The Wanderer

an Anglo-Saxon poem

Always the solitary one awaits mercy for himself,
favor from Fate, although, fevered in mind,
he wanders along the pathways of exile for many winters,
through the sea-ways, stirring with hands the ice-cold sea.
Fate is full determined.

So said the wanderer, mindful of suffering,
brutal slaughters, and the deaths of beloved kinsmen:
"Just before dawn each day I must
long lament my sorrows. There are none among the living now
to whom I dare open my heart.
Truly I know the tradition of the noble warrior,
that he bind fast his breast
and keep locked the treasure chest of his feelings.
A weary spirit will not withstand fate,
nor can the anxious mind offer help.
Therefore, yearning for glory,
they hide their sad hearts;
so I must fetter my feelings,
heart filled with sorrows, deprived of homeland—
noble kinsmen far away.
Since very long ago when I covered my gift-giver
with the darkness of earth, I have been despised.
I sail, winter in my soul, over the lonely seas.
Mourning the loss of the mead hall, I seek a gift-giver
whom I might find in a feast hall near or far,
he who might ken of my kin
or would comfort me, the crying wanderer,
and entertain me with wine. He who is wise
knows how cruel a companion is sorrow
for one who has few friends:
The pathways of the homeless hold his frozen heart,
not wound gold, not the wonderful riches of the earth.
He remembers the retainers and the receiving of treasure,
how his lord entertained him in his laughing youth
with feasting. All joy has festered.
Therefore he who must long forgo
his good lord's guidance knows
that sorrow and sleep at the same time
often drown the despairing wanderer;
in his mind it may seem that
he embraces and kisses his liege lord
and lays his hands and head on his knee,
as he used to gain his favor in days gone by.
Then the friendless man awakes again,
sees before him the dark waves,
seabirds splashing in the water and spreading their feathers,
frost and snow falling, mingled with hail.
Then the wounds of his heart afflict him more painfully,
and sorrow is restored.
When memories of kinsmen flood his mind,
he greets them joyfully and eagerly examines
his warrior companions, but the spirits swim away.
These ghostly seafarers never send
comforting words. His cares are renewed,
they who should send swiftly
the weary heart again over the seas of exile.
Therefore I cannot think for all the world
why my mind does not grow dark
when I ponder the lives of noblemen,
how they died suddenly,
brave young warriors. So this world
each day declines and falls a little bit
because a man cannot become wise before he has seen
many winters in the world. A wise man will be patient:
neither too hotheaded, nor too hasty of speech;
neither too weak a warrior, nor too wanton;
neither too scared, nor too sanguine, nor too insatiable;
nor never boasting too carelessly, before he clearly can.
A stout-hearted warrior waits before he makes
a boast, until he understands
whither the intentions of his heart will turn.
The clear-sighted man may see how terrifying it must be
when all the riches of this Middle Earth lie ruined,
as now in places throughout this world
only the walls remain, wind whistling through the cracks,
buildings seized with frost, snow-swept.
The halls decay; the rulers lie dead.
Starved of joy, seasoned troops fall
by the wall, too arrogant. War destroyed many—
bore them away—the bird carried some off
over high seas, on some the silky grey wolf
dispensed death, and some the dreary-faced nobleman
concealed in a grave.
So the creator laid waste to the creations of men
until the ancient cities of giants stood silent,
emptied of men's past merriment and mead.
Experienced in mind, he who wisely examines
the foundations of this dark life thinks deeply;
he remembers the slaughters, and speaks these words:
'Where has the horse gone? Where has the youth gone?
Where has gone the giver of treasure?
Where have the seats at the dinner gone? Where are the delights of the hall?
Lo! The bright goblet. Lo, the gore-covered warrior!
Lo! The glory of the lord. The past departs,
slips away in the silence of night
as if it had never been.
Where the beloved troops once passed, a wall wonderfully high
stands now, stained with a serpent pattern.
The strength of the ash trees, spears greedy for slaughter,
infamous fate—all took away the fighting noblemen.
Storms batter the cliffs; falling snow binds the earth.
When darkness comes, the howling winds of winter,
shadows of night, send from the North
fierce hailstorms hostile to men.'
All is endowed with hardship in this earthly kingdom;
the workings of fate upset the world under the heavens.
Here treasure is fleeting, here friends are fleeting,
here man is fleeting, here family is fleeting.
All the foundations of this world become worthless!"

So said the wise man, sitting in silence.
Courageous is he who continues to believe; man cannot unlock
the cares of his breast unless he first can provide the cure.
Happy is he who seeks in Heaven
forgiveness and fair succor with the Father;
there for us all is preserved a permanent home.

translation © Holly Chandler