Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
So said the one wise in mind, at secret conclaves sat him apart.
Good, he who keeps faith, nor too quickly his grief
from his breast makes known, except he, noble, knows how beforehand
to do cure with courage.
- "So said the one wise in mind" marks the end of the earth-stepper's speech that began in line 8. Alternatively, this line might be the speaker's attempt to signal that the following lines come from the wise man that began contemplating the fallen warriors in line 89.
- We get one more piece of information about this mysterious wise man: that he sits apart from everyone else at "secret conclaves." This line can also be translated "sat apart in secret contemplation."
- The wise man sits apart from others. Even in company, he is as isolated as he was in exile. Perhaps, his separateness derives from his experience of exile, which gives him a knowledge that only other exiles share. This knowledge might be the "secret contemplation."
- The poem's speaker repeats a proverb from earlier in the poem, revising it somewhat. This time, it is good for a person both to "keep faith" (keep his promise), and to refrain from speaking about his sorrow until he knows how to "cure" it.
- This combination of ideas – keeping one's promise and refraining from speech – also occurred in lines 66-73, framed as the wisdom available only to the elderly or, perhaps, the exile.
- The grief one would do well to keep silent about comes "from his breast." Once again, the poem returns to the image of the body as a container for thoughts and emotions.
- The idea that it's particularly important not to speak about sorrow occurred in lines 14-18. There, the reason given for this necessity was that speaking about one's troubles couldn't possibly make them better. Here, however, the speaker suggests that a cure might exist for sorrow (in which case it would be OK to talk about it).
Well will it be
to him who seeks favor, refuge and comfort,
from the Father in heaven, where all fastness stands.
- Now, the speaker suggests a cure for sorrow: God.
- At the beginning of the poem, the lone-dweller was waiting for God's favor. These final lines return us to that idea and validate the lone-dweller's hope.
- The translator gives the Old English word frofre, comfort or consolation, as "refuge and comfort," suggesting with "refuge" that the comforter to be had from God is specifically a place of retreat, perhaps from the stormy weather the exile faces.
- God is the place "where all fastness stands." This "fastness" (stability) directly contrasts with the "passing away" of all other joys mentioned in the poem, as well as with the crumbling of buildings and the constant travel of the exile.
- This mention of God as a solution to all the desolation the speaker has observed makes sense in the Christian context in which the poem was transcribed. But it seems kind of sudden and brief after a hundred lines lamenting the inevitability of death.