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The Wanderer

The Wanderer

by Anonymous

Analysis: What's Up With the Title?

The poem we know as "The Wanderer" actually doesn't have a title as it appears in the manuscript; it's just separated from the poem before it by a larger first letter to mark its first word. Anglo-Saxon poets and scribes didn't seem to think it was necessary to give their poems titles. That didn't work for modern translators and editors, though, who took it upon themselves to name the poem after its speaker, the eardstapa, or earth-stepper, of line 6. But they translated "earth-stepper" as "wanderer," probably so that the word would be more immediately meaningful for readers not accustomed to the highly figurative compound nouns of Anglo-Saxon poetry.

It's worth considering for a moment how the title "The Wanderer" changes the way we read the poem. After all, if the editors wanted to name this poem after its speaker, they could also have called it the "lone-dweller" or the "wise man" – other descriptions of him in the poem. Calling the poem "The Wanderer" signals that the most memorable or important thing about the poem is the speaker's travels, his aimless wandering, rather than, for example, his loneliness or the wisdom that he shares. But that may or may not be true. Keep that in mind as you read the poem, and consider: if you had to name this poem, what would you call it? Or should we give it a name at all? (Though, if that were the case, we wouldn't be able to Google it….)

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