Christian and Heroic Elements of the Old English Poem "The Wanderer"

The Old English poem “The Wanderer” has gathered some debate on whether it is a Christian text or an example of pre-Christian Germanic Heroism. Some critics believe that the poem was based on an earlier, secular text, which was later converted into a homiletic Christian form.

While the overall poem does read as more Heroic than Christian, there is room left for a vague entrance of the Christian at the start and finish, lending strength to the possibility that the text was co-opted from a secular one. The Christian elements are rather ambiguously inserted at these points, without changing the overall tone of the work.

The beginning of the second to last paragraph begins with the phrase “So the Maker of mankind laid waste this dwelling-place…” implying that the subsequent description of cultural and social decay is the work of God. Yet as the paragraph moves into the Ubi-Sunt topos, we see an abandonment of the Christian in favor of a listing of the hallmarks of Heroic society that are fast-disappearing, such as comitatus and seledream.

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As the poet asks, “Where have (these vestiges) gone?” there is a lament for a lost Heroic society rather than the exploration of any Christian principle. Even the possible answer posed to the question of why this has all happened is a heroic one: Fate. It is fate that has rendered this life of isolation, which provides the comforts of the hall as the only escape from a harsh life, yet it is even now the work of fate which is depriving mankind of this comfort.

In the final line, "It will be well with him who seeks favor, comfort from the Father in heaven, where for us all stability resides," there is again room for Christian principle, though not specifically referenced, the notion that all good things on earth are fleeting and death is all that is left.

From "The Wanderer"

"The wise warrior must consider how ghostly it will be when all the wealth of this world stands waste, just as now here and there through this middle-earth wind-blown walls stand covered with frost-fall, storm-beaten dwelling...

War took away some, bore them forth on their way; a bird carried one away over the seep sea; a wolf shared one with Death..."

It bears mentioning that while this sentence describes a world in which Heaven represents the only comfort left, there is room for both a Christian and Heroic principle. Within Heroic poetry death is often regarded as a final comfort. This parallels the Christian viewpoint, and provides both an easy means to facilitate an overlay of Christianity onto a secular work, as well as resolving the ambiguity between the two ideals in terms of the ultimate ending or lesson to be learned, despite the Heroic life described.

Though the paragraph may indeed be a primarily Heroic work, there is some overlap between the two constructs, which has been highlighted here to blend the Heroic aspect into and overall Christian moral-- that the suffering on earth is brought upon by “Fate” or “God,” but overall reward and comfort will be found in the “afterlife” or “Heaven.”

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Comments 4 comments

Jason R. Manning profile image

Jason R. Manning 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

Great piece, you give this work extremely thoughtful consideration. You certainly know how to dig behind the intentions of authors. Very entertaining read, thank you for sharing your craft. Cheers.


collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 5 years ago

Thanks for a wonderful introduction very insightful review of this work! I love these old, rare gems that are undeservedly forgotten, and this one seems like it is a must-read.


Buddy 23 months ago

Well macdmaaia nuts, how about that.


Cordelia 23 months ago

Well done artlcie that. I'll make sure to use it wisely.

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