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The Wanderer

The Wanderer

by Anonymous

Analysis: Calling Card

Anglo-Saxon poetry employs a poetic device called a "kenning," a compound noun that's used in place of a simpler, one-word noun. A kenning is often a metaphorical or symbolic expression. The most famous example in Anglo-Saxon poetry is "whale-road," used in line 10 of Beowulf to refer to the ocean. Kennings sometimes get lost in translation, but the version of "The Wanderer" we're using maintains many of them. One of them is "earth-stepper" (line 6) in place of "wanderer" or "traveler."

Another thing you see a lot in Anglo-Saxon poetry is alliteration. Every line has at least three, and sometime four or more, instances of words that share the same sound. (See "Form and Meter" for more on alliteration in "The Wanderer.") This alliteration makes the poem sound like quite a tongue-twister when you hear it in Old English. Like kennings, though, the alliteration of Anglo-Saxon poetry often gets lost in modern English translations. The translation we're using has one in line 2, with "mercy of the Measurer," and again in line 6 with "So the earth-stepper spoke," and a few more throughout the poem. But compared to the amount of alliteration in the original, these instances are barely a drop in the pan.

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