Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Often the lone-dweller waits for favor,
mercy of the Measurer, though he unhappy
across the seaways long time must
stir with his hands the rime-cold sea,
tread exile tracks. Fate is established!
- This opening section is like a mini-prologue that sets up the initial situation of the poem: we have a mysterious character, the "lone-dweller," who is apparently in exile. Exile for him means being forced to travel across the icy sea.
- Despite the fact that the lone-dweller is in this desperate situation, the opening line injects a note of hope, since the man is waiting for favor or mercy. He's hopeful that his situation will get better.
- The translator has translated the Old English anhaga as "lone-dweller." Sometimes, though, it's translated as "solitary one." In any case, the message is clear: this guy is totally, completely alone and isolated.
- The "Measurer" here refers to God. We wonder why God is called that, rather than something like "the Creator" or just God. The reason might have to do with the fact that the Old English word for mercy, miltse, begins with an "m" just like the word for measurer, metod, creating alliteration (metudes miltse). But that can't be the whole reason. Do you have a guess? What might God be measuring?
- The image of the lone-dweller "stirring" the rime-cold sea with his hands is probably just a way of saying that he's rowing a boat. ("Rime," by the way, means "frost.") But adding that bit about the rime makes the lone-dweller's situation seem even more desperate. It's like he's a body without even the protection of a boat, being tossed about on the waves. He's "stirring" the icy sea with his own hands? Brrrrr!
- "Exile-tracks" is also sometimes translated as the "paths of exile." The lone-dweller must go the way that all exiles before him have gone – he must travel alone through an inhospitable, cold landscape.
- The introduction of fate in the final line, in Old English wyrd, introduces the Old English poetic idea of uncontrollable destiny. It makes us think that, although the lone-dweller is hoping for a turnaround in his situation, his destiny may not allow for that. It also makes us wonder about the relationship of God and fate, since both of them seem to have some control over what happens to the lone-dweller. Are they one and the same?