Anglo-Saxon Poetry, The Seafarer and The wanderer, The Wife's Lament

Six characteristics of Anglo-Saxon poetry
alliteration, epithets, kennings, understatements, repetition, and caesuras

Define alliteration
the repetition of the 1st consonant sound in a single line of poetry

Define epithets
an adjective only used for describe a certain noun

Define kennings
two nouns to describe one well-known noun

Define understatements
a statement making a scene less than what it is

Define repetition
repeating the same idea multiple times in different ways

Define caesuras
a pause/cut in the middle of the line

9 characteristics of an Anglo-Saxon hero
reflects values of his people, courage in face of doom, avenges friends and family, is a strong leader, risks death for good of society and/or glory, stands out as exceptional, accompanied in fights but fights alone, exhibits superhuman strength, intelligence, or bravery, and is ethical/fair

4 characteristics of Beowulf (book)
contains Christian influences, has Scandinavian setting, is pseudohistorical, and the oldest surviving piece of British Literature

Define flyting
a character who downplays the hero which gives him a chance to brag about themselves

Who is jealous of Beowulf?

What are the 4 books of Anglo-Saxon literature?
Beowulf, Exeter, The Ecclesiastical History of English People, and The Anglo Saxon Chronicles

What is the Exeter Book?
Contains poems and riddles

What is The Ecclesiastical History of English People?
Written by Bede, sat down and wrote the whole book (not commissioned or written later)

What is The Anglo Saxon Chronicles?
Commissioned by Alfred in 4 different cities, first book to be written in english but translated from Latin, is non-fiction b/c it contains events of the real world

Why did people write the books in Latin?
B/c at that time, all the monks knew that language, so it would last

Who is the father of the English language?
Alfred, b/c he switched and encouraged English to be spoken and written down since he realized the significance of that language

Did Anglo-Saxon poetry rhyme?
No, but used caesuras as a rhythmic device

Define vernacular
spoken language of the people

What is the seafarer all about?
– All about a man who is life at the sea

What does the seafarer demonstrate?
– demonstrates anglo saxons believe that human life is determined by word/faith

What is the narrators attitude in the seafarer?
– At the beginning is despair and changes to hopeful

What type of poem is the Seafarer and why?
Lyric Poem because it has rhyme and rythm

evidence of christian belief in the seafarer?
– God
– Heaven
– Angels

What is his message at the end of the poem in the seafarer?
Those who walk with god shall be rewarded

Why does he continue to go out to sea in the seafarer?
Due to Passionate Curiosity

What is the theme of the wanderer?
The pain of homelessness

What type of poem is the wanderer and why?
Elegiac because it is a mournful poem

the wanderer is a circular poem why?
Because what happens in the beginning just ends up most likely ends up happening again at the end

In the wanderer, what is his technique?
Contrast; its raphus and grieving

What does the wanderer seem to miss the most?
– his companion ship

what is alliteration mean?
the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.

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In the seafarer what does wyrd mean?

The quote in the Seafearer ” Soo summer’s sentinel, the cuckoo, sings In this murmuring voice, and our hearts mourn as he urges.

” is an example of what?


What does kenning mean?
– Characteristically related to works in Old English poetry where the author would use a twist of words, figure of speech or magic poetic phrase or a newly created compound sentence or phrase to refer to a person, object, place, action or idea

In the seafarer which three threats would fall?
– Illness or age
– enemy’s sword
– snatching the life from his soul

“When the kingdoms of earth flourished in glory; Now there are no rulers, no emperors, No givers of gold, as once there was” is a senetence example of what?

the sentence “Death leaps at the fools who forget their God” is what type of shift?
From paganism to christianity

Describe the speaker of the wander
– in this poem he has experienced complete collapse in this world
– is a lone cast left to wander in search of a new world

who is sage?
Smart person

what season of the year is the seafarer?

In the seafarer it “How wretched i was, drifting through the winter on an ice-cold sea, whirled in sorrow” is an example of what?

In the seafarer says “the death-noise of birds intead of laughter, The mewing of gulls instead of mead” how does it contrast?
a contrast to show life at sea and life on land


gladly; willingly: He fain would accept.

Archaic. to endure; bear.


joyous, merry, or gay in disposition; glad; cheerful: Everyone loved her for her blithe spirit.

briers,a tangled mass of prickly plants.

to express grief, sorrow, or any overpowering emotion by shedding tears; shed tears; cry: to weep for joy; to weep with rage.

expulsion from one’s native land by authoritative decree.

a condition that is difficult to endure; suffering; deprivation; oppression: a life of hardship.

the manner in which one conducts or carries oneself, including posture and gestures: a man of dignified bearing.

to wet thoroughly; soak.

to reduce to ruin; devastate.

to hold out against; sustain without impairment or yielding; undergo: to endure great financial pressures with equanimity.

grievous distress, affliction, or trouble: His woe was almost beyond description.

strong, persistent desire or craving, especially for something unattainable or distant: filled with longing for home.

traveling, especially on foot.

keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret

feeling or expressing sorrow or grief; sorrowful; sad.

the lair or shelter of a wild animal, especially a predatory mammal.

The speaker in “The Wife’s Lament” says:

A young man always must be serious,
And tough his character; likewise he should
Seem cheerful, even though his heart is sad
With multitude of cares …. (lines 42-45)

What does the woman feel toward the “young man” in this quotation?


When reading Anglo-Saxon poetry, how does recognizing historical context help a reader understand why certain things occur?
It gives the reader clues about the situation in the time period in which it was written.

The purpose of a caesura in a line of Anglo-Saxon poetry is to
indicate a pause for breath.

What initiated the wife’s exile in “The Wife’s Lament”?
a plot by her husband’s kinsmen

What literary characteristics are used in the following quotation from “The Wife’s Lament”?

For since my lord departed from this people
Over the sea / each dawn have I had care /
Wondering where my lord may be on land.


Read this sentence from “The Wife’s Lament”:

Is outcast, far off in a distant land,
Frozen by storms beneath a stormy cliff
And dwelling in some desolate abode
Beside the sea, my weary-hearted lord
Must suffer pitiless anxiety…

What words or phrases help you to recognize the historical context of the line?

my weary-hearted lord

In “The Wife’s Lament,” the wife assumes her husband is now
melancholy, as she is.

lyrical poem that expresses a mourning for someone or something

lyric poem
a poem that expresses emotion
all elegy’s are lyric poems but not all lyric poems are elegy’s

how do caseuras reinforce the meaning of the elegy
weary with winter
everything dies in winter

what does the repeating s and lo sounds reinforce
how LOnley he is

how is the wanderer similar to the wife’s lament
both speakers are alone and exiled due to Anglo Saxon characteristics

how is the wanderer different from the wife’s lament
the speakers are exiled for different reasons

why is the wife’s lament an elegy
the speaker is mourning the loss of her husband in form of separation

why is the wife separated from her husband
her husband’s kinsman plotted against their marriage

what was husband force to choose between
comitatus with family or the bond of matrimony

what was the wife offered as
she was offered in reparation for the death of a tribesman

what does the wife’s lament show about women in the anglo saxon culture
any bond with a man is stronger than a bond with a woman
she has no name and is identified by her relationship to a man

how are women seen in anglo saxon culture (examples through beowulf)
choose monstrous and out of the norm and you are a monster
choose servitude and obedience and you are a queen

what is the imagery in the wife’s lament symbolic of
symbolizes the sorrow of the wife
“forest, earth cave, frozen storms, darkness, coldness”

what is the earth cave symbolic of
it is the wife’s symbolic death
she is dead to her tribe and her husband

what are other women characters in literature that are similar to the wife

what was the first literature of Anglo Saxons

who would tell the riddles
scops that were very revered

how important was the ability to tell a good riddle
as important as being good in battle

why was it this important
way of preserving culture just like winning a war would be

literary devices found in riddles
parallel structure, sound devices, personification, imagery, rhythm, kenning caesura, alliteration

where is the word kenning derived from
to know

compound words that stand for another word
example: flower planter – gardener

break in the middle of a line of poetry
natural pause

how to find a caesura
1. in the first half of the line: two words should alliterate
2. in the 2nd half of the line: one word should alliterate with the first half
example: Hard iron on horse | cow’s hide on man

(Wife’s Lament) Where did her husband go
on an expedition out to sea

(Wife’s Lament) wave-tumult

(Wife’s Lament) why is she sad when exiled
committed life to husband, has no friends

(Wife’s Lament) what used to be the only thing that parted them

(Wife’s Lament) the lady will always bare what
her husband’s anger and a burden

(Wife’s Lament) what does the lady do while in the forest
think about how her other friends are in bed while walking around the oak tree

(Wife’s Lament) while she is awake she is consumed with
sadness until she dies

(Wife’s Lament) how does she want her husband to feel
sorrowful while remembering all the good times, and to never have a wife or children

(Wife’s Lament) wave-tumult (kenning)

(Wife’s Lament) the lady will always bare what?
her husband’s anger and a burden

The woman in “The Wife’s Lament” lives in an exile imposed upon her by her husband and his deceitful relatives. Why has she accepted this way of life? How has this separation affected her actions and beliefs?
Students may use evidence from the text to show that the wife has no choice or that fate has dictated her plight. They should also discuss the wife’s anger, loneliness, and fear.

Explain why “The Wife’s Lament” is an elegy.
Students should note that the wife mourns the loss of her husband, friends, and family. She grieves when her husband first leaves her, and she lives in exile, longing for her loved ones. An elegy is a solemn and formal lyric poem about death. It reflects on the tragic.

In the poem, “The Wife’s Lament,” describe the place where the speaker is forced to live. What words and images emphasize its desolation?
Answers may vary, but might include references to “old earth-cave,” “dark dales,” “sharp hedges” and “overgrown briars.” Joyless.

A fundamental Anglo-Saxon belief is that human life is shaped by fate. How is this belief reflected in “The Wife’s Lament”?
Students may respond that in each case, the subject of the poem accepts what fate has dealt to him or her. In “The Wife’s Lament,” the wife accepts that her husband now hates her and has exiled her, even though she did nothing to deserve this.

What questions do you think remain unanswered in “The Wife’s Lament”?
Why is there a plot to separate the husband and wife?
Where has the husband gone, and why can he not return?
What did she do to earn banishment?
Are they ever reunited?

Most of the poems and stories of the Anglo-Saxon period were passed along by the oral tradition. In an essay, tell how the use of features such as the kenning and caesura may have helped maintain this oral tradition.
Students may respond that the use of kennings provides interesting descriptions that are easy to remember and repeat. The caesura helps establish the rhythm, as well as providing a natural pause.

In “The Wife’s Lament,” What conflicting feelings does the wife have about her husband?
Answers may vary, but might include a discussion about the wife’s love and loyalty to her husband in conflict with her grief that he is gone and the hardships she faces because he is gone.

Re-read lines 1-29 of “The Wife’s Lament.” What events led to the speaker’s banishment to the forest grove?
Answers may vary, but in general she describes a plot to keep her separate from her husband. She is living in a land where she has few friends, and is sent to live in the grove by her husband’s enemies.

What insights does the poem “The Wife’s Lament” give you into Anglo-Saxon bonds of kinship, the importance of loyalty, and the role of women?

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Anglo-Saxon Poetry, The Seafarer and The wanderer, The Wife's Lament. (2017, Dec 04). Retrieved from

Anglo-Saxon Poetry, The Seafarer and The wanderer, The Wife's Lament
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