The Wanderer

Translation of the Old English poem The Wanderer.

German Romantic painting The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, which, though unrelated to the poem, is eerily similar in its aesthetic.

Often the outcast
awaits his grace,
the Lord’s mercy,
though he, sorrow-minded,
must turn his oars
along the waters,
wade the path of exile.
Fate goes always as it must!

So spoke the earth-stepper,
mindful of his misfortunes,
of wrathful slaughter,
the death of his comrades:

Often in the morning,
I had to discuss
my every trouble alone.
There is no one living
that I dare open my innermost thought to.
Truly I know
that it ought to be among men,
the noble custom,
where one secures the chest of his spirit,
hordes his treasure case,
thinks and speaks freely.
The weary spirit cannot
withstand fate,
nor does the bitter mind
help do any good.
So the glory-yearning
often lock away their dreary
thoughts in their breast-coffins.
So I,
often wretched
and besorrowed,
have had to seal away
my thoughts from kinsmen,
since, long ago,
I sealed my lord
in the darkness of the earth
and from there travelled
winter-minded
over the frozen waves,
sought, hall-lacking,
a treasure-giver,
wherever far or near
I might find someone
in the meadhall
who knew me,
or was willing to console
me, the friendless one,
wow me with wonders.

He who has known it understands
how cruel sorrow is as a companion
for the one who has
few beloved friends.
Exile wraps him,
not rings of gold,
a frozen spirit,
not the prosperity of the earth.
He remembers hall-warriors
and ring-givers,
how his gold-giver
treated him to feasting
in his youth.
How all that joy has died!
And so he knows this,
he who must for a long time
forgo the counsel of his
dear lord,
when sorrow and sleep together
wrap him up and bind him.
He dreams in his head
that he hugs and kisses
his lord,
and on his lord’s knee
lie his hand and head,
just as he, at times
in days gone by,
enjoyed the gift throne.
Then he wakes back up
a lordless man,
he sees before him
dusky waves,
sea birds bathing,
pruning their feathers,
frost and snow falling,
mixed in with hail.
Then are that much heavier
the wounds of his heart,
grieving after his lord.
His sorrow is renewed
when his mind happens upon
the memory of his kinsmen.
He greets them with joy,
eagerly looks over
the gathering of men -
but they always swim away.
The journey of sailors
never brings back many
known stories.
Grief is renewed
for him who must
always send his
weary heart
over the binding of the waves.

Therefore I can’t think
why my heart does not
darken when I reflect
on all the lives of men
throughout this world,
how they suddenly
left the hall floor,
those proud thanes.
So each day this Middle Earth
crumbles and decays.
Therefore a man cannot become
wise before he has a share
of winters in the world.
A wise man must be patient,
must not be too reckless,
nor too word-hasty
nor too weak a warrior,
nor too rash,
neither too fearful nor cheerful,
nor too greedy of goods,
and never too eager for boasting
before he truly understands.
A man must wait
when he speaks oaths
until the bold one
truly knows
where his heart’s intent
will turn.
A wise hero must realize
how ghastly it will be
when all the wealth of this world
lies waste,
as now in various places
around this earth,
walls stand
blown by wind,
covered in snow,
storm-wrecked ruins.
The halls decay,
their leader lies dead,
deprived of joy.
The whole troop
has proudly fallen by the wall.
Some war took them,
carried them on their way.
One, a bird snatched off
over the deep sea.
Another, the grey wolf
tore apart after his death.
Another, buried
dreary-faced
in his grave.
And so He destroyed this place,
the Creator of men,
until missing the noise
of its residents,
the old work of giants
stood idle.

He who wisely reflected
on this ruin,
and deeply pondered
this dark life,
wise in experience,
distantly remembered
much slaying,
and spoke these words:

Where is the horse? Where is the rider?
Where is the treasure-giver?
Where are the hall’s joys?
Alas, the bright cups!
Alas, the warrior in mail!
How that time has departed,
dark under night’s helm,
as if it never were.
Now stands as a trace of
the dear warband
a wonderously high wall,
snakingly woven.
The warriors have been snatched away
by the honor of spears,
slaughter-seeking weapons,
that famous fate,
and storms clash against
these stone cliffs,
falling frost
grips the earth,
the clamor of winter.
Then darkness comes;
night’s shadow deepens.
From the north approaches
a rough hail storm,
hostile to men.
All is troubled
in this earthly kingdom,
the tide of fate
turns the world under the heavens.
Here is wealth fleeting.
Here are companions fleeting.
Here is man himself fleeting.
Here is kinsman fleeting.
Every foundation of this world
becomes void and vain.

So spoke the wise one in his mind.
He sat apart in thought.
Good is he who holds onto his faith,
and a warrior must never speak
the grievances of his heart too quickly,
unless he already knows the cure.
A hero must act with conviction.
Good is he who seeks mercy,
the Father’s grace in Heaven,
where permanence stands for us all.

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Will Merrill
Research Resident

My research interests incorporate computational linguistics, theoretical computer science, and machine learning.