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The Wanderer

The Wanderer

by Anonymous

Lines 50-58 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 50-54

Then are the heart's wounds ever more heavy,
sore after sweet – sorrow is renewed –
when memory of kin turns through the mind;
he greets with glee-staves, eagerly surveys
companions of men. Again they swim away!

  • The memory of beloved kinsmen is a mixed blessing for the exile. On the one hand, it's certainly "sweet" to be momentarily back in the hall. But on the other hand, the painfulness of the exile's present is clearer in contrast with his previous life. This is why the "heart's wounds [are] ever more heavy" when he awakes.
  • The phrase "heart's wounds" returns to the idea of the exile's interiority that was so important in lines 9-18.
  • As the exile greets "companions of men," or human companions, with "glee-staves" (joyful songs) it's almost like the characters leap out of the exile's memory to become real. He is able to look at ("eagerly survey") these figures and, now given tangible bodies, they are able to "swim away."
  • The earth-stepper says that the human companions "swim away" from the exile, rather than just saying that they disappear from his mind. It's like these figures from his memory become a part of the seascape around him. They become fish or animals like the sea-birds he observes in line 48.

Lines 55-58

Spirits of seafarers bring but seldom
known speech and song. Care is renewed
to the one who frequently sends
over the wave's binding, weary, his thought.

  • What the translator has given here as "seafarers" is actually the Old English word fleotendra, or floating ones. So "spirits of seafarers [or floating ones]" probably refers to the companions who swim away in line 55.
  • These visions of kinsmen fail to bring with them the familiar conversations and songs the exile misses from his days in the hall, perhaps because they swim away from him too quickly.
  • Memories and dreams of better times bring no relief for the exile. Instead, they make things worse.
  • The poem describes the exile's act of remembering or dreaming as sending his thoughts over the "wave's binding," as though the dreamer physically transports his mind (or thoughts) back to the hall. This description makes the mind into a physical object, similar to the way the mind was a "spirit-chest" or "wealth-chamber" in previous lines.
  • The idea of the sea as somehow physically constraining the exile returns with the "wave's binding." This phrase is also the fourth appearance of some form of the verb "to bind."

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