Anglo-Saxon Lyric Poetry | Anglo-Saxon Elegiac Poetry

Anglo-Saxon Lyric Poetry | Anglo-Saxon Elegiac Poetry

Anglo-Saxon Lyric Poetry

Anglo-Saxon lyric poetry focuses on the subjectivity of the life of the Anglo Saxon people- their life-style, courage, sea-voyage, hunting, pagan belief, love of Nature etc. The Anglo-Saxon Elegiac Poetry bears the theme of lamentation of loss and death. Like lyric poetry elegy also convey the message of personal emotions, feelings and sentiments of the poet. The notable lyric and elegiac poems of the Anglo-Saxon period or Old English period include The Wanderer, The Seafarer, The Wife’s lament, The Husband’s Message, Wulf and Eadmacer and The Ruin.

#1 The Wanderer

This is the story of a young thegn who has formerly known happiness but now after the death of his lord, he wanders about in search of another protector beyond the seas. In the second part we find a note of calm acceptance and a more mature outlook. The speaker laments:

“Here possessions are transient, here friends are transient, here man is transient, here woman is transient, all this firm-set earth becomes empty”.

The poem ends on a conventional Christian note that good is the man who does not lose his faith in God.

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Disintegrators claim that there are actually three speakers, but it has now been established that there is only one who at the end of the poem is resigned to the fact of universal mutability.

#2 The Seafarer

This poem of 120 lines preserved in the Exeter Book, is by far the most original Anglo-Saxon lyric. It is apparently a dialogue between a veteran mariner describing the lonely sufferings of life at sea, and a youth, eager to brave the dangers of the waters. But the poem may very well be the monologue of an old seaman who, though remembering the sufferings at sea, yet has a restless spirit and a pagan fascination for a sailor’s life. A feeling of contempt for earthly luxuries and his yearning to set forth on the voyage lead him to think of future life and the fleeting nature of earthly joys.

The poem may also be an allegory on human life which is seen as a sea. There are a large number of seascapes with a haunting beauty of their own. This deep attraction for the life of a mariner is found later in the poetry of Byron, Kipling, Masefield etc.

#3 The Wife’s Lament

This is perhaps one of the earliest English love poems. The manuscript is preserved in the Exeter Book. It is an elegiac lament of a woman separated from her husband and banished to the wilderness by the foe. Full of the despair of separation, the wife tears her passion to tatters and calls down a curse upon the foe, praying that he may know the misery of exile and loneliness. She pines for her former days of warm conjugal love. The poet here successfully presents the passionate yearning of a loving and distressed heart.

#4 The Husband’s Message

This too is preserved in the Exeter Book. It is probably a sequel to the former poem. The poem is in the form of a message engraved on a wooden tablet which comes to assure the waiting wife of her husband’s love. He has prepared a new home for her abroad and calls on her to sail there in the spring when the cuckoo would sing. The husband is probably in exile in some foreign land from where he assures her of his love and devotion to her. The runic letters at the end of the poem are perhaps a kind of secret sign from the husband understood by the wife.

#5 Wulf and Eadwacer

This poem of 18 lines is formed in the Exeter Book immediately preceding The Riddles and there was a view that this was a riddle itself. It is probably a dramatic monologue. The speaker is a woman and apparently a captive in a foreign land. She longs for Wulf, her outlawed lover. Her husband Eadwacer is tyrannical and she entreats Wulf to save her from her present distress. Intensely personal, it is one of the earliest English poems to have a pronounced amorous bent,

#6 The Ruin or the Ruined Berg

This is an elegy on a ruined city with crumbling walls and departed glory. The city is conjectured to be a ruined Roman city such as Bath with its hot springs. The poet then turns to contemplating the general mutability of things. The Ruin is an elegy with a difference as it mourns not the death or misfortune of a person but of a ruined city Full of nostalgia and eloquent sorrow, this is one of the greatest Old English elegiac poems.

The Charms contain much Old English superstition and folklore and have definite poetic elements.

The Riddles are poetical descriptions of particular objects with their true identity concealed.

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