Comparison between Beowulf and The Wanderer Essay
BEOWULF AND THE WANDERER
There are many factors to consider in comparing the two poems of the Old English society – Beowulf and The Wanderer. While they have many similarities; they have, within their structure and plot, many differences we can easily find or eventually make out. When we look at both the poems in terms of their genre; while they are both products of the traditional oral literature of the Anglo-Saxons; Beowulf is more of an epic poem elevated in a heroic style with supernatural events such as the defeating of the dragon Grendel by Beowulf, who is a character of noble birth.
Whereas The Wanderer is a lyric elegy because it relates the sufferings of a man who has lost his king and companions. Due to the fact that Beowulf is an epic poem, there are dialogues between the characters which are long and ceremonious; relatively, The Wanderer, because it is an elegy, is made up of monologues which are sincere since those speeches are coming from the psychological inner world of the character.
Beowulf is a long poem, because there are more events happening and the dialogues are between many characters;
The Wanderer is, in comparison to Beowulf, a much shorter poem; due to it being about only one man and his inner emotions. The Wanderer is more direct in references to religious elements such as the god of fate (whom one can find easily in the text) and Beowulf is more indirect in mentioning religious matters (i.e. one would have to search the poem for the phrase ‘Maker of Mankind’1); even so, they both have religious faiths of both Paganism and Christianity; such as the tradition of Paganism of not believing in the world after which makes the people in both the poems bitter; or the fact that they were both written down by religious monks. Another similarity which stands out easily is the heroic code of Old English; for example, Beowulf is a courageous hero who defeats Grendel and then celebrates with the king and his companions in the Mead Hall – a direct reference to the heroic code. The Wanderer even though an exile once had a king and fellow warriors and they too fought battles and celebrated in the Mead Hall – this we make out from the dream of the Wanderer. Another heroic code in the poems would be the loyalty of both the characters; Beowulf is ready when Hrothgar the King calls him to help defeat Grendel and Beowulf
accepts without hesitation, this shows the loyalty to the king in return for his generosity.
The Wanderer also fights for his king and is loyal to him in return for his generosity, as we, once again, understand from his dream. We can see the effects of the Old English Literature and Society in both the poems, due to the fact that they are oral works told by bards, who memorized these texts with alliterations, kennings and caesuras which can be found within the texts… The plot and the characters in both the poems are also different and similar in many ways; the character Beowulf in the poem Beowulf is a man with supernatural powers who is very brave and strong because he defeats dragons and so becomes famous, in which he is declared immortal by Hrothgar, thereby strengthening his position in the Mead Hall. Whereas the man in The Wanderer has lost his king, fellow warriors and most importantly his place at the Mead Hall which makes him remorse and relinquished to fight . Despite these different emotions and characteristics, Beowulf and the Wanderer were both warriors. They both had a Mead Hall in which they had a King who gave them gifts. When we look at both the poems, we see this kind of ceremony clearly when Hrothgar declares Beowulf immortal – a gift from the king which shows a fatherly figure – and when, in the Wanderers dream, we read about the days when his king was the ‘ring-giver’ – again a fatherly figure – . In the poem Beowulf, as the wars go on, the actions of this character have consequences for the whole nation, for instance when Beowulf defeats Grendel, he saves the whole of Hrothgars’ and possibly other kings’ kingdoms from a terrible end.
Whereas in the Wanderer, the only one who suffers from his actions is the Wanderer because, when he fights in the battle and loses everything, he is the only one who is exiled. Beowulf is the lucky one who has everything; which, in the case of the character of Beowulf, it would be being a warrior to the king of Hrothgar (at the beginning), having his fellow warriors who admire him, the Mead Hall which is open to Beowulf at all times and his kingdom (later in the poem when he becomes a king); in contrast to the Wanderer, who is a man who has lost what he once had, he suffers from loneliness. While Beowulf is a ‘celebrity’ because of his achievements, in the end he becomes a king who is loved by his people, The Wanderer is exiled, which means he is not wanted and with no future. Although both the characters have strong bonds between their fellow warriors and their king, such as the celebrations in the Mead Hall which form a kind of unrelated kinship; Beowulf continues to be the crowning jewel of the Mead Hall and his people, because his fame is passed on to generations by storytellers and also continues even after his death. The Wanderer, on the other hand, is still dreaming about old days.
While all this dreaming in the Wanderer and the fame in Beowulf goes on; the exile in The Wanderer does not express his inner thoughts and emotions because, as it is said in the poem, ‘a wise man must not be too hot-hearted nor too hasty of speech… a man must wait when he speaks in boast…2’. The lines in this paragraph actually means that it is a value of wisdom in the Anglo-Saxon not to speak of ones’ inner feelings and not to boast about them, and also because The Wanderer is an elegy, the inner analysis is not showed or related in any way. Whereas in Beowulf, because it is an epic poem, the courage and heroic actions of the character is written and expressed with much dramatization. Although the atmosphere in the poems are similar to each other, both in terms of ending and war-setting. Both the poems belong to a society who are always afraid of invasions and being killed, this sets the gloomy and bitter background of both the poems. The people in Beowulf are afraid that they may be killed by Grendel and later by other monstrous beasts; the exile in The Wanderer is left alone which basically makes him unhappy and depressed, setting the dark and gloomy atmospheres. Another reason for the cold and unhappy lives of the people is their origin. Since the Anglo-Saxons came from the Scandinavian region, they always saw the frosty cold climate and the wavy stormy seas.
All these add to the dark atmosphere of these two poems. But there is a small difference in this atmosphere; while it is always a cynical and isolated surrounding in The Wanderer, there are times in Beowulf when it is cheerful and exuberant. The reason behind this difference is that; even though there are wars in Beowulf, there are also victories which are celebrated in the Mead Hall. This celebration makes the gloomy feelings go away and is replaced by the positive energy coming from dancing and drinking. Relatively speaking, the Wanderer has already lost everything and is exiled, which means he has no Mead Hall to celebrate and get rid of all unhappy thoughts. And even though these two poems are different in content, they both have the same gloomy ending; in which the Wanderer continues to be a sad exile and the death of Beowulf leaves his people subdued and in sorrow. Overall; Beowulf, when first read, gives a sense of legendary Ballard about a hero’s supernatural achievements; The Wanderer is more of a lament poem about the loneliness of life as an exile in an ageing world and reminiscence for a past time. But they both have a story to tell; i.e. there is a narrator about two characters who have different but similar lives, and both the poems give us clues about the society and values of the Anglo-Saxons and Old English Period.
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