The Wanderer

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The Wanderer

The Wanderer is an Old English poem preserved only in an anthology known as the Exeter Book. It counts 115 lines of alliterative verse. As often the case in Anglo Saxon verse, the composer and compiler are anonymous, and within the manuscript the poem is untitled. "The Wanderer" is a poem written in Old English, the language that the people living in England spoke before the Norman Conquest of 1066. After the Conquest, the Latin-based language of the French-speaking conquerors mixed with the Germanic Old English, eventually leading to the weird, wonderful soup of Latin and Germanic features that makes up modern English. What this means for "The Wanderer" is that even though it's technically written in English, it doesn't look anything like the English we speak today. In fact, most people don't even read it in the original. "The Wanderer" has been preserved in the Exeter Book, the biggest manuscript collection of Old English poetry in existence. Scribes copied poems into the Exeter Book some time during the 10th century. That doesn't mean, however, that "The Wanderer" was written in the 10th century. It's more likely that the poem was passed down orally from generation to generation. Bards might have sung or recited it to crowds of warriors as they ate and drank, or gathered for other social occasions. To your average Anglo-Saxon, nothing said "party" like the recitation of a poem like "The Wanderer." Some say you can find traces of the poem's oral composition in the text, like repeated language patterns and themes that might have helped a bard to remember it, or even compose one on the spot. The metre of the poem is of four-stress lines, divided between the second and third stresses by a caesura. Each caesura is indicated in the manuscript by a subtle increase in character spacing and with full stops, but modern print editions render them in a more obvious fashion. Like most Old English poetry, it is written in alliterative metre. "The Wanderer"...
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