Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
When he with wise mind this wall-stone
and this dark life deeply thinks through
the wise one in mind oft remembers afar
many a carnage, and this word he speaks:
- Now, the earth-stepper returns to the thought he had in lines 59-66, of fully thinking through the "life of man." Except here the "life of man" has become "this dark life." The earth-stepper is already pretty convinced that life sucks.
- In addition to considering the life of man, the earth-stepper contemplates "this wall-stone," which probably represents the abandoned buildings he discussed in the previous lines.
- When he fully thinks through "this dark life" and the abandoned buildings, the first thing he thinks about is "many a carnage," or gruesome death. This turn of mind makes sense given the meaning that abandoned buildings took on in the previous lines.
- "This word he speaks" signals that the wise man is now moving from contemplation about life to what he has learned from that contemplation. We assume that the wise man is going to talk about the conclusions he draws from his reflection, and he may even recite some proverbs as he did in lines 66-73.
Where is the horse? Where the young warrior? Where now the gift-giver?
Where are the feast-seats? Where all the hall-joys?
Alas for the bright cup! Alas byrnied warrior!
Alas the lord's glory! How this time hastens,
grows dark under night-helm, as it were not!
- Instead of reciting proverbs about exile like he did in lines 66-73, the earth-stepper gets all emotional, lamenting all of the things that have passed away with time.
- The wise man draws attention to how the things you might find in and surrounding a great hall with a lord at its center have all passed away.
- As in previous lines, the lord of the hall is called a "gift-giver," marking his role as someone who distributes wealth.
- The combination of people, objects, and emotions the wise man laments suggests that the thing he misses is the feast: he mentions "feast-seats," or places at a dinner table, and the bright cup from which the feasters would drink mead, a honeyed wine. These are some of the "hall-joys" that have disappeared.
- "Byrnied" is a word that means "armored."
- "Night-helm" means "cover of night." But "helm" also refers to the cover a warrior wears over his face, the knight's helm. The "night-helm" is therefore a military image, suggesting that part of what "darkens" the time is warfare.
- "Time hastens," meaning that it quickly passes. Another meaning of the verb given here as "hastens," gewitan, is "to depart, go away." Like the exile, the time, too departs.
Stands now behind the dear warband
a wondrous high wall, varied with snake-shapes,
warriors foretaken by might of ash-spears,
corpse-hungry weapons – famous that fate –
- Now, the wise man focuses in more detail on the fallen bodies of the warriors next to the wall.
- He calls the warband "dear," suggesting that these bodies are people he was close to.
- The warband has fallen in front of a "wondrous high wall," a description that recalls the description of it as "old giants' work" in line 88. This wall is big.
- The wall is "varied with snake-shapes," suggesting that it has a serpent-like decoration carved into it. This image makes us think of the idea of the "beasts of battle" from lines 81-85. It makes the wall, like the beasts, seem sort of menacing.
- The word given here as "foretaken" is the Old English forniman, a verb that means "take away, deform, plunder, destroy." So, it's not just that the warriors have been taken away – they've been destroyed or even plundered – stolen.
- What has stolen the warriors away? "Ash-spears, corpse-hungry weapons." This description of the spears personifies them, making the weapons the agents of death, rather than the warriors who wield them.
- Describing the spears that killed the fallen as "ash-spears" draws attention to their origin as part of an ash-tree. Since the poem also personifies the ash-spears, this description essentially pits man against nature once again.
- The ash-spears are "corpse-hungry," just like the beasts of battle in lines 81-85.
- The fate of these warriors is "famous," or well-known. This line can suggest two things: 1) That the fallen warriors served well in battle, so that their story has been repeated and is now well-known. Or, 2) That to die in battle is a fate well-known, even infamous.