Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
A feud drove him away
from the victorious people. Now he himself has asked me
to instruct you joyfully that you should stir up the water,
after you have heard on the edge of the cliff
the mournful cuckoo sing in the wood.
Then, do not let any living man
keep you from the voyage or hinder your journey.
- Now we find out why the lord and lady are separated, and we also learn the lord's motivation behind sending this message.
- The lord has been forced to leave the land because of a feud, and he now asks his lady to travel to reunite with him.
- Blood-feud was an Anglo-Saxon warrior tradition most famously fictionalized in Beowulf. The relatives of a person killed in a fight would not rest until they had exacted revenge for his death by killing the person responsible.
- Although this is supposed to be a system of law and justice, Anglo-Saxon poetry often portrays blood-feuding as leading only to sorrow. That's the case here, since the feuding has forced the separation of the two lovers.
- The people from whom the lord has been driven away are called "victorious." This description suggests that the lord fought a battle with them and lost.
- Now the lord asks the messenger to "joyfully instruct" his lady. He is not just telling her something, but, with the Anglo-Saxon verb laeran, teaching her. This word, inserting the teacher-pupil dynamic into the poem, puts the messenger in a position of authority over the lady.
- He asks the lady to "stir up the water," meaning to get into a boat. This highly figurative way of saying it emphasizes the close relationship between the traveler and the ocean.
- The lady is supposed to set sail at the time when she hears the "cuckoo sing in the wood." The cuckoo was a harbinger of summer, the ideal time for traveling by boat, since the weather was calmer then.
- The lady is apparently standing "at the edge of the cliff" when she hears the cuckoo's song. She may be looking out to sea, perhaps thinking of her lord.
- The last lines of this passage, which counsel the lady not to let anyone deter her from the journey, inject an ominous note into the poem, since they suggest that someone may want to prevent the lady from journeying to meet her lord.
Begin to seek the ocean, the native land of seagulls,
board a seaworthy ship so that south from here
you may find the man beyond the ocean-path,
where your lord is in expectation of you.
- The speaker is no longer concerned with persuading the lady to think fondly of her lord. Instead, he's moved into authoritative mode, issuing a series of commands.
- The speaker makes explicit the request of his lord, asking the lady to get on a ship and head south to where her lover waits for her.
- Telling the lady to "begin to seek the ocean" makes it seem like he expects her journey to be a long one, and getting to the ocean is only the first step.
- He calls the ocean the "native land of seagulls." This description turns the ocean into the territory of animals rather than humans. It emphasizes how the ocean is not necessarily a hospitable place for people.
- He also calls the ocean the "ocean-path." It may be inhospitable, but it's also the way to get somewhere.
- The lord waits "in expectation" of his lady. In other words, he fully expects her to obey his instructions.