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Summary

Lines 59-66a Summary Page 1

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

Lines 59-63a

Therefore, I know not, throughout this world,
why thought in my mind does not grow dark
when the life of men I fully think through,
how they suddenly abandoned the hall,
headstrong retainers.

  • Now, the earth-stepper ends his description of the experience of the exile to reflect upon what this experience teaches him about life more generally.
  • The experience of the exile seems to cause the earth-stepper to reflect upon how all life eventually comes to an end: the "headstrong retainers'" abandonment of the hall is actually a way of talking about their death.
  • When confronted with the inevitability of death, the earth-stepper does not know why his mind does not "grow dark," which is a way of saying that the inevitability of death should cause him to get really upset.
  • The fact that the earth-stepper's mind doesn't "grow dark" suggests that there's something – what, we don't yet know – that keeps him hopeful regardless of death's inevitability.
  • Another person who abandons his hall out of necessity is the exile, and particularly the earth-stepper, who seems to have left his hall behind because of warfare. So, talking about death as an abandonment of a hall makes a connection between death and exile.

Lines 63b-66a

This Middle-Earth
each of all days so fails and falls
that a man gains no wisdom before he is dealt
his winters in the world.

  • The logic of these lines is not entirely clear. They implicitly make two statements: 1) This Middle-Earth (the world between heaven and hell – our world) "fails and falls," and 2) A man is not wise until he has lived a long time. What's unclear is the relationship between them. Why should the failing and falling of this earth mean that a person is not wise until he has lived a long time?
  • What happens to Middle-Earth – its inevitable decline and fall – is like what happens to the retainers in the previous few lines. Just like people, our world, too, is dying, and will eventually disappear.
  • Saying that someone has many "winters in the world" is just a fancy way of saying that he's old. But saying that in this way also connects the elderly to the exile, who is defined by his exposure to wintry weather.
  • Like the exile, the elderly have special knowledge available to no one else.
  • Brain Snack: If you're a Lord of the Rings fan and recognize the term "Middle-Earth," you should know that J.R.R. Tolkien was a big fan of Anglo-Saxon poetry, including "The Wanderer."
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