The Wanderer Questions and Answers

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Who are the speakers in the poem? What is the relationship between the two?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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It is most commonly said that there are two speakers in The Wander. The first speaker is a narrator who is reviving an ancient poem and not part of the original. The new narrator is thought to speak Lines 1 through 7 and Lines 112 through 117. The original poem would thus comprise Lines 8 through 111. There are some factors that lend credence to this theory, though it is by no means the only one. But if this is true, then there is no "relationship" between the narrator and wanderer, separated as they are by time and intention. If, on the other hand, the narrator and wanderer are from the same era, both part of the original poem, the relationship would be that of the oral tradition story teller keeping alive a legend of a great wandering hero who at last found solace in a new kingdom--a necessary conclusion or his tale would have died on a snowstormy sea with him. 

In this theory, the narrator is a later individual who has been converted from paganism to Christianity and who attempts to combine the non-Christian narrative of the tale with a Christian theology of seeking mercy (Line 2) and refuge (Line 116) from the "Father in heaven," a definitive Christian reference.

The second speaker is a pagan warrior whose king and kingdom, fellow warriors and family "kinsman" have been destroyed in a decisive battle. The wanderer, or "the earth-stepper" (Line 6), goes on what they both call an exile to find a new king and kingdom that will accept him and which he can embrace because now he has no one who will accept his affection or give him consolation (Lines 28-29).

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lynnebh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This question has been debated by scholars - who is the speaker in the poem? How many speakers are there? In the first 10 lines, someone is imparting wisdom, but in line 11, we read:  "So spoke the wanderer" -- leading us to believe that there is another narrator reporting on the words of the wanderer. Then, at the end of the poem, we read, "So spoke the wise man." Some scholars believe that this may have been written during the time the Anglo-Saxons were converting to Christianity. The tone of the poem does sound a lot like Ecclesiastes, don't you think? "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" says the preacher. Some scholars believe that focusing on figuring out the riddle of the speakers detracts from the poem's beauty and theme.

If you have researched this poem at all, you will see that Tolkien was influenced by this poem in his writings. See the link below for a good discussion of the poem.

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