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The Importance Of Kinship In The Anglo-Saxon Period

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The earliest known records of the English language, date back to 449 AD and were derived from many different influences including but not limited to Latin, Danish, French, Dutch, Spanish and German and has been proven to the hardest language to master due to its’ many influences. (Rockett) The name of the Anglo-Saxon’s language, Englisc, gives us our term of “Old English”. The Wanderer is a tale about a lone hero, who is the last of a group of warriors, searching for a new home. Although the original date it was written and its author is unknown, this popular poem from the Anglo-Saxon period was surprisingly well preserved in an “anthology known as the Exeter Book dating back to the 10th century”(Gray) and has been translated into modern day English. Throughout this poem, the author conveys the message of The Wanderers’ longing for kinship and for his sorrow to subside with the use of imagery and personification, but despite this want, he is filled with a hopeless abandonment.

The Wanderer refers a great deal to his fellow soldiers, his kinsmen. The more he thinks about his men, the more the “Sorrow returns.” (The Wanderer, Line 50) Though he feels this way, he seems to find some comfort when he thinks of the times spent with his men, “pass memories of kinsmen- / joyfully he greets them, eagerly gazes- / his fellow warriors” (The Wanderer,51-53). Here it seems as though he is missing the companionship of his former men, and when his mind visualizes them, he seems pleased. Our memories can produce the most vivid images and the author does a great deal to convey the Wanderer’s memories in a way that the audience is able to picture. I feel as though I can relate to these lines in way, not in death but rather distance from family and friends. Being alone can often make you miss those whom you call your friends, your family and you produce images and memories in your mind of the times spent with them. In the case of the Wanderer, it is his fellow soldiers whom he is longing to be with, however, “They fail to bring / much familiar talk” (The Wanderer, 54-55). This could be referring to memory loss in a way since they have been gone and he feels as if he does not know them or is connected to them anymore and those voices, images and memories begin to depart.

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The author also seems to use a lot of personification as it relates to the Wanderer’s travels and his “wandering” mind. This poem is full of sorrow as times are recalled to when he was not alone, or out searching for a new home. Along his journey, his heart never seems to heal, and his sorrow continuously seems to grow. He tries so hard to move on from his past, to move on from his many trials, and tribulations, but they always seem to catch up with him. When he thinks of his former kinsmen, he sees their “floating spirits.” (The Wanderer, 53). Spirits are seen as inanimate objects because they have no physical body, and are not seen as a living being, therefore they are personified as “floating.” The author’s use of personification here seems to add a bit a light to this somber piece although it goes directly into them vanishing. Personification in a poem such as this helps with the flow and the structure as a whole. Another use of this we find in this section is “who must often send / his weary spirit over the waves’ bed” (The Wanderer, 57). This could mean that the spirits of his departed kinsmen need to go away in order for him to heal and to move on from his past life as he is still on a journey to find a new home. Often, people personify objects of a departed loved one as a way of a coping mechanism or of remembrance as seen with The Wanderer recalling those spirits of the departed.

Losing connections with those who have passed or who may still be alive can be lonely and cause our thoughts to wander. We must always try to keep our thoughts alive and to never forget our past and those who have departed from our lives. No matter what we must do whether that be drawing those images in our heads or even talking to inanimate objects, from departed loved ones. Even though we may think we are not alone, we are all alone somehow, some way, some place and at any given time, searching for that new home and longing for that lasting kinship like the Wanderer. The message of The Wanderers’ longing for kinship and for his sorrow to subside with the use of imagery and personification, but despite this want, he is filled with a hopeless abandonment as “for any man who must often send his weary spirit over the waves’ bed” (The Wanderer,55) it is useless as our sorrow is as endless as the stars in the nights sky or the rolling waves of the oceans current.

Works Cited

  1. The Wanderer. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, Norton, 2018, pp. 42-109.
  2. Wendy Howard Gray & Lumen Learning. English Literature I.courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-britlit1/chapter/overview/.
  3. Rockett, Brian. English 261. Jefferson State Community College, Sep. 2020, bb9.jeffersonstate.edu. Accessed 30 September 2020.

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