Wanderer gives us a raw insight into the psyche of a lost Anglo Saxon
warrior who maintains an everlasting hope for the future. It
provides reprieve from the gore and heroics of other Anglo Saxon war
poems. This is a poem of a man without friends, without a lord, and
without the security of knowing his place in the world. He is out of
place without his comrades and spends the entire poem lamenting our transitory
existence. The humanity found in The Wanderer and the honesty of emotion
of the speaker drew me to the poem. I feel it contains themes that
readers can empathize with.
My purpose in translating The Wanderer is to provide the reader access to the intent and meaning of the poem as it might come across if he or she were part of the original Anglo-Saxon audience. Because the themes within the poem are universal, they provide a bridge between time periods; therefore, a translation should help the modern reader to experience Anglo-Saxon life as closely as possible, and to understand how the poem might feel from an Anglo-Saxon perspective, reacting as the original audience might have. I also wanted to stay as true to the original meaning and spirit of the poem as possible.
Sometimes, however, compromises had to be made for the sake of clarity. I wanted the average undergraduate reader to be able to read the poem once, maybe twice through, and have an understanding of the basic themes and conflicts of the poem. For example, if I came to a word that had two definitions, and the one that fit might have been beyond the reader’s understanding, I have used both definitions, in hopes that the reader would understand at least one of the two words. There is a line in the poem that states “oh warrior in mail” but I did not want the reader to become confused or have to pause to decipher the meaning, so I added words to clarify: “oh warrior in mail and armor.”
I strongly feel that such additions, subtractions, or major revisions to content should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. It is demeaning to the work to try to make it more poetic. The only time I felt that I had to substantially change the words of the poem, I did so to maintain the meaning of the lines. The original text spoke of the lonely traveler’s being bound, but not with gold. The translations I looked at did not provide a plausible metaphor for the modern reader. I decided that the modern reader would be able to understand the speaker’s enslavement if I extended the text and used a prison metaphor. I stated “the lonely life imprisons him, the cage not made of gold” to convey to the reader the harsh imprisonment he endured.
I tried to maintain some Anglo Saxon techniques, such as kennings, but I felt that the meaning of the poem had to be evident and that meaning was the most important aspect of the poem. In addition, one of the most difficult aspects of maintaining the original was my fear of losing the reader in lengthy sentences. There were times I had to adjust punctuation accordingly. I also rearranged some syntax to help maintain the kennings.
One of the most debated aspects of the work is the constant stylistic changes throughout the poem. One critic in particular called the poem “a patchwork with highly visible seams” (Pasternack 34). These stylistic shifts could possibly come from multiple versions of the poem attempting to blend into one cohesive piece. Carol Braun Pasternack suggests that “the disorder of the syntax suggests the disordered life of one outside the community” (38). Stanley B. Greenfield also emphasizes the “contribution of syntax” to the meaning of the work. He stresses that the sentences used within the work possess “an undeniable majesty and sweep” just like the poem itself.
Another problematic aspect of the poem for scholars is the blending of Christian and pagan ideals in the speaker’s lamenting. He speaks of fate, “wyrd,” as if there is no escaping one’s lot in life. This is the belief that each person is born into a role that they cannot change their entire life. They are to accept their roles in life and learn to live in that role without question. In The Wanderer, the speaker bemoans our inability to “resist fate” and tells the reader that he who has grief for a companion knows the “paths of exile,” bringing to mind Bradley’s interpretation of “wyrd” as the idea that we each have a fitted journey in life (Bradley 322-323). Despite his hopelessness in his own lonely fate, the speaker concludes his painful soliloquy by stating that one must remain faithful to the Lord and seek consolation in him. With these ideas, he has blended Christian and pagan views of life in handling life’s hardships.
A final aspect of the poem that must be taken into account is the identity of the speaker. I think the confusion over the identity of the speaker also blends with the stylistic changes of the poem. The work is not the literal narrative of one man who has lost his friends and lord in life and is now lost and writing a poem (or speaking at a mead hall) about his experiences. It is a poem about the human condition, about loneliness, the need for companionship, questioning our existence, our place in society and the spiritual beliefs we hold that make life….livable. The narrative and the speaker are merely the vehicle used to explore these ideas. James L. Rosier states that the poem “is not logical but figurative” and that “what is most absorbing about the poem is neither the beginning nor the end but the journey itself” (Rosier 1).
Pieces of all of these ideas drew me into this poem. There is something inherently human about it. It is a very personal poem of sorrow and grief, yet it speaks to all of us. Dealing with such travesties as The Wanderer laments are part of life, and I think each reader can form a connection to the poem and can empathize with the speaker in some way.
I enjoy this poem because it explores the humanity and emotions of the Anglo Saxons. Many times the brutality and harshness of war are the strongest images in a poem. Although their society of warfare is still present in The Wanderer, the consequences of such violence are explored. The speaker frequently bemoans the loss of his comrades, even pointing out the specific manner in which they died. There is also a sensitivity and vulnerability found within the warrior.
This thought is all the more poignant when the poem is placed in context. Surrounded by poems with graphic violence, in which human life and the pain of death is rarely thought of sensitively, I think The Wanderer distinguishes itself. It calls to the reader to thoroughly examine the toll such a war torn society must take upon the soul and the peace of mind of those who lived through such tumultuous times. The speaker in the poem is mourning the loss of his comrades. He has lost the bonds so tightly formed when one is willing to give one’s life for another. He fought side by side with these men and they are gone. He is left standing alone.
I think the complexity of the syntax and style changes are also intriguing. When thoroughly explored, this complexity adds new dimensions to the poem. Instead of being a straightforward account by one man of his hardships, the poem shifts tone and style, reflecting the spiritual and psychological conflict of the speaker. He’s torn between holding on to the past and moving on with a focus on God, and between intense grief and heroic self-control. As the poem’s style and syntax change, they highlight the struggle this man is having within himself, and make more evident the struggle we all have to face between giving up and moaning over our fate and moving on and dealing with it.
I like the idea that the Anglo Saxons produced a poem that delves into the psyche. It is very interesting to think that the poem’s syntax and what could be misconstrued as poetic confusion is merely the structure of the poem reflecting its themes. The complexities work in ways similar to the human brain. When we are musing to ourselves, we are not always organized, cohesive, and uniform. The poem accurately depicts the wanderings of our thoughts and the complexity with which the brain analyzes a conflict. The speaker begins and ends with the mercy found in God, yet the poem in between covers many stages of grief. The speaker’s mind wanders from anguish, to anger, to despair. In his travels of the grieving mind his many points are scattered and at times inconsistent, but the whole represents the confusion we feel at such a loss, providing the continuity needed to make the poem work.
S. A. J. Bradley’s translation does not capture the wanderings of the brain. His wording is too bombastic and Christian driven to evoke the true turmoil the wanderer suffers. Although the text does have Christian references, there are times Bradley uses synonyms and repetition to reinforce the Christian ideas and further pound the speaker’s Christianity into the reader’s mind. In line 1 he states “often the man on his own experiences grace, the mercy of the ordaining Lord.” The idea of the compassion or mercy of the Lord is present in the first line, but present only once, not twice as Bradley stresses. It is as if he has a hidden agenda when translating the poem. I adamantly believe that there is no reason to add to a poem, unless it is for the sake of clarity. He is doing the reader a disservice by warping the original wording.
Bradley also loses the reader in his literal and confusing translation. The sentences in translations are often high sounding as if they are presenting a melodrama. Even the first lines demonstrate the complications in reading his translation: “Often I have had to bemoan my anxieties alone at each dawning” (322). His wording is not accessible to the modern reader and I often find myself getting lost in his confusing sentences. I do not think he is able to remain loyal to the depth of pain and suffering the wanderer feels. He seems too far removed from the text.
There were confusions in the text that I had to work around, but Bradley’s translations seems to leave those confusing sections still muddled and incomprehensible. In lines 35-36 he leaves the reader pondering the meaning of the sentence, “He understands, therefore, who has to do without his beloved lord’s guiding words for long.” He understands what? I, personally, found this line to be poorly translated and very confusing as a reader.
I think the translators should get in touch with the depth of emotion in the poem and the almost tangible common thread of existence to be found in the speaker’s lamentations. Other translators refuse to do the poem justice as well. Robert E. Bjork translated the last lines as “All is difficult in the earthly kingdom; the ordered course of events changes the world under the heavens.” Where is the power and the strength of the speaker’s pain? The thoughts of the speaker should not be in any way mundane or dull; they should strongly assert his message and the confusion within his soul.
In my translation, I chose the wording “all is full of trouble in this kingdom of Earth.” I think these words reflect the total chaos that has ensued in the speaker’s thoughts, and mind. “Full of trouble” is a stronger statement than “all is difficult.” I wanted to capture the depth of emotion and the passion with which the speaker grieves and relays his tale.
I have chosen this poem to present to the undergraduate public because of its humanity. The sense of loss of old friends, confusion, and questioning of the order of our world are themes that enter everyone’s life at some time or another. Many times these ideas are most strongly questioned or felt when we are at the typical age of undergraduates. It is at this age that we begin to explore life beyond our immediate world and broaden our horizons. There is a sense of loss of comrades, though not literally, when we graduate from high school. High school is a world that can never be returned to again, and many of the friendships and bonds that have been formed are lost when we move on. I am not trying to suggest that the depth of pain the speaker feels at violently losing his friends and lord to war is the same as losing touch with high school friends. I am attempting to show the commonality of the human experience. We can all relate to the wanderer in some way. I think undergraduates can truly appreciate his questioning and exploration. It is a comfort to read this poem and know that such feelings span across time.
In my translation of this poem I most ardently hope that I am able to do the poem justice. I think it is most important that the poem’s themes are accessible to undergraduates. Elements of its struggle, sense of wandering, complexity, and syntax should be maintained, but not at the cost of its clarity. The poetry of the poem is also important, but if meaning is going to be lost by diligently and awkwardly translating the exact definition and placement of a word, I think it should be changed and modified in order to ensure that the ideas come across clearly. I feel that if the translator is able to make these adjustments without losing the emotional power of the poem, then the translated work should take on a poetry of its own.