What Makes Anglo Saxon Lyrical And Elegiac Poem So Addictive That You Never Want To Miss One?

 An elegy means a poem of mourning or song of lamentation. We find them in origin both in Greek literature and in Latin. However, term 'elegy' was at first appeared to all kinds of poetry written in a particular metre, called  elegiac metre. The subject of an elegy as such could then be anything tragic, comic, serious, sad or sentimental. But subsequently the scope of elegy become confined and the name was applied to the specific kind of poem of moaning or the song of lamentation. An elegy is now supposed to have these features: - Reflective, pensiveness and subjectivity.
Anglo Saxon has either a heroic theme or of lyrical learning. But among these lyrical poems the exception is Widsith.
 Widsith: It is preserved in The Exeter Book. 'Widsith’ means ‘The far-goer’. It is a poem of 143 lines divided into three Parts –                
(A) A prologue – first few lines.
(B) A speech by Widsith – next 125 lines. 
 (C)En Epilogue – last few lines.
It is the autobiography of an interment minstrel who recounts the story of his long travels through the old Germanic world. During his tour he visited different tribal chiefs, lords, kings and princes and received rich presents, some of them are well known to History as Ecermanie, kings of Goths, Attila king of Hauns, Albion king of the Lombard, Theodoric, king of Franks and even the reference of Hrothgovr and Hrothwulf.

It is a valuable source of social and historical documents of primitive life. “What strikes us most forcibly is its catholicity, praise, is meted out imperative to Huns, Goths, Burgandiano, Franks, Danes, Swedes, and Angles, Wends, Saxon and Many others.”(Albert)



In the concept of the elegiac Note – The Ruin or the Ruin Burg appears most outstanding. The unknown poet of The Ruin laments impulsiveness over the sad decay of the cities of Bath, for the loss of its pomp and splender, crowd and noise, attraction and business. The elegy ends with a plaintive note of reflection on the unkindness of fate to that which once was so grand and prosperous. It mourns not misfortune of a person, but of a place, not for the death of a person loved, but for the ruin of a place that has nostalgic vain.

Its significance is noted in several ways, it is a impressive elegy, and echoes the modern elegiac note that muses on the way of the world its tragedy .In this respect, it may rightly be taken as the most primitive predecessor of Grey's elegy




The Wife’s Complaint: - It is a kind of monologue. It is an elegy in which the young wife mourns for her unjust separation from her beloved husband. The poem is impulsive and pensive. A personal note rings throughout the poem, and the warmth of passion is warbling in the poet’s feelings and expression.

The Husband's Message: - In The Husband's Message, the poet describes the message of the husband engraved on wooden tablets, which is forwarded to the beloved women like – The wife’s Complaints. This poem too bears an unpretentious and sincere feeling and a warm passion. These two poems are regarded as the earliest instances of the English love poetry.

Deor’s Lament :- In Doer’s Lament we have another picture of the Saxon minstrel, but not in glad wandering but  mainly in sorrow. It is an elegy of 42 lines. Once Deor was the favour of a lord. But his position has been supplanted by a dismissal. It is lyrical in form and may be called the first English lyric. It is much poetry than Widsith and in a perfect lyric of the Anglo – Saxon period.

The Wandered: - It is an elegy of 115 Lines by an unknown Anglo Saxon poet. It is the Lamentation of a young man for his dead master. The wanderer travels in a ship alone and friendless, seeking a home for peace and protection under a new lord. In the sleep he dreams the happiness of his former days but after awaking he finds nothing. But waves and tides now add to his distress. Finally, he draws the conclusion that miseries are the common lot of man. The poem ends with a conventional Christian sentimental that good is the man who never loses his faith to God.

Wulf and Eadwacer:- Wulf and Eadwacer is one of the most enigmatic and truly great poems in the Old English poems, since the story it alludes to is not known to us. The poem appeared in the Exeter Book, written no later than around 990 AD. It has given rise to many theories, of which perhaps the most widely credited is that the speaker is being held prisoner on an island by Eadwacer, while Wulf (narrator's lover or husband) is in exile, perhaps being hunted by the speaker's people. It is a bittersweet saga of love and perhaps rape and betrayal. This ancient poem has been characterized as a woman's complain song. It may be the first extant poem authored by a woman in the fledgling English language, voicing feminism.  

The Seafarer: - It is a poem of some hundred lines. It is different to surmise whether the poem is a monologue of a seaman or a dialogue between two Sailors – one old and another young. It seems to be in two distinct parts – the first part – the hardship of ocean life but the subtle call of the sea is more alluring. The second part allegorically represents that the troubles of the sea are the troubles of earthly life and the call of the ocean is the call in the soul to go to its true some with God. The somber and violent pictures it gives of northern seas in which sufferings from cold mingle with the pains of water and wind is most artistic. 


Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert     
     2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta