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The Wanderer
The Wanderer
by Anonymous
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Mind, Heart, Spirit

Symbol Analysis

"The Wanderer" is chock-full of words and phrases that refer to human interiority. Whoa, big word alert! Don't worry, "interiority" simply means concepts such as the mind, heart, and spirit. When you hear "interiority," just think "inner," as in inner thoughts and emotions. Since the Anglo-Saxons probably understood these concepts differently than we do today, scholars aren't always sure exactly which aspect of interiority certain figurative expressions in the poem refer to, or how the different aspects are related. This ambiguity leads to very different translations of the same lines. One thing's for sure, though: the poem presents thoughts and emotions as being separate from the person and as being beyond human control.

  • Lines 9-11: The speaker laments that he has no one to reveal his "inmost thoughts" to. The word used for "thoughts" in Old English is modsefan, a poetic word that literally means "mind-self." This word links the mind more closely to the speaker than other language of interiority that will occur in the poem.
  • Lines 13-14: The speaker calls it noble for a warrior to guard his spirit and his "wealth-chamber," probably a metaphor for heart or mind. In the Old English, the word for spirit, ferðlocan, or "spirit-chest" is either a metaphor or synecdoche for the spirit. Both of these words get across the idea of the mind and spirit as containers.
  • Line 15-16: The speaker says that a weary mind doesn't withstand fate, nor do troubled thoughts bring help in these lines. Some translators give this pair as spirit and mind, rather than thoughts and mind. The different translations reflect different theories of how the Anglo-Saxons thought about human interiority.
  • Line 18: The speaker counsels glory-seekers to bind a sad mind in their "breast-chamber," a synecdoche for breast that continues the concept of thought-containers that began in lines 13-14.
  • Line 21: The speaker says he's had to fasten his heart with fetters. The Anglo-Saxon word for heart here is modsefan, which the translator earlier gave as "thoughts." The Anglo-Saxons may have thought of thoughts as coming from the heart rather than the mind.
  • Lines 42, 52: As the exile sleeps, it seems "in his mind" that he is back in the mead-hall (line 42). Later, the speaker refers to these memories as "turning" through the mind (line 52). Other translations say that the mind of the exile surveys the memories of his kinsmen. This translation conveys the idea of the mind and the memory as separate entities.
  • Line 50: The exile's "heart's wounds" are heavier when he awakes from his dream. Here, "heart's wounds" is a metaphor for sorrow. It reflects a concept of the heart as the seat of emotion.
  • Line 55: For the dreamer, "spirits of seafarers" bring no joy. This phrase refers to the dreamer's memories of his companions.
  • Line 57: The cares (or worries) are renewed for the one who sends away his thoughts over the waves. Sending the thoughts away on a journey becomes a metaphor for remembering. It implies a separation between the person and his thoughts: they are not the same thing.
  • Line 60: The speaker says he doesn't know why the thoughts in his mind do not "grow dark" when he contemplates death and exile, rather than saying that he doesn't know why he becomes sad. Again, the speaker seems to view himself and his thoughts as two separate things. Darkening thoughts are used as a metaphor for becoming sad.
  • Lines 72, 89: The speaker describes a warrior at line 72 as "bold in mind." Later, at line 89, a wise man is called "he with wise mind." The speaker seems to think of the mind as the primary origin of character traits, since he describes people as bold and wise by referring not to them, but to their minds.
  • Line 114: The good man does not make the grief in his breast known too quickly. As it was near the beginning of the poem, the human body is a container for emotions that threaten to break free.