The Ruin [all]

This poem, significantly damaged, describes in elegaic tones an ruined building or city.  It is often taken to refer to the city of Bath, the only natural hot springs in England, though it is also possible to interpret that passage as referring to a stream of water becoming hot by artificial means (there had been Roman baths in many other parts of England as well).

The Husband’s Message [all]

This poem is possibly another example of prosopopeia, wherein an inanimate object speaks.  In this case it may be a sticked carved with runes that is speaking a message.

The speaker in the poem says he has come to bring a message from a lord, asking a woman (though this point is sometimes disputed) to remember her vows and come and join the man, who was previously exiled due to a feud.  She is to take a ship to the south.  The man is wealthy, but he will have no need of treasures if he and the woman are re-united.

The poem ends with a runic passage that can be taken to read: I join sun with road  and earth and joy and man.

The Seafarer [all]

The seafarer tells how he suffered while on the sea, bound with cold, tormented by hunger. The land-dweller can never understand this suffering.

The cry of the swan and the laughter of the gannets take the place of human voices, the seagull’s voice come instead of the sound of the mead-hall. Storms beat against the cliffs while the birds cry. There are no kinsmen here.

He who has lived life in the cities does not understand how the seafarer has to remain on the path of exile upon the ocean. Hail falls to earth, the coldest of grains.

The seafarer’s thoughts fly far away from his body, and the seafarer thinks on how no one on earth is every so happy or good that he does not worry about his own metaphorical seafaring. When one is thinking of God, he will not think of the harp or the ring-giving or women or anything of the world.

The woods bloom, the cities become more beautiful, the fields increase and the world goes on. But these things should encourage those who wish to travel on the ocean to set out. The cry of the cuckoo foretells sorrow, but the man who is rich does not understand this or that people should follow the path of exile.

The seafarers soul moves beyond his breast, wanders around the ocean paths and returns. The pleasures of God are better than this dead life, loaned on the land. No man will enjoy riches forever; soon one of three things will destroy him: sickness or old age or the sword will take his life.

Therefore every man should know that the praise of the living is the best last word. He should perform great deeds against enemies so that men will afterwards praise him and his name will live on forever.

The days have passed and there is now no king or caesar or gold-giver like there once was. All have passed away; the weaker ones remain in the world. The earth’s beauty grows sere just as old age weathers a man, making is face grow pale. He mourns and remember his former friends who are now in their graves. When he is dead, he will not be able to enjoy life, move or think. A brother can cover his kinsman’s grave with old, but that will be no help for his soul when he comes before God.

This world will pass although God made the foundations strong. Foolish is he who does not fear God; death will come upon his at unawares. Blessed is the humble man; he will receive grace. A man must steer his heart and be worthy of trust and pure, behaving with balance in good times and bad. Fate and God are stronger than the mind of any man.

Let us therefore consider our eternal home and how we may travel there. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Wanderer [all]

A poem of great sadness and beauty, the Wanderer is the lament of an exile, longing for the lost days of happiness when he was with his lord. A wise man keeps his thoughts locked in his breast. He recognizes how all the world is fleeting, strong walls standing empty, rime-covered, blasted by storms. The halls are empty because the men are dead, carried off by war, by beasts, buried in graves.

Where is the horse? Where is the rider? Where is the giver of gold? Where are the joys of the hall?

Alas, the bright cup! Alas, the mailed warrior! Alas, the power of the prince. Time has passed, grown dark under the night helm, as if it had never been. Now remains only a trace, a wall, high and decorated. Spears took the men; storms thrash the stones. Snow binds the earth, the winter wind. Then darkness, the shadow of night, hail falls, men fear.

There is much hardship on this earth. Fate changes the world under the heavens. Here wealth is loaned, here a friend is loaned, here a man is loaned, here a kinsman is loaned. All the foundations of the earth stand idle.

Good is he who holds his truth. A man must never recite his sorrow, speak from his breast, unless he knows how to cure himself with courage. Well will it be for him who seeks favor from the father in heaven, where for us the eternal foundation lies.