How does the wanderer's present life compare with his former life?
Compared to his former life, the wanderer's present life is filled with loneliness and infused with sorrow.
The wanderer remembers his former, gloried past, when he feasted with his comrades in his lord's hall and received great treasures from his lord for services rendered. His former life was a life filled with battle glories, until the day he lost his lord and his fellow warriors in war. Since his great loss, he has been a wanderer, exiled from his former land and bereft of the companionship of former days.
Now, he can only reminisce about "hardships," of "fierce slaughters," and the "downfall of kinsmen." His present life is one of contemplation, resignation, and quiet endurance. He no longer fights but is philosophical about his exile; he acknowledges that he sometimes has to "bind in fetters" his "inmost thoughts" so that he does not become discouraged. His stoic approach to grief allows him to come to terms with the fact that he can no longer seek his lord's counsel; he can only hope to interact with his lord in his dreams, when "sorrow and sleep" bind him in their grasp.
Towards the end of the poem, the wanderer exhibits his new-found wisdom about life. He muses that a wise man is never impulsive or a weak warrior; he thinks before he acts or speaks. To the wanderer, a wise man must also come to terms with the fact that, on earth, "money is fleeting...friend is fleeting...kinsman is fleeting." The wanderer asserts that, as long as a hero can act with courage and keep his faith with God, where "all permanence rests," he will have done well in life.
In the Wanderer's former life, he had friends that he could speak with. Now, all of his friends and fellow seafarers are gone and he is left to wander for companionship and what it is become of him.
It seems that the Wanderer lived a full life upon the sea. He was satisfied in his life and had others with similar views. This allowed him to feel accepted.
Now, as life has passed, he is curious about where his life will take him now that everyone else has passed. He is alone.
In reality for him, the only thing left from his past, the only thing left to give him hope is his God.