This week, our class focused on reading five different medieval poems, including “The Wanderer,” which my group was assigned.` The first day the poems were assigned, I was surprised to find out that I had to read the poems several times to get even a vague idea of what the poems were about, or, what I thought they were about. By the end of the week, I learned that Medieval poems are very complex and lend themselves to different viewpoints among different people.
Dr. Comber assigned Emma, Lizzy and I, “The Wanderer.” The first time I read through the poem, I really had no idea what it was about and thought it was, honestly, slightly boring. (Sorry Dr. Bolth.) However, as I read it several more times, I picked up new elements and concepts that I had previously not recognized. I grew more interested in it each time I read it; however, what I noticed that was strange was that, even though I was reading the same exact poem each time, I would have different ideas of what I thought the poem could mean. The second time I read through it, I picked up on the very basic, literal, meanings of the poem; a man, called the Wanderer, had been a well-off man who had many luxuries. However, his lord died and then he was exiled and, from then on, his life was full of despair and misery. The third time I read the poem, I started picking up on some of the smaller details included in the poem such as how much religious symbolism and physical description the poem had. This gave me the sense that I now understood what the poem was mainly about; however, I still had a vague impression of the poem, though I was now intrigued with how complicated the poem was.
The next day, Emma, Lizzy and I all discussed our thoughts on “The Wanderer.” and I came to realize that they were also unsure of what they thought the poem was truly about. Dr. Comber suggested that before anyone tried to find the symbolic meaning of the poems, we should just first understand the literal meaning of them, so my group read through our poem, line by line. We wrote down our thoughts and compared them. We mostly had the same ideas as each other. However, when we started to look for symbolic meanings in the poem, we found many different themes and motifs throughout. At this point, I realized that people could have very different ideas of what the main idea of “The Wanderer,” was. Here are some of the motifs that we found to be included: warriors, Christian/Pagan issues, Biblical Illusions, and exile. These are all huge motifs that could easily be turned into many different themes, and people could then argue over which of these themes was the main idea. Personally, I thought that the Christian/Pagan thread was a huge part of the poem. Originally, the wanderer was so depressed and had no hope whatsoever, but further into the poem he recognized the Lord as leader. To me, the tone of the poem changed because I felt as though the wanderer had a more hopeful mindset now. I found the poem led up to that enlightenment. These are just my personal feelings towards the poem. As I said before, a different person could get a completely different impression of the poem. This can depend on many factors such as personal values and individual ideas.
Another way that I realized how the poem can be viewed drastically differently is more subtle and is based on a fact that I noticed in class today. When the group who presented “Wulf and Eadwacer,” asked the class how many characters they thought were included in the short poem, they got several different responses. Some people said 2, while others said 3 or 4. One person mentioned that the group of people chasing after Wulf could be many characters. Also, when the class decided that the main character of the poem was a woman, Dr. Comber brought up the fact that if these people were warriors, then the line, “When it was rainy weather, and I sat tearful then that battle-bold clasped me in arms: delight to me, that, yet pain as well.” could be another warrior embracing the main character. The consideration of all these different interpretations can change the way a person views and thinks of a poem.
In conclusion, I have learned that there really isn’t any “one” meaning or purpose to these poems. I also think that this makes the poems special. The ambiguity of all of these poems have led to many discussions and debates, which are why the poems have been preserved throughout history. Although my first impression of medieval poetry wasn’t a very positive one, I have grown to enjoy the challenge of attempting to understand it.
“The Wanderer.” The Exeter Book. Eds. Krapp, George Philip, and Elliot Van Kirk Dobbie, Elliot. Columbia: UP, 1936. Print.
“Wulf and Eadwacer.” The Exeter Book. Eds. Krapp, George Philip and Elliot Van Kirk Dobbie, Elliot. Columbia: UP, 1936. Print.