The Wife's Lament

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The Wife’s Lament is a poem that is well known as an Anglo Saxon elegy, although to this day, it is still challenged by some scholars to be, in fact, a riddle. The Wife’s Lament is an elegy that tells the story of a female narrator mourning for her husband, and she is reflecting on her great loss. The poem shares the same characteristics with those of an elegy, which include the passing of time, pain, exile, separation and longing. This Anglo Saxon poem has also been characterized as a riddle, where the narrator displays an element of mystery in her writing.

Most Anglo-Saxon elegies are monologues spoken by an unidentified character that appears to be cut off from human society as well as the comforts of home and friendship, and are consistent with the tone of longing and reminiscing for what was lost. In The Wife’s Lament, the dominant theme is the narrator lamenting for her lost or absent lover. She is reminiscing about the better life she had once known compared to the present life she is barely tolerating. “...I have had to suffer since I first grew up, Present and past, but never more than now –” (The Wife’s Lament, lines 3-4). Throughout the poem, we the reader are experiencing the narrator’s ache of absence and longing. Her husband has left her, for reasons unknown, but the wife supposes he too is wishing for the better life they had once shared. “And all too often he will come to mind A happier dwelling. Grief must always be For him who yearning longs for his beloved –” (The Wife’s Lament, lines 53-55). Stanley B. Greenfield, a well-known literary scholar, believes the Old English elegy to be defined as “a relatively short reflective or dramatic poem embodying a contrasting pattern of loss and consolation, ostensibly based upon a specific personal experience or observation, and expressing an attitude towards that experience” (Klees, Research Paper). The narrator experiences the pattern of loss when she is separated from her lover, but she receives no...
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