Yennadim Medina The Wanderer and The Wife’s Lament: Nostalgia in Anglo-Saxon Elegies. Whenever we read an Anglo-Saxon elegy, we may notice a feeling of sentimental longing for a better past, which is portrayed by the poet. This feeling is called nostalgia, and it is present in many –if not all- early English poems, specially in Anglo-Saxon elegy, and it is often used in order to convey the ideas of belong to nowhere and having nobody to rely on are worse than death itself.
This belonging is related to the love of home and country that early inhabitants felt and with their allegiance towards their chief, the lord o ring-giver.
So an Anglo-Saxon poet would write about his feelings and thoughts about being isolated and banished from, which may provoke a sense of sorrow and despair due to the lack of a place in the world and the loss of reliable friends. Nostalgia is a feeling somebody may have in a present moment, and it refers to how much we miss past events, in which the persona poetica was involved in his culture, where he belonged and where he had a function.
When the lyrical “I” loses his world, because of exile, banishment or war, he also loses his place and function in the world, he becomes nothing.
So he starts wandering within the world in order to find a new place, a new gold-giver, a new commitatus to belong to. As we can see in The Wanderer, the second voice in this elegy, tell us that he has no friends, there is no lord who can help him or give him advice, but still in the way to find somebody new. In the lines above, we find elements that help the persona poetica to convey its nostalgic feelings through words that create a sense of stormy darkness and harshness, contrasted to expressions that may be read as statements of willingness and anxiety for finding a new place to belong to and a new lord.
For instance, “Ploughed the icy waves with the winter in my heart” is a hyperbolic metaphor that strongly shows the wanderer’s feelings of being alone and sad, and how he sees and perceives the world that surrounds him. But immediately bellow in the poem, a reader will find that, even though his sorrow, the wanderer is willing to become a seafarer and to self-banish himself from his “…own dear country…” in order to find the mead-hall of a another lord, as seen in lines 25 and 26.
The fact that this man has become a sea-farer is deeply connected to the relationship that British forefathers had with the sea, and the mood and themes of the elegies are pretty close to this in terms of terror and loneliness. These last ones are caused by the nature of the sea, which was the path Vikings, Teutonic, and Romans had to pass in order to arrive at the island. This is the inheritance these peoples had brought to their descendants and that are conveyed in the early English poetry. According to this, the mood the persona poetica adopted and the imagery that is present along the elegy is natural and justified.
The themes of loss, nostalgia and seafaring were the current problems that affected their daily life. One of the things that may draw readers’ attention in “The Wanderer” is the use of nature imagery to reinforce the action of weather and its relationship with the feelings of the lyrical “I”. As seen throughout the quotation above, the persona poetica draws upon words like “icy waves”, “the winter in my heart” according, not only to his gloom, but also to heighten the hard times that he is going through.
This harsh moment seems to be worse due to the hyperbolic and dark description of the context, and, actually, it helps in the labor of making the past look better and more longed, as a golden age. In other words, the treatment of the environment conveys images of desolation and sadness that are perfect for the mood and for the theme of elegies, which are, as said before, nostalgia and loss. Throughout these lines, it is possible to imagine the circumstances in which the wanderer is.
The first four lines invoke the salutation that the wanderer might carry out every time he arrived at his gold-giver’s mead-hall, that is an Anglo-Saxon custom respect and allegiance. Within the second part of line 40 and line 41, there is a scene that shows that, maybe, this man was very cherished by his lord, and this brings out the idea of an extremely important moment in the wanderer’s past daily life, full of tenderness and loyalty. But, at line 43, a break is found, awaking the wanderer from this lovely dream.
This makes a contrast between his warm and dear memories, and the sorrowful reality of his lonely present. Contrasting past to present is quite helpful in conveying nostalgia in this early poem. Going back to the idea of environment intervention, is important to remark that in the depiction of the salutation, there is not any reference to weather. There is just a little mention to space, as observed in the sentence “when he approached the gift-throne previously”, which, besides the mention of the lord, let us know where the action used to occur.
However, when the wanderer suddenly wakes up, the action of nature can be immediately perceived throughout expressions as “the dark waves surging around him” and “snowflakes falling mingled with hail”, seen at lines 44 and 46. It reinforce the idea that nature has pretty much to do in the representation of the wanderer’s state of mind and feelings of sadness, but also shows up that environment does not affect his comfort and past happiness. Weather and nature are not a main element in depicting his joy. Nostalgia is heavily developed in this fragment according to this contrast mentioned above.
On the one hand we have his dreams, his memories, the longing of finding a new life, a new commitatus, but in the other hand we have the despair, the bitterness, the isolation. In The Wife’s Lament, nostalgia is treated from a different point of view, beginning with the fact that the persona poetica is a woman and she is in a cave instead of the sea, where her husband is, indeed. According to the last idea, the references of space are different along both elegies, and it has its consequences on the conveyance of nostalgia.
That is so because, instead of being able to sail and travel across the sea, looking for a new commitatus and a new lord as a goal, the wife, in her condition of married woman, is able neither to look for a new lord nor to travel to find her current husband. The causes of her loneliness are also different from the causes that lead the wanderer to become a seafarer. Her despair started after he husband departed, and it increases along the poem after she is banished and after she thinks about lovers that are lucky and can have the person they love by their side.
Her distress is related to the loneliness of separation, and this is conveyed in stanzas like the following one: “Wedge us apart” and “wide worlds between” make reference to being separated from her husband and lodged in an unknown land, where she does not have any acquaintance. This increases her feeling of being alone and with nobody to rely on and also her loss. Later in the poem, the wife claims not only about her distress, but also about all the time she has for suffering.
The lines that have to be necessarily remarked are lines 43 and 44, which make mention of her never ending suffering by means of a hyperbolic statement that is heightened, also, by the sentence in line 41, which remarks the fact that summer-days are longer than the days through the rest of the year. This whole fragment conveys her distress in present and helps the reader to figure up how hard is for this lady to be far away from her land and for the man she loves, that is also her lord, as the definition of nostalgia suggests and also the sense of her everlasting solitude.
But the sense of longing is not fully developed until line 37, in which there is a statement to be found in which she expressly makes a contrast between her current isolation and the joy of the lovers. Even though she is not remembering good old times, she is comparing her present situation with other lovers that keep “the couch of bliss”, an image that conveys the calm and happiness that she longs so hardly, while she still under the oak, isolated from the rest of the world and far away for her husband. In that way, longing is fully developed throughout the elegy, because it meets the main features of nostalgia.
To summarize nostalgia is conveyed in both poems as an important element in early English poetry. Both develop the main features of it -as longing, harsh present, isolation, the love of home, banishment and solitude, among others- from different perspectives and emphasizing different elements, as the action and reaction of nature in “The Wanderer”, and the everlasting lament of the woman in “The Wife’s Laments”. In the same way, they are both full of contrasts that are useful at the moment of expressing the nostalgic tone. BIBLIOGRAPHY: – Trilling, Renee. The Aesthetic of Nostalgia: Historical Representation in Old English Verse.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009. -Ward & Trent, et al. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907–21; New York: Bartleby. com, 2000 (www. bartleby. com/cambridge/). -WordReference, WordReference 2012, April 26, 2012 – McDonnell, Helen et al. England in Literature. Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1982. ———————– Yennadim Medina Prof. Guillermo Duff Medieval English Literature Universidad de Chile April 26, 2012 … Cut off from free kinsmen, so far away From my own dear country; so for left that land,
Ploughed the icy waves with the winter in my heart; In utter dejection I journeyed far and wide Hunting for the hall of a generous gold-giver…. For a man who would welcome me into his mead-hall, Give me good cheer, (for I boasted no friends) Entertain me with delights. (TW 22-29) …In restless sleep he dreams that clasps And kisses his lord, and lays hands and head Upon his lord’s knee just as he had done When he approached the gift-throne previously. Then the lonely wanderer wakes again And sees the dark waves surging around him, The sea-birds bathing and spreading their feathers, Snowflakes falling mingled with hail. TW 39-46) With secret plotting, his kinsmen purposed To wedge us apart, wide worlds between, And bitter hate. I was sick at heart. Harshly my lord bade lodge me here. In all this land I had few to love me. Few that were loyal, few that are friends. (TWL 13-18) Here must I sit through the summer-long day, Here must I weep in affliction and woe; Yet never, indeed, shall my heart know rest From all its anguish, and all its ache. (TWL 41-44) Lovers there are who may live their love Joyously keeping the couch of bliss, While I in my earth-cave under the oak Pace to and fro in the lonely dawn (TWL 37-40)
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