Compare and contrast the poems the "Wife's Lament," "The Wanderer," and "The Seafarer."

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susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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These three Anglo Saxon works represent the beauty of Old English literature.  Each of these works is a poem--specifically an elegy.  An elegy is a lament--an expression of sorrow over a loss or death.  Some of the similarities of these three works "The Wife's Lament," "The Wanderer," and "The Seafarer" are found in their tone, form, and subject matter.

The tone of each poem is melancholy.  In each, the speaker bemoans the loss of a past that was happier than the present.  The wife remembers happier days with her husband, the wanderer remembers happier times with his lord, and the seafarer declares that the past, unlike the present, boasted true kings and warriers.  Each speaker is lonely--in a state of exile, whether chosen or forced--and is fighting to overcome this exile emotionally.  The wife has been forced from her home by her husband whose kinsmen plotted against her; the wanderer is now travelling land and sea after the death of his lord, and the seafarer feels as if his avocation is sailing the cold, North sea.

As Anglo Saxon poetry, each follows a specific form.  The verse is alliterative.  Each line contains a pause, or caesura, in its center; and kennings--descriptive phrases in place of a common or proper noun-- are used that add richness to the language.

In subject matter, there are many similarities as noted above, but there are some differences.  Each is told from a different perspective, and each provides a different view of Anglo-Saxon life.  We understand the roles of wives and women from the "Wife's Lament." Likewise we understand the problems that faced a sailor and a warrior from the other two elegies.  The "Wife's Lament" is centered specifically on a domestic dispute while the other two involve a wider range of subject matter--a code of conduct and religious faith.