Using one example from each poem, compare the ways in which the following poems find artistic value, even beauty, in sorrow and longing: "The Wanderer," "The Seafarer," "The Wife's Lament."

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All three of these Anglo-Saxon poems are found in the Exeter Book , which dates to about 950 CE. They are all laments, and each expresses a speaker's experience of loneliness, isolation, and longing for better times. They all suggest the importance of community, and the desolation that can be...

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All three of these Anglo-Saxon poems are found in the Exeter Book, which dates to about 950 CE. They are all laments, and each expresses a speaker's experience of loneliness, isolation, and longing for better times. They all suggest the importance of community, and the desolation that can be experienced in the natural world without other people to share one's life with.

In "The Wanderer," the speaker laments as he stands on a cold, rocky beach, recalling times lost and trying to find the meaning in the suffering and loss that are an inevitable part of life. A quote that captures sorrow and longing is the following:

Then are the heart's wounds ever more heavy,
sore after sweet—sorrow is renewed—
when memory of kin turns through the mind.

The speaker in the above quote ruminates on the bittersweetness of memory, calling it "sore after sweet." The sweetness comes with the good memories of better times, but the soreness comes when memories cause one to miss beloved kin that are no more. There is beauty in the use of alliteration to create a sense of rhythm in the pairing of "sorrow" and "sweet," "memory" and "mind."

"The Seafarer" records and laments the loneliness the seafarer experiences on the sea and uses images of bleak beauty:

How wretched I was, drifting through winter
On an ice-cold sea, whirled in sorrow,
Alone in a world blown clear of love,
Hung with icicles.
The hailstorms flew.
The only sound was the roaring sea,
The freezing waves.

We get a clear picture of the cold, icy, roaring world that surrounds the seafarer. He will find comfort in Christian hope.

"The Wife's Lament" also records grief and longing, because the wife lives in exile. The wife's stark bitterness is reflected in the vivid imagery of her description of her home:

Dark are the valleys, the mountains so lofty,
bitter these hovels, overgrown with thorns.
Shelters without joy.

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All three of these poems focus on sorrow and longing, and each poet/speaker is able to find some artistic beauty within those topics.

"The Wanderer": The quote below discusses suffering and loneliness, and suggests that while feeling the effects of suffering and loneliness, the Wanderer seems to hold on to cherished memories of a lord, and by extension, the feeling of belonging to a group. This emphasis on memory seems to romanticize the feeling of loneliness.

He knows how it is to suffer long
Without the beloved wisdom of a friendly lord.
Often when sorrow and sleep together
Bind the lonely warrior
It seems in his heart that he holds and kisses
The lord of the troop and lays on his knee
His head and hands as he had before
In times gone by at the gift giver's throne.

"The Seafarer": This quote again looks at loneliness, this time the loneliness associated with the sea. The speaker copes with this by personifying the sounds of the creatures around him. While loneliness is sad, the idea of being surrounded by laughter brings out some happiness and beauty.

There I heard naught save the harsh sea
And ice cold wave, at whiles the swan cries,
Did for my games the gannet's clamour,
Sea-fowl's loudness, was for me laughter,
The mews' singing all my mead-drink.

"The Wife's Lament": Here, the loneliness being discussed is the loneliness that comes from being the last survivor from one's group. But the artistic beauty comes from the idea of guarding the graves of the speaker's friends. This is her way of finding happiness in her imprisonment.

All my friends dwell in the dirt,
I loved them while they lived,
now guarding their graves,
when I go forth alone

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The three poems from the Anglo-Saxon Period, "The Wanderer", "The Seafarer", and "The Wife's Lament", all contain elements of artistic value.

Given that each of the poems is an example of an elegiac poem, each contains the characteristics true to the elegiac poem. All contain elements of exile, each laments the loss of a loved one, and each depicts the thoughts and feelings of the speaker regarding their life.

This being said, each poem, in its own way, can be deemed artistic in regards to the language and imagery used. (When interpreting poetry, one must understand that it is a reader's individual interpretation regarding what is art in a poem.)

In "The Wanderer", one can find artistic value in the speaker's observations of the destructiveness of the world. The imagery of the middle-earth laying in waste is moving:

Blown by the wind,/ covered with frost,/ storm-swept buildings./ The halls decay,/ their lords lie/ deprived of joy,/ the whole troop has fallen,/ the proud one by the wall.

Here, one can see the destruction described by the speaker. It is the imagery which provides proof of the true artistic nature.

In "The Seafarer",the imagery, again, merits pure artistic value. In the speaker's description of his voyage, the following words are eloquently used:

All I ever heard along the ice-way/ was sounding sea, the gannet's shanty/ whooper and curlew calls and mewling gull/ were all my gaming, mead and mirth/ At tempest-tested granite crags/ the ice-winged tern would taunt/ spray-weathered ospreys overhead/ would soar and scream.

The imagery here, like in "The Wanderer", proves to provide a picture which relies on the eyes, ears, and touch of the reader. Again, the imagery here proves to be representative of the highest artistic value.

In the final poem mentioned, "The Wife's Lament", the imagery provides nothing less than pure artistic value. While much shorter than both previous poems, the perspective given here provides one of a feminine view-point. Her words tumble out as tumultuously as the waves which haunt her dreams:

First my lord left his people/ for the tumbling waves; I worried at dawn/where on earth my leader of men might be./ When I set out myself in my sorrow,/10 a friendless exile, to find his retainers,/that man’s kinsmen began to think/in secret that they would separate us,/ so we would live far apart in the world,
most miserably, and longing seized me.

Here, the reader is able to feel the suffering that the speaker feels. She is overwhelmed by the exile of her husband and desperately wishes for him to be close to her.

Overall, it is the imagery of each poem which provides proof of the artistic value each piece offers to a reader.

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