The Wanderer

Friday, July 15, 2022

Translated out of the Old English, The Exeter Book, 10th c. 

Often for this one,
alone, lost,

suffering lasts
god help me

—yet my mind,
harried, heavy,

finds its scared way
across seawater,

no one else here.

So spoke the wanderer,

dragged down
by calamity,

bitter slaughter,
kinsmen’s ruin.

I say my sadness
always before dawn,

solitary, miserable

living with none,
with no one to whom

to tell my inner

I know the rule is
that all great men

hold back their mind-hoard,
bind fast their thinking,

for the tired mind
is fragile, fate-felled.

Thus, the just ones
fall often,

their mind’s dark thoughts
dammed up.

So I, my innermost self,
frightened, fate-fettered,

screams for friends
far from me.

All the years since
I buried my lord,

hid him in dim earth,

I go mad,
weary of winter,

traveling over
the wavy sea’s skin,

looking for my hall,
everybody dead,

bloodied in the room
where treasure was given,

multiple gifts,
where I, far or near,

might find a clansman,
someone to help,

me friendless,
to feel the arms

of his presence
—or actual arms!—

around me,
me opening

to that, someone arriving
when I’m troubled

—friends with whom
to feel feelings fully,

with whom to
feel without fear.

He knows who lives it
how cruel care is

for him who has lost
his friends.

Exile’s path
grips him,

feelings freeze,
nowhere is gold given

earth’s fruit.

But he can’t stop
remembering full halls,

a gift-giving lord,
feasts with young fighters.

Long lack of loved ones
kills. To grieve

mire-ward, sleep

no togetherness
binding the pitiable

solitary one.
He dreams he hugs

his lord, kisses him,
kneels, lays his head

lovingly on him
as in the long ago,

headwaters of a
swelling, pouring

river of gifts.
Then he wakes,

friendless wanderer
again, ocean waves

for his road

where seabirds sunbathe,
but their wing-bones spread wide

to hoar-frost, heavy snow
not sun,

hail hitting
mixed with cold flakes,

heart hurtling lord-ward,

Sorrow’s stake stabs
the live mind

dreaming of being
with kinsmen

and one’s lord.
He greets them happily,

they swim away instantly,
slip through the dreamscape

—what buoys the soul
brings nothing much

to a person,
nothing like singing.

Care made new,
boat slammed

into a sandbar

Indeed I think
no one who passes

through this world
will not—

the inner mind
darkening, thinking

over how all brave,
reckless thanes who,

rushing through
their numbered days,

having left the hall floor,
left this middle earth

where we all dwell

Therefore you don’t fling
wisdom down

before you’re old enough,
entering winter’s dale

of the world’s kingdom.
One who knows,

patient, long suffering,
calm, won’t get mad

or be too quick
to speak. Better to wait

before speaking
until, proud, he knows

where his thinking tends,
wandering, welling up.

Then the wise one
sees how

ghostly, ghastly
everything is,

the world’s wealth
a waste

as now throughout
this diverse middle-earth

where we live,
thin walls wind-blown,

frost-filmed, not holding,
houses wrecked

by the wailing wind’s wrath,
ruined wine-hall


born right then,
in that instant,

as the wanderer, lost,
the very moment

his friends fell
splendidly clothed

by the hall’s wall.
Some who fought

were consumed,
carried onward.

Some were borne off
like birds ocean-ward.

Some like the gray wolf
died apart, grieving.

Some, sad noblemen,
were buried in dim dirt.

So all, in the wave-house,
this vessel wavering

through the world
whelmed by wyrd,

what happens—
the town torn down,

void of town noise,
emptied, over,

ancient friendship
gone, his place there,

where buildings stood,
wise thinking, live minds

brooding over dark life,
thinking deeply

on that, on history
as from a distance.

A wise mind pondering
the swarm of the slain

spoke these words:
Where is the horse?

Where its rider?
Where is the lord,

giver of treasure?
Where is the feasting-house?

Where the hall’s
loveliest life?

Alas the bright cup!
Alas the time gone,

slipped under
night’s curtain

—as if it had never been!
Our loved last warriors

stand on the wall,

tangled with serpents.
Fighters’ lives forced out

by ash-spears, weapons
greedy for glorious

fate-forced wounds while
storms trouble the rock-slope,

earth gone to ruin
—winter’s wind-roar

all that’s left—then want
comes with the hail

maddening man,

All is obliterated,
every earthly empire.

What happens—fate—
turns always

this world under heaven.
Here frail coinage,

here frail friends
—nothing lasting!

Here frail family,
no one to lean on.

All this earth’s frame,
this whipped wobbling

worrying world-scape,
no more than vain

idleness amidst wastes.

Friday, July 15, 2022