The Wife's Lament Essay

1639 words - 7 pages

The Wife's Lament

Over the years, there have been many interpretations of who the speaker of The Wife’s Lament could be. These range from very interesting ideas to ones that seem a little rough around the edges. It is obvious that no sure answer can be found due to the fact that whoever wrote this poem is dead and that the answer will always be in speculation even if it is correct. Hopefully, at the end of this quest I will be slightly more enlightened as to who the true speaker may really be.

There are some things that we do know about this poem. It is most often referred to as an elegy because of the mood of mourning and regret. Upon further reading I discovered that this poem is like others of its time period. Many parallels can be seen between The Wife’s Lament and The Wanderer. The Wanderer is a poem about a man that is exiled due to war and details his miserable life in the wintry wilderness. Another poem that resembles The Wife’s Lament is Wulf and Eadwacer. In both of these poems, the speaker is interpreted to be a woman unlike other poems of the time. Wulf and Eadwacer is about a woman who has been involved with two men, the dreaded love-triangle. When the woman was separated from her lover, Wulf, she is taken into the comforting arms of another man, Eadwacer. This causes her much happiness but also pain over the lost love of Wulf. Thus the lament of this woman is very similar to the speaker in The Wife’s Lament.

The various interpretations of The Wife’s Lament may argue on who the speaker is, but there is one thing that can not be denied. There is no doubt that this poem is about lamenting exile and the trials the speaker must face due to this exile. No matter who the speaker is, he/she is wrought with grief over his/her situation and feels that this situation deserves to be told. This is stated at the very opening of the poem. “I have the right to say what miseries I have endured since I grew up, new or old-never greater than now.” Even though this poem is relatively short, the vivid expression of grief is somewhat awe-inspiring.

The first interpretation of who the speaker is in The Wife’s Lament is very shaky and not well accepted among scholars and even the average reader. This interpretation is that the speaker may be a male and not a female as we all believe. It was very common in Anglo-Saxon times for the lord of a group of people to be more to them than a ruler. Very often he would become a close friend to his people and they loved him like family. The relationship between lord and man was more than just a business arrangement and although they were working for the lord, he was respected much like a father figure would be. The problem with this interpretation is that the grammatical gender is feminine. This is the reason why everyone assumes that the speaker is a female. Supporters of this reading of The Wife’s Lament believe that somewhere along the line of translating the poem the...

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