Nostalgia in Anglo-Saxon Elegies

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  • Topic: Elegy, Present, Wanderer
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  • Published : May 1, 2013
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Yennadim Medina

The Wanderer and The Wife’s Lament: Nostalgia in Anglo-Saxon Elegies.

Whenever we read an Anglo-Saxon elegy, we may notice a feeling of sentimental longing for a better past, which is portrayed by the poet. This feeling is called nostalgia, and it is present in many –if not all- early English poems, specially in Anglo-Saxon elegy, and it is often used in order to convey the ideas of belong to nowhere and having nobody to rely on are worse than death itself. This belonging is related to the love of home and country that early inhabitants felt and with their allegiance towards their chief, the lord o ring-giver. So an Anglo-Saxon poet would write about his feelings and thoughts about being isolated and banished from, which may provoke a sense of sorrow and despair due to the lack of a place in the world and the loss of reliable friends. Nostalgia is a feeling somebody may have in a present moment, and it refers to how much we miss past events, in which the persona poetica was involved in his culture, where he belonged and where he had a function. When the lyrical “I” loses his world, because of exile, banishment or war, he also loses his place and function in the world, he becomes nothing. So he starts wandering within the world in order to find a new place, a new gold-giver, a new commitatus to belong to. As we can see in The Wanderer, the second voice in this elegy, tell us that he has no friends, there is no lord who can help him or give him advice, but still in the way to find somebody new.

In the lines above, we find elements that help the persona poetica to convey its nostalgic feelings through words that create a sense of stormy darkness and harshness, contrasted to expressions that may be read as statements of willingness and anxiety for finding a new place to belong to and a new lord. For instance, “Ploughed the icy waves with the winter in my heart” is a hyperbolic metaphor that strongly shows the wanderer’s feelings of being alone and sad, and how he sees and perceives the world that surrounds him. But immediately bellow in the poem, a reader will find that, even though his sorrow, the wanderer is willing to become a seafarer and to self-banish himself from his “…own dear country…” in order to find the mead-hall of a another lord, as seen in lines 25 and 26. The fact that this man has become a sea-farer is deeply connected to the relationship that British forefathers had with the sea, and the mood and themes of the elegies are pretty close to this in terms of terror and loneliness. These last ones are caused by the nature of the sea, which was the path Vikings, Teutonic, and Romans had to pass in order to arrive at the island. This is the inheritance these peoples had brought to their descendants and that are conveyed in the early English poetry. According to this, the mood the persona poetica adopted and the imagery that is present along the elegy is natural and justified. The themes of loss, nostalgia and seafaring were the current problems that affected their daily life. One of the things that may draw readers’ attention in “The Wanderer” is the use of nature imagery to reinforce the action of weather and its relationship with the feelings of the lyrical “I”. As seen throughout the quotation above, the persona poetica draws upon words like “icy waves”, “the winter in my heart” according, not only to his gloom, but also to heighten the hard times that he is going through. This harsh moment seems to be worse due to the hyperbolic and dark description of the context, and, actually, it helps in the labor of making the past look better and more longed, as a golden age. In other words, the treatment of the environment conveys images of desolation and sadness that are perfect for the mood and for the theme of elegies, which are, as said before, nostalgia and loss.

Throughout these lines, it is...
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