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British Literature
POETRY

THE WANDERER, THE SEAFARER and the WIFE'S LAMENT

Art imitates life so the mimetic theory stipulates. By examining the literature a culture produces, we may infer how they lived and what they valued. By examining these three short poems, we may infer that at least the following ideas / persons / beliefs meant a great deal to the Anglo-Saxons...

          the archetype of the journey on land and sea

          exile

          alienation

          love

          the cyn

          the mead hall

          pagan values

          Christian values

          nature

          the elegy

          ubi sunt

          fate

          oral traditions

          time

          bliss / pain

          the power of narration

          marital bonds

          fear

          security

          the afterlife

Although the Anglo-Saxon might indeed be hard pressed to articulate philosophy, Nussbaum is correct when noting in Cultivating Humanity that, "Philosophical questioning arises wherever people are." (p.17). Thus we may ourselves ask what questions they asked about the list that the poetry reflects

Notice that these do not appear in a particular order. What do you believe the Anglo-Saxons valued as their highest priority. Why? As we study the poems in relation to the research you have completed, what conclusions can you reach and why?

From the Greeks, we may turn to Heraclitus (540-475 BCE) for clues. Check these sites:

Primary source: Click here for the Fragments of Heraclitus

Click here for a site on the presocratic philosophers

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

(PRINT)

Abrams, M. A. (ed.). The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume I. Seventh edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2001

Alexander, Michael. The Earliest English Poems. Baltimore: Penguin Classics, 1969.

Bloom, Harold (ed.). Modern Critical Interpretations: Beowulf. New York: Chelsy House, 1987. (Contains Tolkien's: Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics).

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Gaarder, Jostein. Sophie's World. New York: Berkley Books, 1991.

Gardner, John. Grendel. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Greenfield, Stanley. A Critical History of Old English Literature. New York: New York University Press, 1977.

Nussbaum, Martha. Cultivating Humanity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Wentersdorf, Karl. "The Situation of the Narrator in the Old English WIfe's Lament," Speculum Vol. 56. (July, 1981), pp. 492 ff.

Zesmer. David. Guide to English Literature: From Beowulf Through Chaucer and Medieval Drama. New York; Barnes and Noble, 1965.