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Themes

"The Wanderer" moves from a lament about exile to an examination of what the experiences of both the exile and wise man teach them about life. The speakers express this wisdom in gnomic form. Nope, this doesn't mean that one of our speakers is actually a garden gnome. "Gnomic" means that the poem uses proverbs, little sayings or nuggets of wisdom. These proverbs, or "gnomes," are short statements presented as absolute truth, when, in fact, they are the popularly-held beliefs of a particular culture.

In "The Wanderer," the "truth" that gets repeated the most is that it's a good idea for a person to lock up his thoughts and emotions – and particularly his grief – deep inside himself. This wisdom comes from an Anglo-Saxon tradition called "stoicism." Yet, another thing the wise man knows is that happiness and life's joys are fleeting, that everything, including all of creation, passes away with time. This transience is mostly shown as a sad thing. At the end of the poem, however, the wise man suggests that a cure for this sorrow may be found in God, whose stability contrasts with the transience of creation.

Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge

  1. Who does "The Wanderer" suggest is most likely to be wise? Why?
  2. How does the speaker say a wise man ought to behave? A warrior?
  3. Does "The Wanderer" suggest any reasons why it's a good idea for a person to keep grief locked deep inside himself? If so, what are they? Do you agree with these reasons?
  4. What do the wise man and exiles' experiences teach them about the fate of creation and the world? Why is this realization important?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The poem's suggestion about how to handle grief reflects a belief that communication should serve a purpose.

Wise people in "The Wanderer" are necessarily sad people.

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