The Wife’s Lament

by strassur

The Wife’s Lament is a poem of exile and suffering that is believed to be narrated by a female, or as the title suggests, a wife. The sex of the narrator is believed to be female because of the reference to “my lord” which according to our text, the Old English pronouns have grammatical gender and refer to “my lord” as a husband. She initially talks about her husband leaving his people after a dispute, then causing her to leave in a “friendless exile” (9). She then talks about hearing that her husband is also down on his luck, or exiled, as a result of murder, which weighs heavy on his heart. The remainder of the poem talks about how powerful and enjoyable her marriage was, and how now in the absence of him, it feels cruel and uncomfortable.

What’s interesting about this poem is in the beginning, the narrator talks about the exile, then explains how she misses her husband and the affect his absence has on her. What follows is what sparks questions. She then begins to teach the reader how to deal with his situation and advises to essentially stay positive. “If ever anyone should feel anguish, harsh pain at heart, she should put on a happy appearance while enduring endless sorrows” (42-45). Being in exile, the narrator has had time to reflect and create alternate solutions to the problems she faced that resulted in her banishment. It almost feels as though medieval exile was a permanent form of our modern “time out” system we may use with small children.

Do you believe exile was used so the community would never have to deal with the subject again, or a long term method that forced the subject to nearly experience the stages of grief and ultimately see the errors of their ways?


Works Cited:

“The Wife’s Lament.” Trans. Alfred David The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A: The Middle Ages. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2012. 120-122. Print

The Norton Anthology of English Literature (Ninth Edition) (Vol. Package 1: Volumes A, B, C)