obtain what he has lost. Exile is all he has, and it is all he will ever have.
The wanderer’s only way of getting by is to dream of the events of his past. “Even in slumber his sorrow assaileth, And, dreaming he claspeth his dear lord again, head on knee, hand on knee, loyally laying, pledging his knees as in days long past.”(35-38). His dreams are his only comfort while on the sea.
These dreams soon end as he awakens to what has truly become of him. The seas have consumed his memories. Exile becomes the only real thing to those who suffer from it. During his exile the wanderer remembers all of the warriors who have fallen for a cause; the same cause that drove him into his never-ending fate. A theme in many exile related writings is the failure of a cause such as war or conquest. It is due to a failure of cause (in other words a tragedy), that those exiled have lost all their loved ones and comrades.
Exile leads the wanderer to find true wisdom. He states that someone who has not suffered the same fate as him cannot learn the wisdom that he has acquired. “No man may know wisdom till many a winter has been his portion.”(58-59) The wisdom that he has come to learn during his exile is the meaning of tragedy. How can one find this meaning without suffering the tragedy of exile as the wanderer did? The answer is simple; they cannot.
With the wisdom that the wanderer has obtained he realizes that what he believed to be his home was a false perception. Exile made him sea that something that can be taken away so easily is not his true source of strength or a reason to live. The battering of the ocean water made him discover that all gold, and fortunes and mead halls, could be taken away so easily with the crashing of a wave. The poem reads, “ Storms now batter these ramparts of stone; blowing snow and the blast of winter enfold the Earth; night-shadows fall Darkly lowering, from the north driving raging hail in wrath upon them.”(93-97). Exile opens up the wanderer to major change in his beliefs. He learns that in order to find freedom from his exile he must trust in a force far greater than the lords and kings he once followed. That force is God, whom the narrator refers to as the Father. This message is clear when the poem reads, “He must never too quickly unburden his breast of its sorrow, but eagerly strive for redress; and happy the man who seeketh for mercy from his heavenly Father, our fortress and strength.”(105-108). He is asking God for compensation. The only compensation that God may offer him is forgiveness.
The readers come to realize that the wisdom he found during exile, as earlier mentioned, was his faith. It is possible that this faith may bring an end to the wanderer’s exile and suffering. The aspect of God is incorporated in many Anglo-Saxon writings. This is due to the spread of Christianity during the time period. In The Wanderer, God compensated and comforted the wanderer during his exile. That can be a representation of the idea that God is more powerful than riches, and in times of despair (exile, loss, etc) he is the answer to your problems. In The Wanderer exile is simply a container for the compilation of many topics and realizations. Through exile one can see that the wanderer found a higher purpose and meaning in life. To him that purpose was God. In other cases a character may come to a different realization. That’s what makes exile an interesting topic, for it can be enlightening in many different ways. The translator, Charles W. Kennedy, makes that clear to readers in a way that we can relate stories and topics of the past to our present time. Exile is and unique topic that was used centuries ago, and continues to transcend time and find existence in stories and writings today.
Kennedy, Charles, trans. “The Wanderer.” Prentice-Hall Literature: The British Tradition. Kate Kinsella, et al., eds. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005. 21-24.