Short Analysis on “The Wanderer”


On Monday, my primary focus was getting the kids ready for their first day back at school. I organized the arts-n-crafts drawers, put back-to-school supplies in their backpacks, decorated their lunch bags, and set out their clothes. My next focus was an editing job I needed to finish. The house was full that day, and one of the kids was extra testy.

All things considered, I finally began my homework (due the next morning) at about 10 pm. After reading a few short stories and poems, I wrote the following analysis. (In other words, blame the scattered thoughts thrown together on the late hour and weary mind.)

I got it back on Thursday from the English professor, with an 80%. He said it was a marked improvement from my previous short analysis (for which I got 70%) and that I need to delve into the poem more and expound on my analysis. I didn’t tell him how mortified I am at my grades in his class thus far. Grades aren’t everything (although something in me is shouting out, “Yes they are” and I’m telling that something to please be quiet so I can hear myself think enough to write something relatively cohesive here).

I’ve actually never gotten a final class grade lower than an “A” and although I know there’s gotta be a first time for everything (and a friend on FB told me I should be shot on the sole basis of my GPA), I’m hoping that this won’t be the first time. A “B” or “C” in English for an English major? Definitely not acceptable. But I’m rambling.

Here it is, my too-short short analysis on “The Wanderer”:

Reading “The Wanderer,” a phrase that comes to mind is that of another poem in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books: “Not all who wander are lost.” This epic poem sets the character in the midst of nowhere; the ocean surrounds him on every side. He is alone, and throughout the poem, his loneliness is his only companion – a fact that brings him great sorrow and seems to take him almost to the point of insanity time and again, where he remembers fondly friends and feats and almost sees them there before him, yet with the break of day on the lonely sea, the images disappear in the fading mist:

“Then through his mind pass memories of kinsmen

joyfully he greets them, eagerly gazes

his fellow warriors, the floating spirits / fade on their way” (ll 51-54).

It is clear that “The Wanderer” is on a journey to which he sees no soon end, a journey where at times it seems he scarce remembers its beginning. He laments at length, remembering days gone by, heroic deeds performed by even more heroic men. Even his surroundings – endless sea – bring to mind a cold, gray sky that blend at the horizon with colorless waves. Although he states that he is wont to keep his sorrows and heartache deep inside, it is apparent his extreme mental struggle and the fight within himself to maintain both sanity and hope.

We read how, “Often the lone-dweller longs for relief /the Almighty’s mercy, though melancholy / his hands turning time and again / the ocean’s currents, the ice-cold seas” (ll 1-4), and are struck by the contrast, even at the beginning of the poem, of the wanderer’s belief system and his current situation. The tension grows. Which mindset will prevail? Will he give in to the hopelessness that surrounds him? Will his wanderings prove vain in the end? Or will he find an inner strength that will buoy his spirit in the midst of the drab ocean waves?

Time and again, this contrast between faith and fact is brought to the fore, even to where near the end of the poem, he speaks of what appears to be almost the end of time, yet he refers to it in past tense: “Mankind’s Creator laid waste this middle-earth / till the clamor of city-dwellers ceased to be heard / and ancient works of giants stood empty” (ll 85-87). As readers, we are brought low by his hopeless and barren descriptions.

Yet the writer ends the poem with hope, though distant, saying, “All shall be well for him who seeks grace / help from our Father in heaven where a fortress stands for us all” (ll 114-115). Like the waves of the sea, the poem tosses us back and forth, between despair and hope, yet through it we get the overall picture that, though he – the character – wanders, he is not lost.

This poem – alive with analogies and a message that obviously confirms the belief system of the writer – conveys significance similar to that of J. R. R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings:

All that is gold does not glitter

Not all those who wander are lost

The old that is strong does not wither

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken

A light from the shadows shall spring

Renewed shall be blade that was broken

The crownless again shall be king.” 

Both poems speak of a hope that does not die, in the dead of winter or in the midst of stormy seas.

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