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The Wanderer

The Wanderer


by Anonymous

Analysis: Speaker

The speakers in "The Wanderer" are like those nesting Russian dolls, where each larger one opens to reveal that it contains another, sometimes identical, doll inside. The first speaker starts out by describing the situation of a "lone-dweller" who sadly paddles the barren ocean in exile. With line 6, "so the earth-stepper spoke," it's not clear whether the words he "spoke" are lines 1-5, or all the words that come after this. Right away, then, it's not clear who exactly is saying what, or even whether the person described in lines 1-5 is the person who speaks the words after line 6. The identities of the speakers seem to merge.

The speaker of line 6-89 introduces us to another speaker, "he with wise mind" who contemplates the fallen warriors by the crumbling wall. This speaker launches into a formulaic lament for everything that's lost – what's known as the ubi sunt ('Where are they?') motif. His speech seems to end at line 111 with "so said the wise one in mind." Yet, just like in line 6, line 111 could refer to the lines that came before, or the ones that come after to wrap up the poem. Once again, we have no certainty about who's saying what.

With the speakers of "The Wanderer," we have exile vs. wise man who, the poem hints, must necessarily be elderly. Their identities merge in the uncertainty about who's saying what, which may be the poem's way of calling our attention to the experiences they share, like isolation and "many winters." These shared experiences lead to a shared view of the world – life sucks, and then you die. Exile is a fast way to grow old; old age exiles you from the center of community life. With its Russian doll narration, "The Wanderer" is collapsing its speakers into one another to show the similarities between them.

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