The Wanderer Transience Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
The wine-halls molder, the wielder lies down
deprived of rejoicing, warband all fallen,
proud by the wall.
The dual presence here of men and the structures they build – wine-halls and walls – emphasizes the way in which these two depend upon one another. Without the men to care for them, buildings "molder" (decay) just as the men depend upon walls to protect them from the elements and their enemies.
Thus the Shaper of men destroyed this earth-yard
until, lacking the cries, the revels of men,
old giants' work stood worthless.
Lots of debate has occurred over what, exactly, the "old giants' work" might be. We know that the Anglo-Saxons lived among the ruins of Roman occupation, without the technology to maintain or re-build these structures. These ruins could be the giants' work referred to here. But in any case, the poem reiterates the connection between men and buildings. So important are men to buildings that buildings are "worthless" without occupants.
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!
The words spoken by the wise man as he contemplates the bodies of those fallen in war are what's known as an ubi sunt, or "Where are they?" lament. In this type of lament, the absence or passing of all good things leads the mourner to an awareness of the transience of existence. Paying attention to what is lamented provides a pretty good indication of what's most important to a particular culture: here, the trappings of war, feasting, and lord/nobleman relationships. Line 97 contains a pun: the cover of night is called a night-helm, but helm is also a word for the helmet a warrior wears – a knight's helm.