In "The Wife's Lament"-- Why did the husband's kin want him to leave his wife?  What did they tell him to get him to leave?  Where did he go?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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An Old Anglo-Saxon elegy, "The Wife's Lament" primarily presents a wife's state of despair resulting from her terrible isolation. Because of the cryptic lines that allude to her despair, the reasons for her separation from her husband are not clearly defined; in fact, there is a lack of unanimity on the interpretations. First, after she marries her husband, it would seem that they were happy together because both had experienced misfortune and were congenial to one another. 

And so my heart is sad, since I (had) found a man well suited to me, one who had experienced misfortune, serious-minded, concealing his feelings, mindful of death, of pleasant demeanor.

Then, after the husband abandons her to go to sea, the wife laments that she is heartbroken and does not fare well as she is banished into the woods. 

First, my Lord forsook his kin-folk, left,
crossed the seas' wide expanse, departed our tribe.

She searches for her husband and sets out as a "friendless wanderer"; however, her husband's kinsmen conspire against her reunion with him. The reasons for their conspiracy is debated; some scholars point to the fact that the lament is told from the woman's point of view and she can give no particulars. In one analysis it is written, 

The forged order of banishment [for the husband] has brought, in addition to her physical sufferings, the agony of supposing that her husband is estranged from her. More than this, the false letter contained the news of the king's defeat and imminent peril.

So, the husband has probably gone to a foreign land, fearing danger from conquerors, and the lonely wife must bear the anxiety that her husband is among enemies. After a time, her husband requests that she live with him, and she thinks now he may be the right man for her, but further, she reveals that she can not be happy because "behind his smiling face," he may have committed mortal crimes--"murderous intentions." According to scholars, he later is "overcome by his foes in the rainy and dreary Scottish country."

For safety, the wife lives in a forest grove and, under an oak tree, she lives in a cave, which in her loneliness resembles a grave. In her misery, she is reminded constantly of her former happiness.

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