The Role of Weather in the Wanderer
The weather in “The Wanderer” is reflective of the author’s view of the world following his exile. Throughout the poem, weather is utilized in an effort to paint a picture as wretched and sorrowful as the persona’s view of life. As I read through the elegy, my initial thought was that man was in conflict with nature; however, I now believe weather to be a means through which the poet conveys his thoughts in response to his woes.
In the beginning of the poem, it is revealed that the “one alone” must “stir with his hands the frost-cold sea” as punishment for past transgressions (1,4). This sensory language immediately creates an unpleasant scene that appeals to the senses: exiled, the Wanderer is forced to row through wintry waves using only his bare hands. In search of a new lord, the “ice-locked waves” are problematic for the banished Wanderer as he has no means to shield himself from the unforgiving bite of winter, just as he has no Lord to shield him from harm (24). Mother Nature shows no mercy to the scorned warrior, unleashing the full force of her frigid arsenal. Initially, I labeled this harsh weather as the Wanderer’s main problem, but I concluded that, instead, the source of his strife is his exile. The frigid, prison-like sea and unforgiving hail storms are merely consequences that help the reader imagine and envision the “winter-sad” mental state of the Wanderer (24).
As the poem progresses, the poet explores the Wanderer’s heavy heart, which is deeply scarred and wounded. The persona often dreams of belonging to a lord again, but is always deeply disappointed to awaken only to the vast and barren sea before him. These reveries offer only a temporary source of solace. As the waves roll, the Wanderer sees seabirds spreading their wings, taking flight, and escaping the gelid grip of the whale-road, a sharp contrast to the imprisoned state of the persona. The fluttering fowls are easily able to shake off the falling frost, snow, and hail that afflict the exiled Wanderer, once again, creating a deep fissure that differentiates between those able to escape the sea and those imprisoned by it. Trapped by a wintry blanket, the Wanderer dwells in “middle-earth,” which “droops and decays every single day” (64-65). This portion of the poem ends, offering the reader a semblance of hope. Perhaps, the daunting journey of the exiled is not futile. The poet states that before a man can become wise, he must weather “his share of winters in this world” (65).
In the poem, wisdom is measured by the number of winters that one has weathered, and the Wanderer has certainly endured his share of woeful weather. At a surface level, this can be interpreted as age acquiring wisdom; the longer one lives, the more prudent he becomes. However, diving deeper, weathering winters could be a euphemism for overcoming trials and tribulations. The Wanderer has endured harsh agonies such as burying nearly everyone he has ever loved and living out the rest of his days in exile. While these tribulations are not ideal, they are his teachers, not solely his torment. Simply put, the poem stresses the importance of the adage that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” A shift occurs regarding weather as the poem advances. Instead of simply describing situations, weather begins to directly shape the world. Buildings that have been “beaten by frost” will crumble and walls will be “blasted by wind” (76-77). Interpreting these violent forces of nature as representing problems one might face in the world, the poet paints a picture of inevitability. Similar to potential trials, the “howl of winter” and “harsh hailstones” are uncontrollable and affect both the exiled man and “the old works of giants” (86, 103-105). This shared endurance illustrates the ubiquitous nature of hardships; no one is excused and no one is immune. It would be easy to label weather in this work as the root of the problem. However, the continued implementation of the forces of nature serve a greater purpose.
Nature appeals not only to the senses of the reader, but also represents the trials and tribulations that mankind faces and endures, and the physical and emotional isolation faced by the Wanderer. The use of wintry weather is often reflective of the mindset of the poet. The Wanderer sees the world as barren and malevolent, and by using descriptors such as deathly falling frost and mighty snow storms, a chilling image is produced that is barren and desolate. This theocratic viewpoint of the “ubi sunt” verse transcends the specific situation of the exiled Wanderer, and offers a universal and timeless lesson still relevant to readers today.
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The weather in “The Wanderer” is reflective of the author’s view of the world following his exile. Throughout the poem, weather is utilized in an effort to paint a picture […]