Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
So must I my heart –
often wretched with cares, deprived of homeland,
far from kin – fasten with fetters,
- Here the speaker basically says that he's got to put his money where his mouth is. He's got to follow his own advice and fasten his heart "with fetters" (that's like tying up his heart with chains or rope).
- Thanks to the previous lines, we now know that the image of binding the heart or mind refers to keeping your thoughts to yourself.
- After speaking what's generally known as truth – the necessity of keeping your thoughts hidden – the earth-stepper now seems to be telling himself to follow this advice. He's aware that, so far, he hasn't done a good job of containing his sad thoughts.
- The speaker also reiterates his unhappy situation – the fact that he's far away from home and without his relatives.
Since long ago earth covered
my lord in darkness, and I, wretched,
thence, mad and desolate as winter,
over the wave's binding sought, hall-dreary,
a giver of treasure,
- Now, we get more specifics of the earth-stepper's situation. His lord has apparently died, and he's now in search of another one.
- Back in the day, a "lord" was a wealthy landowner who ruled an area. (Think of titles like Lord Loxley from the Robin Hood stories, though "The Wanderer" is way older than the Robin Hood legends.) A lord was an absolute necessity for an Anglo-Saxon warrior, the source of protection and wealth, and the mead-hall where the warrior found shelter.
- Instead of just saying that his lord has been died and been buried, the earth-stepper says that the earth covered his lord in darkness. This figurative way of talking about burial personifies the forces of nature, making the soil seem like a threatening enemy.
- What the translator gives here as "mad and desolate as winter" is actually the Old English word wintercearig, or winter-sorrowful. The winter weather is a particular problem for someone who's in exile. Basically by definition, an exile doesn't have a home, which kind of sucks when it's snowing. That's probably the reason why there's so much talk of winter and wintery weather in the poem.
- The image of the "wave's binding" echoes the language of binding the heart and mind from the previous few lines. It also creates the idea of the sea as a prison in which the exile is trapped.
- The earth-stepper also says he's "hall-dreary." Maybe he means that he's sad about not having a hall to chill out in anymore, since without a lord, he's also without the lord's center of power, the hall.
- The lord is called a "giver of treasure." Distributing treasure to his nobles was one of a lord's most important ways of maintaining power. As you might imagine, giving dudes treasure all the time was a good way of making sure they stayed loyal to you.
Where far or near
I might find one who in mead-hall
might accept my affection, or on me, friendless,
might wish consolation, offer me joy.
- The speaker searches far and wide for a new lord. These lines explain why it's so important to him to have one.
- Some translators render line 27a as "who knows my own." In other words, the earth-stepper is looking for a lord from his own kinship group.
- The speaker wants a lord to give him "consolation," or comfort, and happiness. His desire is like the hope of the lone-dweller in lines 1-5 for the mercy and favor of God. These lines align that lord (a.k.a. God, the "Measurer") with this earthly one.