Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
I have now come here
on the deck of a ship, and now you shall know
how you might think in your heart about
the heartfelt love of my lord. I dare promise
that you will find there a gloriously assured commitment.
- Our speaker finally reveals his hand: he's come to tell a lady about his lord's continued love for her. Aw, how romantic.
- The speaker uses a lot of language of certainty to emphasize the truthfulness of his message: he says the lady will "know" how to feel about his lord's love, and promises the discovery of "assured commitment."
- The repetition of the word "heart" in lines 10 and 11, once for the lady's heart and once for the lord's "heartfelt love," connects and unites the two lovers.
- Although the speaker carries a message of love from his lord, his real goal is to influence the way the lady feels. He wants to affect her heart's thoughts, to make her feel committed to her lord by assuring her of his love.
- By saying he "dare" promise, the speaker acknowledges that he's taking a risk. Despite his apparent confidence about the effect his message will have upon the lady (getting her to be totally devoted to the lord), the outcome is actually far from certain. Maybe she's just not that interested in the lord anymore.
- Where is the "there" where the lady's supposed to find this "gloriously assured commitment"? In her heart, or the lord's? Could be either, or both. Once again, the lovers are linked through the shared thoughts of their hearts.
Indeed, he who engraved this wood instructed me to ask
that you, adorned with jewels, yourself remember
in your mind the spoken vows
that you two often spoke in former days,
while you were permitted to occupy a home
in the cities where mead was drunk, inhabit the same land,
and show your friendship.
- Now the speaker reminds the lady of the vows she spoke when she and her lord were together.
- Referring to the lord as "he who engraved this wood" forces us to think about the way this message is transmitted, as much as its content. OK, we get it: it's a message on a piece of wood. Maybe it's carved into the wood, or something.
- By referring to "this wood," these lines raise the possibility that the speaker is no longer the piece of wood itself, but the person who carries it.
- If the lady is "adorned with jewels," that means she's no commoner. Anglo-Saxon queens and noble women are typically decked out with lots of bling in Anglo-Saxon poetry. They are walking displays of the wealth and power of their lord. (Want to see what kind of jewelry they would wear? Check out these pictures of Anglo-Saxon jewelry found in the Staffordshire Hoard.)
- With "remember in your mind," the poem uses redundancy (unnecessary repetition) to emphasize the lady's interiority (her inner self). This focus continues the concern of the previous lines to have a strong impact upon the lady's thoughts.
- More redundancy occurs with "the spoken vows that you two often spoke." It seems to be really important that these vows were said aloud, maybe because vocalizing the vows is what made them binding.
- So when were these vows spoken? Ah, it was when the lady was "permitted to occupy a home." But what, exactly, does that mean? With "permitted," the poem suggests that this kind of security was available to the lady at someone else's whim (God's, maybe, or another lord's?), and it wasn't a sure thing. It's like she was a long-term guest or something.
- This home was "in the cities where mead was drunk." In Anglo-Saxon elegiac poetry, the "city" is a place of pleasure and luxury that contrasts with the hardship exiles endure in the wilderness – maybe even the hardship the lady endures now.
- Mead was a honeyed wine that Anglo-Saxons would drink in the "mead-hall," a central gathering place for a lord and his warriors. There, a bard might sing while everyone ate and drank. The mention of mead here conveys ideas of warmth and security.
- At the time the vows were spoken, the lady and lord inhabited the "same land." Apparently, that's no longer the case. Now it seems like they live pretty far apart.
- That the lady was able to "show her friendship" suggests that her relationship with the lord was a public one. This public nature of the relationship lent it legitimacy, something it may lack now that it can no longer be publically demonstrated.