Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
When sorrow and sleep at once together
a wretched lone-dweller often bind,
it seems in his mind that he his man-lord
clasps and kisses, and on knee lays
hands and head, just as sometime before
in yore-days, he received gifts from the gift-throne.
- Now, the earth-stepper talks about what happens when a sad exile sleeps: he dreams of better times, when he was still in the hall of his lord.
- The word "bind" shows up again. This time, it's not the thoughts that must be bound in the mind, but sorrow and sleep that binds the lone-dweller. It's kind of similar to the way in which the waves "bound" the earth-stepper in line 25. We're getting the idea that despite wandering all over the place, the exile is still somehow imprisoned or constrained.
- In his sleep, the sorrowful exile dreams about "clasping" (embracing) and kissing his lord. The idea of clasping is similar to binding, but now, the action is a liberating one that brings the exile happiness.
- These physical gestures are signs of a nobleman's loyalty. He might also kneel before the seated lord and lay his head in the lord's lap. The exile's dream, therefore, is not just about being back in the hall, but about showing loyalty and experiencing closeness with the lord of that hall.
- The phrase "yore-days" is a translation of the Old English word geardagum. It reminds us of the opening lines of Beowulf, "Hwaet! Gardenas in geardagum…" : "Listen! The Gar-Danes in days of yore…" It's a word that evokes nostalgia for a glorious past that has now disappeared.
- The exile's dream makes him feel like he's back in the hall receiving treasure from his lord. The "gift-throne" might be a stand-in or symbol for the lord himself, since he might sit on a throne to hand out treasure. This way of describing him makes the lord into little more than a desirable object, rather than a person.
When the friendless man awakens again,
he sees before him fallow waves,
sea-birds bathing, wings spreading,
rime and snow falling mingled with hail.
- Just as it did in line 37, the reality of the exile's situation eventually wakes him from his happy memory.
- The world he awakens to is a wintry seascape where he sees sea-birds bathing in "fallow" (or pale yellow) waves. Yeah, the image of yellow waves is not a pretty one, and it's probably not meant to be. The poem is trying to show that the landscape as barren and threatening.
- The "spreading" wings of the sea-birds emphasize their freedom to soar away. This freedom contrasts with the constraint or "binding" the exile experiences in previous lines.
- The "rime" (frost) and "snow falling mingled with hail" echo the winter imagery from previous lines.
- Basically, this is no sunny day on the sea, folks. It is cold and miserable.