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Summary

Lines 66b-73 Summary Page 1

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

Lines 66b-70

The wise man is patient,
not too hot-hearted, nor too quick tongued,
nor a warrior too weak, nor too foolhardy,
neither frightened nor fain, nor yet too wealth-greedy,
nor ever of boasts too eager, before he knows enough.

  • Now the earth-stepper expands upon some of the special knowledge the elderly have. This section resembles two other Old English poems, Maxims I and II, which are collections of proverbs – simple and concrete sayings popularly known and repeated.
  • The wise man is patient: he is not too "hot-hearted," meaning that he doesn't allow his emotions to make him do something stupid. We might call this "hotheaded."
  • He is not too "quick tongued," meaning that he thinks before he speaks. This last characterization of the wise man returns us to the idea of guarding one's thoughts in the "spirit-chest," or mind, that we saw in the opening section.
  • The important traits for a warrior overlap somewhat with those of a wise man. It's important for a warrior to be strong, of course, but he must also avoid foolhardiness, a similar trait to hot-heartedness.
  • The warrior must have courage. He must also not be too "wealth-greedy." This last one is interesting because we've already seen that when the exile longs for his lord, he's longing for the treasure his lord gives him, too. Yet it's important for a warrior not to be too wealth-greedy, which suggests that he must combine his longing for treasure from his lord with true loyalty and respect for him.
  • The caution against excessive greed might also be directed specifically at warrior-lords. These men have to be generous with their wealth, because it's only through giving handouts to their followers that they can retain power.
  • Like the wise man, the warrior must not be too quick-tongued: he must not speak a boast too eagerly.
  • A boast was an important way for a warrior to build a reputation among others, but failure to fulfill a boast brought horrible shame. The good warrior waits until he "knows enough," that is, until he is certain that he can fulfill his boast, before speaking it.

Lines 71-73

A warrior should wait when he speaks a vow,
until, bold in mind, he clearly knows
whither mind's thought after will turn.

  • A vow differs from a boast because it is a promise made to another person, whereas a boast is just an announced intention to do something. A boast isn't necessarily directed at anyone in particular.
  • As he must be with a boast, a warrior must be careful about speaking a vow. He must not speak it until he has made up his mind to keep the promise.
  • The idea that the "mind's thought" might turn in a direction the possessor can't predict makes the thought into a separate entity, an object distinct from the owner of it. This description of thought is similar to the one in line 59 in which the exile sends his mind over the waves. There, though, the exile had control over his thoughts.
  • Just like the exile, the wise man and the warrior must play their cards close to their chest – that is, they must guard their tongue and be careful about which thoughts they reveal in speech. The necessity of guarding one's thoughts carefully connects exile, warrior, and wise man.
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