01 February, 2011

The Wanderer

One of two Anglo-Saxon poems that we had to know for our rather absurdly easy comps, "The Wanderer" has been one of my all-time favorite poems since I studied it in Medieval Lit a few years ago. An obvious reason for this affinity is its Tolkein-esque-ness (how's that for an agglutinative?). Thinking of this, and being lazy as usual (when it comes to this blog, at least), I thought I would post a brief quote and see if it sounds familiar at all:

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago?
Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?
Hwær cwom symbla gesetu?
Hwær sindon seledreamas?
Eala beorht bune!
Eala byrnwiga!
Eala þeodnes þrym!
Hu seo þrag gewat,
genap under nihthelm,
swa heo no wære.

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!

This anaphora is a staple of the poem, and a large part of why I find it so powerful (the tragic background to this almost-narrative verse is another reason). Plus anything in Anglo-Saxon is irresistible to me. But aside from those remarks, what does this remind you of? Honestly, the resemblance to one of the hymns of Tolkein's Rohirrim is uncanny:

Where now the horse and the rider? where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harp-string, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning?
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

Or perhaps not so uncanny when you recall that Tolkein, besides being fluent in Old Norse and conversant in about 16 other dead languages was an aficionado of Old English. Rather nifty all the same.

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