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THE BANISHED WIPE'S LAMENT 

The company of ladies in Anglo-Saxon poetry is not a large 
one. If Judith, Elene, and other heroines from foreign lands are 
left out of consideration, their number is small indeed. This is 
of course due in large measure to the fact that a relatively small 
amount of poetry based upon Germanic themes has been preserved. 
If woman plays a minor part in Beowulf, one of the Waldhere 
fragments gives a hint that the case may have been otherwise in 
some of the epic material that has perished. It is doubtful if the 
dramatic intensity of such figures as Brunnhild or Gudrun in the 
poetic Edda would have been paralleled in the less impassioned 
West Germanic verse, but it seems likely that the emotions of 
women would have interested poets who could depict so graphically 
the feelings of men like the Wanderer or the Seafarer. And 
there are, as is well known, illustrations of this interest in the 
woman's point of view in the Anglo-Saxon lyrics. The most con- 
spicuous of these illustrations is the poem generally known as the 
Banished Wife's Lament} Here the whole emphasis is thrown 
upon the element of love. Oppressed by profound grief, the wife 
briefly reviews her unhappy career, bewails her present desolate 
situation, and ends with a cry of despair surprisingly modern in its 
intensity. 

The piece is an uniisually significant one. Its sustained pas- 
sion, its well-rounded form, and its vivid portrayal of a dramatic 
situation give it an important place in Anglo-Saxon poetry. Like 
so much of the minor verse, however, it is far from being easy of 
comprehension. There is much in the language which offers 
difficulty, and the larger questions of the interpretation of the 
whole, and its possible connection with incidents of heroic saga, 
are not easily disposed of. The lady has succeeded in throwing 
over her tale something of the obscurity of her gloomy abode in 
the forest. As to her present unhappy condition there can be no 
doubt, but her lamentations give no very clear idea of the series of 

iQr Complaint. Grein-Wdlker, " Klagre der Frau," BibliotTiek der ags. Poesie, Vol. I, pp. 
302 S. 
387] 1 [MoDEEN Philology, January, 190* 



2 William Witheele Lawbence 

distressful strokes in her past history. There is, then, in addition 
to the literary merit of the piece, all the fascination of a problem, 
or a series of problems, and scholars have not failed to attack these 
with energy and patience. But the results of these investigations 
have often been radically dissimilar. Indeed, a review of critical 
opinion from the beginning shows a considerable lack of unanimity 
all along the line, and confirms the impression that the last word 
about the poem has not yet been spoken.' 

The purpose of the following notes is to call attention to the 
translation of certain passages which appear to have been generally 
misunderstood, and to consider the probable explanation of the 
whole situation, which is only vaguely outlined in the poem. For 
the sake of brevity, detailed references to the work of previous 
investigators have generally been omitted, excepting where a 
special examination of their theories seems profitable. 

Our first duty appears to be the rehabilitation of the character 
of the husband of the unfortunate lady. True, she says that he 
has banished her into the woods, but this is a matter in which she 
may have been deceived, as we shall see. It is more important to 
look at the passage following, in which she is held to accuse him 
of treacherously masking murderous thoughts under the pretense 
of friendliness — as Trautmann puts it — "die verse .... in 
denen die frau bejammert einen seine gedanken verhehlenden und 
auf mord sinnenden gemahl gefunden zu haben."^ 

ForPon is mm hyge geomor, 

8a ic me ful gemeecne monnan funde, 

heardsasligne, hygegeomorne, 
20 mod mipendne, morpor hycgend(n)e, 

blipe geb»ro. Ful oft wit beotedan 

Peet unc ne gedielde nemne dea5 ana 

owiht elles; eft is Peet onhworfen! 

is nu swa hit no waere, 
25 freondscipe uncer.' 

Do not the characteristics set forth in 11. 19-21 explain the 

1 For a review of critical opinion, see WUlker, Grundriss der ags. Litteratur^ pp. Z2A-^ ; 
Schfloking, Zettschrift f. deutsches Alterthum, Vol. XLVIII, pp. 436 fl. 

'^Anglia, Vol. XVI, p. 223. Miss Edith Kickert, Modem Philology, Vol. II, p. 366, n. 4, 
gives a similar meaning to the passage. See also Boeder, loc, cit., below. 

3 The text is that of the Qrein-Wfllker Bibliothek, with the addition of the vowel- 
qnantities, and some changes in punctuation. 

388 



The Banished Wife's Lament 3 

phrase /mZ gemcecneP And are they not virtues, at least according 
to Anglo-Saxon conceptions, and not the reverse? The correct 
translation would, I believe, run something as follows: "And so 
my heart is sad, since I (had) found a man well suited to me, one 
who had experienced misfortune, serious-minded, concealing his 
feelings, mindful of death, of pleasant demeanor." The husband 
was congenial in the first place, because he had, like her, known 
misfortune. Trouble has been her companion since her youth 
(11. 2-4), and the man who also had known the uses of adversity 
might well be in sympathy with her. The adjective hygegeomor 
seems to describe the effect of misfortune upon the character of 
the man — "sad (or, more probably, serious) of thought." 

This word hygegeomor, as well as the rest of the passage, can 
perhaps best be explained in connection with 11. 42-45. 

A scyle geong mon wesan geomormod, 
heard heortan gel^oht, swylce habban sceal 
blipe gebeero, eac Van. breostceare, 
sinsorgna gedreag. 

Leaving the interpretation of 11. 17-21 for a moment, let us 
consider the meaning of this section of the poem. Here, too, 
I believe that critics have been astray. Roeder,' for example, 
understands this and what follows as a series of imprecations; 
here "ruft die Frau Verwflnschungen herab" upon a nameless 
young man who is involved in an intrigue which has caused the 
separation of husband and wife. There appears to be no reason 
for introducing a third person into the story. The main thing to 
notice at present is that the lines are only a series of reflections 
of a general character — one of those moralizing incursions into 
poetry of which the Anglo-Saxons were so fond. " Ever ought a 
young man to be serious of mind, steadfast the thoughts of his 
heart, (he should have) a pleasant demeanor as well, also care, 
the weight of constant anxiety." This train of thought, although 
beginning in the conventional, abstract manner, is obviously 
suggested by the man whom the lady has ever in mind, the man 
of whom she speaks openly again in 11. 476 ff., her husband. 

1 For Roeder's interesting and ingenious, though unconvincing interpretation, see his 
monograph, "Die Familie bei den Angelsachsen," in Morsbach's Studien zur engl, Fhilo- 
logic. No. 4, pp. 112-19. 

389 



4 William Witheele Lawrence 

It is unnecessary to emphasize the fact that Anglo-Saxon poets 
frequently turn aside from the matter in hand, both in the epic 
and the lyric, to introduce moral reflections suggested by the 
situation. The Wanderer forgets his personal misfortunes for a 
time, and reviews at some length the characteristics which should 
distinguish a prudent man.' The Seafarer affords a curious 
parallel, in a didactic passage,^ to the use of the two forms sceal 
and scyle in the lines above. In Old Norse the passion for 
pointing a moral is fully as strong. In the Sigrdrifumdl, for 
instance, Sigrdrifa (Brunnhild), after having been awakened by 
Sigurd on the fire-encircled mountain, proceeds to reward the hero 
with a series of moral precepts. In the Hgvamdl this material 
constitutes the chief interest. The considerable amount of gnomic 
verse in Anglo-Saxon affords many parallels to the passage under 
discussion. Consider the word geomormod. One virtue frequently 
emphasized was a proper realization of the serious future. A 
young man ought to have his mind on other than trivial subjects. 
The wise father instructs his son; 

Seldan snottor guma sorgleas blissaS, 

swylce dol seldon drymeS sorgf ul 

ymb his forBgesceaft, nefne he fsehpe wite.' 

The upshot of this clearly is that the wise man seldom gives 
himself up to unrestrained joy — it is not well to be sorgleas, 
constant seriousness is desirable; while the foolish man is seldom 
plunged into gloomy thoughts about the future, unless he is in 
some present trouble. The condition of the world, the transi- 
tory character of human things, dwelt upon by the Wanderer and 
the Seafarer, go to make a man's disposition sober. 

For Pon ic gepencan ne maeg geond pas woruld 
for hwan modsefa mm ne gesweorce,* 

is the cry. I take geomormod, then, to express this due sense 
of the seriousness of life, and hygegeomorne to have a similar 
meaning. Compare the Elizabethan word sad. Breostceare and 
sinsorgna gedreag form poetic repetitions of geomormod. After 
the caution that a young man should be of cheerful exterior, the 

ILL 65ff.. 2L1. 109ff. 

3 " Des VaterB Lehren," Qrein-WUlker Sibliothek, p. 355, 11. 54-56. 

* Wanderer, a. iSf. 

390 



The Banished Wife's Lament 5 

moralizer hastens again to drive home the main lesson. Yet it 
was none the less a virtue to be amiable. The wise father, in the 
course of his moral instructions, utters the warning: "ac beo 
leofwende!"' Evidently a seriousness which manifested itself 
in a gloomy demeanor was as much of a mistake as frivolity. 

We shall take up this passage again later, in connection with 
what follows. It will be noticed that the parallelism to 11. 17 ff. 
is striking. In those the lady grieves that she has had to lose a 
man who was serious, self-restrained, and prepared for calamity, 
yet cheerful. The same phrase, hllpe gebcero, occurs in each 
passage, and hygegeomor is much like geomormod. 

Let us now consider 1. 20, 7ndd mipendne, morpor hycgend{n)e. 
The wise man keeps his thoughts to himself, which is the virtue 
brought out in mod mipendne. The father's instructions, from 
which quotations have already been made, are again in point: 

Waerwyrde sceal wisfsest hsele 
breostum hyegan, nales breahtme hlud.^ 

The Bos worth -Toller lexicon renders the unusual word wcer- 
wyrde "cautious of speech." The general sense is in any case 
plain. The Wanderer, too, offers a good parallel: 

Ic to sofie wat 
paet bip in eorle indryhten Peaw 
paet he his ferSlocan fseste binde, 
healde his hordcofan, hycge swa he wille.' 

Other citations are hardly necessary. The phrase morpor hyc- 
gendne, however, requires more attention. I believe it may have 
been universally misunderstood in this passage. I take it to 
mean "meditating upon death," and not "brooding over murder," 
mord sinnend (Roeder).* The similarity of certain Anglo-Saxon 
words to their representatives in modern English and German 
occasionally blinds us to differences in their meaning. "Murder" 
means nowadays "intentional and unlawful homicide."^ But the 
use of the term morpor in early days was much less specialized. 
It meant, apparently, any kind of violent death. Its use in 

1 L. 92. 2 Ll. 57, 58. a LI. 11-14. 

**' Wir bekommen nicht zu wissen, welche Rftnke die Sippe des Mannes Hbte. SoUte 
• sie ihn vielleicht zu einem Morde angestiftet oder ihn so gereizt haben, dass er einen Ange< 
hOrigen seines eigenen Geschlechts erschlug ? " Boeder, p. Hi. 
5 Webster's Intertiational Dictionary. 

391 



6 William Witheele Lawkence 

^eoicwZ/ illustrates perfectly the fact that the modern word "mur- 
der" will not always serve as a translation. Grendel is spoken of 
(1. 683) as morpres scyldig, although killed in a fair fight. The 
purely accidental slaying of Herebeald by Haethcyn is referred 
to thus: 

Wses pam yldestan ungedefelice 

maeges d^dum morpor-bed stred.' 

The citations which have already been given h propos of the word 
geomormod are again in point here. Meditation upon one's 
latter end cannot fail to induce seriousness. Nothing in the 
text justifies giving an adversative meaning to blipe gebcero, and 
translating "holding murder in his thoughts, yet so blithe of 
bearing," as Stopford Brooke does.^ Of course the rendering 
"murder" is not absolutely impossible, since that was one of the 
ways to meet a violent end. But the word as it stands is not so 
specialized in meaning, and unless something hitherto undis- 
covered is revealed in the context to justify that rendering, it 
gives a false impression of the passage. In days when a man was 
as constantly beset by peril as he was in the eighth century, it 
was well to have the possibility of a sudden end in mind, in what- 
ever form that might come. 

The husband emerges from the ordeal of a rigid examination 
of the lines, then, not only unscathed, but with added virtues to 
his credit. We may now briefly consider an attack recently made 
upon the personality of the unfortunate lady, which is no less 
than an attempt to prove that the piece does not depict the sor- 
rows of a woman at all. Upon a hasty review, this revolutionary 
theory sounds plausible, especially as the author. Dr. L. L. Schtlck- 
ing,'' has incidentally made comments upon the text, some of 
which are entirely sound. But the more closely the hypothesis is 
examined, the more evident its untenability becomes. It is not 
wholly a new one; the earliest editors were of the opinion that a 
man must be regarded as the protagonist. This was due to 

^Beow., 11. 2435-6. The Heyne-Sooin glossary defines mor^or as "gewaltBame TOtung, 
Mord," but is not equally careful iu defining the compounds. The meaning of the word is 
further extended to **torment, injury," or sins of various kinds, even adultery. See Grein's 
Sprachachatz^ and the Bosworth-Toller lexicon, 

2 History of Early English Literature^ p, 360, 

3 For Schacking's article, see n, 1 above, p, 388. 

392 



The Banished Wipe's Lament 7 

defective knowledge of Anglo-Saxon, however, or to failure to 
notice the feminine terminations which indicate the sex of the 
speaker. Dr. Schticking thinks he finds a way to get rid of these 
troublesome endings, and adds many other reasons to support his 
view. Before we can allow the unhappy lady to have another woe 
added to her store by being put out of existence altogether, in the 
pages of the Zeitschrift filr deutsches AUerthum, it may be 
well to show briefly how strong is her defense, and how weak the 
case of her adversary. So much seems to be demanded by gal- 
lantry, if not by scholarship. 

A most serious objection to Schticking' s view presents itself 
at the very outset — the feminine endings just mentioned. 

Ic pis giedd wrece bi me ful geomorre, 
minre sylfre si5 ; ic pset secgan mseg, 
hwaet ic yrmpa gebad, sippan ic up weox, 
niwes oppe ealdes, no ma ponne nu; 
a ic wite wonn minra wraecsipa! 

Schllcking acknowledges that geomorre and mlnre sylfre cannot 
be explained away as lapses due to the scribe, and properly rejects 
Thorpe's high-handed restoration of the masculine forms. But 
his method of disposing of the case is hardly less arbitrary. He 
thinks that these two lines, at least in their present form, are not 
original, since feminine inflections applying to the speaker do not 
elsewhere occur, and suggests that the last man who dealt with the 
poem in its original form misunderstood the situation, and either 
inserted the feminine forms instead of the masculine, or else pre- 
fixed the two lines in question to the poem as he found it. The 
latter hypothesis he thinks more probable, since the meter in 16 
requires the feminine termination. The piece perhaps began 
originally, he maintains, as follows: 

Hwaet! ic yrmpa gebad, sippan ic iip aweox, 
niwra oPPe ealdra no ma ponne nu. 

Textual errors occur in various places, and he calls upon the 
patchwork theory to help out his case. "Wie vielleicht auch 
die zusammensetzung des Wanderers dartut (vgl. Boer, Z. f. d. 
Ph., 35, 1 ff., nicht in alien punkten Qberzeugend), haben wir es 

393 



8 William Witherle Lawkenoe 

bei den im Exeterbuch tlberlieferten lyr. gedichten nicht mit 
einer reinen tlberlieferung zu tun."' 

To attribute to misunderstanding or interpolation the two lines 
which absolutely contradict the theory is practically to beg the 
whole question. Schucking sees in the addition of the first two 
lines a "lyric tradition," and compares the opening of the Sea- 
farer. But if the hypothetical beginning of the piece, Hwcet! ic 
yrmpa gebdd, etc., is as natural as he finds it, would it have been 
necessary to prefix the two opening lines, when this lyric tradition 
is only occasionally observed ? Suppose, for the sake of argument, 
we grant that the lines were added later. We should then 
have to assume that the redactor intended pcet to refer to giedd, 
and so placed a full stop after the end of 1. 2. This seems 
improbable — giedd secgan is unusual, at least. Moreover, this 
would leave niwes oppe ealdes without other antecedent than 
yrmpa, which is feminine. It will be observed that Schficking, 
in his reconstruction of the old beginning of the piece, changes 
this phrase to nlwra oppe ealdra. It might be conjectured, on 
the other hand, that the reviser ingeniously altered hwcet from 
an interjection to a pronoun, its antecedent being pcet (1. 2), 
which is the accepted construction of the lines today, and also 
that he gave the present form to the first half of 1. 4. This is 
much like the processes of Boer, in the article to which Schtick- 
ing alludes. I have already criticized those arguments elsewhere, 
both in matters of detail and of method. Anyone who believes 
that the Wanderer is a composite of the sort that Boer makes it 
out to be will have little difficulty in regarding these first two 
lines as an excrescence to be lopped off at will. No one will 
deny that there are many textual errors in the lyrics, but that 
these are necessarily evidences of divided authorship or of editorial 
revision I see no reason to believe. 

These observations apply equally well to the alternative theory, 
that the first two lines were not prefixed, but merely altered. The 
whole idea that some man who recast the piece misimderstood its 
meaning makes argument almost impossible. If we cannot take 

1 p. 447. For a review of Boer's work, cf. article by the present writer in the Journal of 
Bermanic Fhilology, Vol. IV, pp. 460-80. 

394 



The Banished Wife's Lament 9 

the plain evidence of grammatical forms for what it signifies, we 
might as well forsake all reasoning from the known facts the 
poem affords. The men who perpetuated it in Anglo-Saxon times 
must have had at least as good an idea of its meaning as we, and 
the presumption is all in favor of their having had a better. 

Schftcking lays much stress upon the word leodfruma^ (1. 8), 
emphasizing the fact that it does not mean "husband" but "prince," 
which no one will dispute for a moment. But he seems to think 
it strange that a noble lady should speak of her husband as her 
"lord," although he admits that Wealhtheow addresses Hrothgar 
as freo-drihten min, and that sin-frea is likewise used of a hus- 
band, Beow., 1170. Why is not the analogy of such words as 
drihten or frea perfect ? Here too the original meaning is not 
"husband," yet they are clearly used of a lord in this relation. 
Perhaps a quotation from Roeder's investigation of the Anglo- 
Saxon family will clear up this matter most quickly. It will be 
observed that Roeder is not making these statements in connec- 
tion with this particular poem. "Der Mann erscheint als der 
Herr und Gebieter der Frau: Gen., 2225 nennt Sarah ihren 
Gatten drihten mm! oder eTheisstihrman-drihten, 2242 .... 2729 
frea-drihten, ebenfalls von Abraham. 2783 apostrophiert ihn 
Sarah: mln swces frea! .... Es lasst sich also auch hier 
bemerken, dass man die eheliche Gemeinschaft als ein Komitats- 
verhaltniss ansieht .... Einmal wird in den Ratseln 62.4 der 
Mann sogar der "holde" Herr der Frau genannt: holdumpeodne."^ 
Other examples might be cited.' The common later English 
usage makes it seem entirely natural for an Anglo-Saxon lady to 
have addressed her husband as her lord. Schticking admits: "An 
sich ist dies wohl nicht absolut ausgeschlossen .... immerhin 
gibt diese stelle im verein mit dem folgenden zu denken,"* pro- 
ceeding then to other arguments. But if this point has no weight, 
it cannot support subsequent proofs. In logic, as in mathematics, 
X-\-0 = X, and no more. There is no chain of reasoning more 
fallacious than that built of separate arguments each of which 
amounts to nothing in itself. 

1 p. 438. 2 Boeder, loc. cit., pp. 109, t. 

3 Genesis, 1. 655 ; Beow., 1. 641 ; Qnom. Exon., 1. 91. 

* P. 440. 

395 



10 William Witheble Lawrence 

Nothing in 11. 9, 10 makes it improbable that the speaker is a 
woman, although we are told they are "von der grossten wichtig- 
keit." Schticking is probably right in translating folgad secan 
"gefolgschaftsdienst zu suchen." As for the phrase wineleas 
wrcecca, there is no reason why it may not apply to a woman as 
well as to a man; cf. Dohtor se Bahiloinisca wrcecca, filia Bdb- 
iloinis misera, Ps. Lamb., 136, 8. Yet upon this point Schticking 
lays great stress, not stating it quite exactly; "damit ist nun der 
wichtigste punkt Mr die erklarung des gedichts bertlhrt: kann der 
sprecher der von sich sagt, dass er als freundloser 'recke' neue 
gefolgschaft suche eine frau sein? ich halte es ftir unmoglich."' 
But the word wrcecca does not mean "recke," it means "der 
umherirrende heimatlose," as Schticking himself says. He 
admits, too, that the expression may be used of a woman entering 
service in a foreign land. But this, he says, is "unwahrschein- 
lich." Why? Such incidents are common in early story .^ All 
this is worth no more than the leodfruma argument, as far as 
proof goes. Similarly, /reowdscipe (1. 25) may certainly be used 
of the love of a man and woman, cf. freondmynd, cogitationes 
amatoriae, Gen., 1830, 1831; freond-rceden[n) , conditio ama- 
toria, Jul., 34, 71, etc' But Schticking remarks : '^freondscipe mit 
Roeder als 'liebesbund' zu tibersetzen, liegt kein grund vor. vgl. 
frynd v. 33." What the point of this reference is does not appear. 
Of course the dual form uncer disposes of any idea that freond- 
scipe may refer to the relation between others than the speaker 
and the mon of 1. 18. 

Moreover, Schticking' s interpretation involves much shifting 
of subject. pcBS monnes (1. 11) is not the same person as min 
leodfruma (1. 8), although there is no intimation of any other 
man's coming into the narrative except what one may imagine in 
folgad secan. The person whose kinsmen are plotting to estrange 
him from the speaker is not the one whom the speaker has men- 

IP. 440. 

2 Miss M. R. Cox, in treating the variants of the Cinderella-story, enumerates many 
instances of the "menial heroine" incident (Publications of the Follc-Lore Society, XXXI). 
Cf. especially her Preface. "Numberless instances," she says, "might be adduced in which 
a hero or heroine must undergo a term of servitude before fulfilling an exalted destiny" 
(p. xl). 

3Cf. Roeder, p. 95. 

396 



The Banished Wife's Lament 11 

tioned with tenderness in 1. 7 ; the hldford mln of 1. 15 is not the 
mm hldford of 1. 6. Another shift comes in 1. 18. The ful gemcec- 
ne monnan is not the mon of 1. 11, the new lord to whom our 
attention has supposedly been diverted, but lord number one is 
introduced without any indication that a change has been made. 
It is scarcely conceivable that anyone reading or hearing this for 
the first time would interpret the situation as Schttcking imagines 
it, unless the outlines of the story were familiar. There are shifts 
of subject in early poetry, but nothing quite so wild as this. 

It is hardly worth while to examine these arguments further. 
Other errors might be pointed out,' but enough has been said to 
lead to a safe conclusion. There is no valid evidence that the 
speaker must be a man and cannot be a woman, while there are 
the best of reasons for holding that the speaker must be a woman 
and cannot be a man. 

More interesting to the general reader, and more important for 
literary history and aesthetic criticism is the question of what the 
interpretation of the poem as a whole shall be. What is the 
story, obscurely shadowed forth, which it tells? 

It is a difficult problem to solve — an impossible one, I believe, 
unless one looks beyond the limits of the text. There is so much 
in the language that admits of varied translation that it is hardly 
surprising that there has never been any unanimity about the 
underlying plot. Even if an exact and literal translation could be 
agreed upon, it is highly doubtful if it would be possible to 
reconstruct from this the situation as the poet conceived it. More- 
over, in a poem of lyrical character a detailed and circumstantial 
narrative cannot be expected. It seems likely that three or four 
hypothetical plots might be proposed, none of which would be 
inconsistent with the text, because so much allowance must in any 
case be made for the omissions in the story. The interpretation 
of the piece as it stands, with all its ambiguities upon its head, is 
ten times more difficult. And if it is obscure to the lynx-eyed 
modern investigator, who reads it over and over again, and weighs 

' Cf . n. 2, p. 403, below ; on pissum londstede, 1.16, does not appear to mean that the 
speaker is living "im neuen lande," but rather in the country of the hlaford of 1. 6, who 
departed heonan of leodum; ahte, too, is preterit. Does on eorpan (1. 33) mean "fern"T 
(Schttcking, p. 441). 

397 



12 William Witheele Lawbenoe 

the evidence of each detail with minute care, would it not have 
confused the people for whom it was originally composed ? What 
would a listening throng have made of it, if they had been obliged 
to evolve the story for themselves? 

Assume, on the other hand, that we are dealing with a lyric 
treatment of some theme familiar to everyone in Anglo-Saxon 
times, and these difficulties vanish. With the general course of 
events already in mind, an audience could have understood and 
appreciated the telling of the tale, and the minstrel would have 
been unhampered in bringing out its pathos and its passion. And 
this proceeding was just what such an audience would have 
expected. Nothing was commoner than for the poet to touch only 
upon certain moments in a story and suppress others, as suited 
his artistic purpose. Certain situations are thus thrown into high 
relief, as in the poetic Edda. But unless the audience knows the 
story, this procedure is impossible. The Wife^s Lament may 
well be like certain episodes in Beowulf — the Finn-episode, for 
instance, a narrative the true course of which can only be guessed 
at from the lines as they stand. Unfortunately, the story of Finn 
has not been preserved in other sources, but there is reason to 
think that we are more fortunate in the present case. At all 
events, whether one believes a priori that the poem is based upon 
heldensage or not, it is clear that one cannot properly interpret 
any piece of Anglo-Saxon verse by focusing his gaze upon it alone, 
and disregarding all the material in song and story which it 
recalls today, and which it must have suggested even more to a 
man of the eighth century. 

Identification of the events here narrated with those of some 
heroic tale has already been proposed several times, but never 
worked out in a wholly convincing way. Nor has the relation of 
the Anglo-Saxon lyric in general to material of this sort been satis- 
factorily treated. Ten Brink's statement that it is improbable 
that such relations exist' — with the exception of Dear's Lament 
— has frequently been quoted, and deserves all consideration, as 
coming from so high an authority. Miss Rickert, in the article 
already alluded to, disagrees with him, and argues at some length 

1 History of English Literature, tranal. Kennedy, Vol. I, p. 61. 

398 



The Banished Wife's Lament 13 

for the identification of this poem with the Offa-saga.' Her 
monograph is careful and complete, yet exception may be taken 
to some of her observations upon this particular poem, and espe- 
cially to some of her conclusions regarding the lyric. Let us first 
consider the general situation, and then the claims of the Offa- 
saga to be a key unlocking the mystery of the misfortunes of the 
distressed wife. 

It seems evident, upon careful examination, that no such state- 
ment as ten Brink's, that the Anglo-Saxon lyrics are or are not 
based upon heldensage, will serve. In three of these, the Wan- 
derer, the Seafarer, and the Ruin, it appears to play no part. 
In three others, the Banished Wife's Lament, the Husband's 
Message, and Signy's Lament (the First Riddle), the very back- 
bone of the dramatic structure is in all probability a well-known 
heroic tale. In two others the connection is of a different sort. 
Widsith — if we may include his story under lyric verse — cites 
famous warriors as his patrons with unblushing insouciance, in 
one instance introducing himself in a circumstantial way at the 
courts of Eormanric and Eadgils.^ But he deals with names, not 
with situations. The interest of his tale is that of a catalogue, in 
the main. What little story there is in the poem is his own, not 
that of the heroes whom he has seen. Again, Deor, in his lament, 
fortifies his heart in adversity by recalling the misfortunes of 
famous personages. Here, too, the connection is external. In- 
cidents of saga have nothing to do with his troubles except as 
affording parallels. 

It will be observed, then, that the Anglo-Saxon lyrics are not 
all of a similar character as regards plot, for it is here that the 
distinction must be made. In the Wanderer the events narrated 
are simple. The exile's lord has died ; he has been forced to seek 
a new one. This is all ; the interest of the poem depends not upon 
the events of the Wanderer's life, but upon his description of the 
effects of exile and the decay of the fair things of the world upon 
the heart. There is no need to turn to saga to explain all this, 
and the situation is too vague and general to permit of satisfactory 

1 Modem Philology, Vol. II, pp. 365 B. 

2 Cf . article by the present writer, Modem Philology, Vol. IV, No. 2. 



14 William Witheele Laweence 

identification. The Seafarer shows even less "plot" than the 
Wanderer. No train of events is narrated. A sailor contrasts 
the hardships of voyaging with the security of life upon shore, 
yet emphasizes the mysterious call of the sea. As for the Ruin, 
it was obviously inspired by the remains of some city, the name 
of which it would be interesting to know, but this is not necessary 
to the enjoyment of the piece, and there is nothing to suggest 
connection with the heldensage about this bit of realistic de- 
scription. 

On the other hand, the Husband'' s Message, the so-called First 
Kiddle — not a riddle at all, but a dramatic soliloquy — and the 
poem at present under discussion are very different. Here, despite 
the "lyric cry," there is obviously a very definite and somewhat 
involved story underlying the whole, a story not clearly set forth, 
but one which must be understood if the piece is to be fully 
appreciated. These three poems seem, then, to stand entirely 
apart from the rest in this regard. Moreover, they have all been 
connected with familiar old stories, and the resemblances seem too 
strong to be purely fortuitous. Following the demonstration that 
the First Riddle contains Scandinavianisms which indicate con- 
nection with Old Norse,' Professor Schofield pointed out the 
striking likeness to a situation in the Volsungasaga, and renamed 
it Signy's Lament.^ He has also noted that the Husband's Mes- 
sage is much like an episode of the Tristram saga, which appears 
to have been current in England in early times,' and has promised 
an article upon this subject. The parallelism between the TFV/e's 
Lament and certain parts of the Offa-saga — or, if one prefers, the 
Constance-saga — is remarkable, especially when certain resem- 
blances not hitherto noted are considered. 

Miss Rickert suggests that the lyric poems may have formed 
portions of lost epics. This affords an opportunity for interesting 
speculation, but in the scarcity of surviving epic material, no 
ground for satisfactory conclusions. There seems to be no reason 
why the giedd or short monologue of the epic should not have been 
current in isolated form as well, or even have been preserved after 

1 Publications of the Modern Language Association, Vol. XVII, pp. 247 ff. 

2 Ibid., pp. 262 ff. 

s English Literature from the Norman Conquest to Chaucer, p. 202. 

400 



The Banished Wife's Lament 15 

the longer poem had passed out of memory, since an epic was to 
men of early days a necklace the pearls of which might be detached 
at will. And when lyric interludes in stichic verse formed a part 
of epic poems, there would have been no incongruity in giving 
this form to similar pieces having no direct connection with longer 
works. But it is hard to see how Miss Rickert can see in the 
Wanderer and the Seafarer "a definite dramatic situation the 
details of which are more or less obscure,'" and believe that a 
definite saga-episode must have been in the poet's mind. The 
point seems to be that the whole is indefinite. Any exile in the 
conventional position of the Wanderer, any sailor who has experi- 
enced the strange fascination of the sea may be the protagonist. 
It is easy to pick out moments in various sagas to which the expe- 
riences of these men apply — Miss Rickert suggests two for each 
poem — but nothing leads to satisfactory identification. On the 
other hand, consider the Husband^ s Message or the Wife's Lament. 
Any woman banished into a wood or any husband or lover writing 
to his lady will not satisfy the demands of the situation. There 
is of course no way of proving that the poet of the Wanderer or 
the Seafarer may not have had saga-figures in mind, but there is 
nothing to show that such was the case. They may be explained 
and enjoyed as typical figures; the others may not. 

In the absence of documentary evidence, it seems equally im- 
possible to prove that the Banished Wife's Lament is or is not 
based on the Offa-saga. The question is rather whether the 
resemblances in incident and mood are sufficiently close, and 
whether such facts as have been determined in regard to the early 
history of the Off a material render the hypothesis a likely one. 
It should not be forgotten that the general reasons stated above 
for assuming a saga-basis for the poem will still hold, even if the 
particular identification here reviewed be rejected. 

It is not the design of the present paper to give a summary of 
the arguments which point to this relationship with the Offa-saga. 
For this the reader is referred to Miss Rickert's monograph, and 
to Gough's discussion of the Constance-saga in PalcBstra XXIII. 
The twelfth-century Vita Offm Primi, which Miss Rickert uses 

I p. 371. 

401 



16 William Witheble Lawrence 

as the basis of her work, deserves careful attention as the earliest 
elaborated account, and doubtless preserves many details of the 
story as it existed in the eighth century, but various changes and 
additions must have taken place in the four centuries intervening, 
for many of which the fusion with the Offa Il-Cynethryth material 
is doubtless responsible. While Gough's reconstruction of the 
hypothetical primitive form shows certain elements which must 
have been prominent in early times, no extant version reproduces 
the tale as it existed when this lyric was probably written. 

There is no doubt, however, that the story of the shadowy 
Anglian king Offa, blended with mdrchen elements, was well 
known in England in the time of Cynewulf. Some details in 
regard to him are familiar from Beowulf and Widsith, and both 
Suchier' and Gough agree in locating the earliest form of the 
saga in Anglian territory. Everything goes to show that it would 
have been entirely natural for the author of this lyric to have 
used the saga as literary material. The resemblances of incident 
are thus fortified by the inherent probability of such borrowing. 

These resemblances, if accidental, are remarkable. The hero- 
ine's early years of misfortune and exile, her husband's departure, 
the hostility of his kinsfolk, her banishment into a wilderness at 
his orders — all this is quite in keeping with the account in the 
saga. The narrative element, however, soon becomes subordi- 
nated to the lyric complaints. Certain passages for which I would 
suggest another interpretation than Miss Rickert's have already 
been discussed. It remains to explain the closing lines, which 
she has had difficulty in reconciling with the earlier part of the 
poem and with the saga itself. There is a strong resemblance to 
the Vita here which she has failed to note. 

The translation of 11. 42-53, as I understand them, runs as 
follows: 

Ever ought a young man to be serious of mind, steadfast the thoughts 
of his heart, (he should have) a pleasant demeanor as well, also care, the 
weight of constant anxiety, whether^ he have achieved all his worldly 

1 " tiber die Sage von Offa and I>ryI)o," Paul-Braune Beitrdge, Vol. IV, p. 521. 

21 should accept Schflcking's explanation ot sy . ... ay. Gelona means literally, "pro- 
ceeding from, dependent upon." Cf. mod. colloquial " along of." The contrast In the lines 
that between a successful and an unfortunate man — to paraphrase, " whether he have as 

402 



The Banished Wife's Lament 17 

joy, or be far and wide surrounded by hostility' in a far-distant land — 
where ^ my friend' sitteth beneath the rocky cliff, beaten by the storm, 
weary-hearted, drenched with water in his dreary hall! He endureth 
mighty sorrow; he remembereth too oft a more joyful dwelling. Woe is 
his who must in longing await the coming of a dear one! 

It is important to recollect that we are getting the story from 
the woman's point of view, that she does not know the real state of 
affairs. Vaguely she feels that her husband's relatives are at the 
bottom of the trouble, but cannot particularize. The forged order 
of banishment has brought, in addition to her physical sufferings, 
the agony of supposing that her husband is estranged from her. 
More than this, the false letter contained the news of the king's 
defeat and of his imminent peril.* So she has also to bear the 
thought that he is now among victorious enemies. This explains 
the closing lines. After the lyric elaboration of 11. 29-41, her 
thoughts turn to the qualities of the ideal man, whether he be for- 
tunate or be ful wide fah feorres folclondes, which she supposes 

a result of his efforts all the joy that can be his on earth, or be hunted down in a foreign 
land, he should still be mindful of the future life." Perhaps the implication is that the 
lady^s husband was lacking in this high seriousness. 

^Fah means literally "proscribed." 

2 1 read pSr (Thorpe, EttmOller) instead of past. One wonders how Schttcking would 
translate the entire passage, especially how he reconciles 11. 43, 44, and 45a with his concep- 
tion. In his paraphrase he completely ignores them : " denn ein junger mann (wie ich) muss 
immer traurig sein, ob es ihm selbst nun gut geht Oder bOse, wenn es seinem herrn so schlecht 
geht, wie dem meinen." This really gives a false idea of the train of thought. The con- 
struction otpcet, (1. 47) is in any case harsh as the text stands. Schfkcking takes it as a con- 
junction referring to geomormod^ five lines back, with another independent clause, swylce 
habban sceal blipe geb^ro, etc., and the "alternative hypothesis" 11. 45, 46 intervening. 
This is surely a good deal of a strain, "grammatisch .... ein wenig aus der roUe gef alien," 
indeed. The meaning seems to be, on this hypothesis, that the young man is not only sad, 
but resolute of heart and of blithe exterior because his lord is faring so badly. The passage 
intervening between geomornwd and pmt is not parenthetical in form, and it is difficult to 
see how it can be in sense. 

3 Wine, as well as freond, may mean "husband;" cf. Bosworth-Toller. 

*Cf. Originals and Analogues, Chaucer See, Vol. I, pp. 71-84, for a reprint of the Vita. 
The text of the forged letter is as follows: "Rex Offa, majoribus et prsecipuis regni sui, 
salutis et prosperitatis augmentum ; universitati vestrse notum f acio, in itinere, quod arri- 
pui, infortunia et adversa plurima tam mihi quam subditis meis accidisse, et majores 
exercitus mei, non ignava propria, vel hostium oppugnantium virtute, sed potius peocatis 
nostris justo Dei judicio interiisae. Ego autem instantis periculi causam pertractans, et 
conscientisB meae intima perscrutatus, in metemipso nihil aliud conjicio altissimo dis- 
plicere, nisi quod perditam et maleficam illam absque meorum consensu, uxorem imperito 
et infelici duxi matrimonio : Ut ergo de maleflca memorata, voluntati vestrse ad plenum 
quam temere oSendi, satisflat, asportetur cum liberis ex ea genitis ad loca deserta, homini- 
bus incognita, feris et avibus aut sylvestribus prsedonibus frequentata; ubi cum pueris 
suis puerpera truncata manus et pedes exemplo pereat inaudito." 

403 



18 William Witherle Lawrence 

is the condition of her lord at the present moment, and this in turn 
brings the direct mention of him, overcome by his foes in the 
rainy and dreary Scottish country. The keynote of the poem, 
expressed in the last two lines, applies equally well to husband or 
wife. 

Two objections to this identification should be considered. 
Wtilker finds it strange that the child or children mentioned in 
the saga are not alluded to in the lyric.^ Miss Rickert replies: 
"But these in V play no part except as they are connected with 
the foundation of St. Albans." It ought to be added at this point 
that this did not take place until the latter part of the eighth 
century, the foundation being due to the repentance of Offa II 
(died 796) for the murder of iEthelbert, king of the East 
Anglians.^ If the children are unimportant in the twelfth-century 
story except in this connection, it is unlikely that they were 
prominent in the eighth-century form of the saga. Moreover, 
this touch, of which such skilful use was made by Chaucer, may well 
have appealed less to the Anglo-Saxon poet, who was directing all 
his energies to making the relationship between the wife and the 
husband vivid, and confining himself to the compass of a brief 
lyric. 

Again, the interpretation of the phrase folgad secan in rela- 
tion to the saga is not clear. Possibly the lyric adds a touch not 
in the Vita. The meaning sometimes adopted, that the lady 
sought her lord or his body of followers, receives a little support 
from the statement in the Vita that he departed "cum Equitum 
numerosa multitudine." But Schticking's rendering of the phrase, 
"to seek service," is probably the right one. In various versions 
of the tale the wife does the work of a servant at different stages 
of her career. Miss Rickert seems to regard feran gewdt as 
referring to the banishment of 11. 15 and 27, but these particular- 
ize the punishment; she must dwell in a cave in the forest — a 
very different thing from any meaning to be read into folgad 
secan. Perhaps we are to take the situation to be that, driven 
from home by the hostility of her husband's kin, she returned to 

1 Grundriss, loc. cit. 

2 Cf . Hunt, History of the English Church from Its FouTidation to the Norman Conquest^ 
p. 235. 

401 



The Banished Wife's Lament 19 

an occupation similar to that before her marriage. The wicked 
relatives, not content with this, then ordered her banishment to the 
wood. The question is difficult of solution, but the discrepancy 
does not seem a serious one. 

Taking due account of these resemblances and differences, it is 
difficult to sum up the question with absolute impartiality. The 
Offa-saga certainly explains most readily the puzzling situation in 
the lyric. Schtlcking asks, for example: "Wie soUte der mann, 
der gatte, den v. 47 ff. selbst in der bedrangtesten lage im fremden 
lande zeigen, der frau befehlen kQnnen, im wald zu leben?" If 
one tries to answer this from the evidence of the lines alone, one 
struggles about in a maze of blind conjecture. The saga makes 
the solution plain at once. Yet in the absence of the confirming 
evidence of proper names, a matter which Miss Rickert has dis- 
cussed at length, it is impossible to speak with confidence of the 
connection which the resemblances of incident lead one to assume 
between the two. Operations with saga-material are always 
dangerous. But the general proposition that the true elucidation 
of the poem will come from a heroic tale nevertheless remains 
sound. It must be conceded that some such story as this is far 
more likely to form the basis of the lyric than an imaginary train 
of events concocted in the brain of some modern critic. Invention 
was rare in early times ; poets were not given to originating their 
plots when there were such ample stores from which to borrow. 
Their preference was ever for reshaping a twice-told tale, giving 
it freshness by new touches added here and there. All this 
is really too familiar to call for repetition, although one of the 
most dangerous pitfalls into which the critic stumbles is forgetful- 
ness of the literary methods of early times. Whatever may be 
thought of the Offa-saga as a parallel, then, there remain the best 
of reasons for believing that the lyric is founded upon material of 
the same general character. 

Finally, if we may trust the evidence of the old tale, it is pleas- 
ant to think that this Anglo-Saxon Mariana finds happiness in 
the end, like her later sister in the moated grange. 

William Witheele Lawrence 
Columbia University 

405