Loneliness in The Wife’s Lament, The Wanderer, & Beowulf

There are a few obvious themes that are represented in the poems The Wife’s Lament and The Wanderer by Aaron K. Hostetter. The first theme that I noticed was the theme of isolation/loneliness. Isolation is one of the fundamental themes of literature. It’s a state of loneliness in which you can feel cut off and ignored by others because of your location, emotion, state of mind, etc. The themes of isolation and loneliness are also represented by the character Grendel, shown in the novel Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley. There are almost always hidden themes in poems and novels that go unnoticed during the audience’s first read. 

One could say that these texts have nothing to do with the two themes of loneliness or isolation. They might say that the text and poems rather involve the themes of evilness and ignorance. The characters in the texts don’t give us a lot of information about their lives beforehand. For all we know, the people in these texts are lonely because of their own wrongdoings. Someone could also say that they aren’t lonely, but rather evil. Their madness and ignorance led them to the lonely lifestyle that they now live. While this could be argued, these texts still do not provide us with enough information to prove their evilness. The characters in the texts seem to scream for a friend or a significant other. Even though their actions could have led them to where they are today, they continue to go through life by themselves, lonely and isolated. For example, the narrator in the poem, The Wife’s Lament is gut-wrenching and the narrator essentially screams for help the entire time. The narrator is sought out to be an extremely lonely and sad “ex-wife”. She explained that she goes through many grave nights after her husband left her. She wanted to forewarn her readers how to avoid the feelings that she is feeling. She told her readers, especially hinting towards the young, to keep their hearts in check while keeping their minds cool as they go through the trenches in life. The narrator explained that her husband had left her which is the leading cause of all of her lonesome problems. The narrator mostly wishes hate towards her husband but quickly symbolizes her feelings of love towards him as well. This is a woman who still loves her ex-husband so much that she despises him and wishes the worst upon him. She loves him so much that when he left her, she was left with nothing and no one. Her world was gone.

“May all of his joys come at his own hand.

May his name be the name of infamy,

a snarl in faraway mouths, so that my good friend

will be sitting under a stony rain-break,

crusted by the gusty storms,

a man crushed at heart, flowing

in his own water, in his tearful timbering. (45b–50a)

That one, yeah, that man of mine

will drag his days under a mighty mind-caring.

He’ll remember every single morning

how full of pleasure was our home.

What woes are theirs who must

weather their worrying for love.” (50b–53)

At the beginning of this excerpt, the lonely wife wishes her husband joy but then quickly conveys her hatred towards him. She hopes that he is well known by society but in a rather ungodly way. She wants her husband to be known only for his bad deeds and his horrible soul. She also wishes for his days to be filled with a broken heart and regret when looking back in time. She essentially wants him to feel exactly how she does. The narrator then goes on to explain that she is longing inside and is actually for eating with this longing. What does she long for? A husband? Family? A friend? She is a lonely woman. She is essentially exiled in what she calls a “gravel pit”. Here, in this desolate place, she is summoned to think about her many sorrows and desires that will never happen. 

We can also connect this poem to the other Hostetter text, The Wanderer. The poem first introduces itself as the “lone-dweller”. It then goes on to explain that each step that they take on earth is just a memorial of miseries. Everyone in the narrator’s life has passed away or is gone. There was no longer anyone living for this narrator to vent his thoughts to. A line that stuck out to me was when he said “There’s now no one living to whom I dare mumble my mind’s understanding.” (8-14).  The singular word dare is what really got to me. This word is extremely important because it shows that his thoughts come from a place of darkness and sadness. He has no one to dare talk about his thoughts with. Although, even with his weary thoughts, he continues to long for a friend, a partner. He refers to himself as “friendless me.” (15-29). This phrase also makes the narrator’s readers pity him. I wondered to myself why he hated humanity so much but continued to long for a friend. I wondered why he longed for a friend so much but viewed everyone as temporary or what he referred to as a “loan”.

“Tracks of the beloved multitude, all that remains

walls wondrous tall, serpents seething—

thanes stolen, pillaged by ashen foes

gear glutting for slaughter — we know this world’s way,

and the storms still batter these stony cliffs.

The tumbling snows stumble up the earth,

the clash of winter, when darkness descends.

Night-shadows benighten, sent down from the north,

raw showers of ice, who doesn’t hate humanity? (97-105)

All shot through in misery in earthly realms,

fortune’s turn turns the world under sky.

Here the cash was a loan.

Your friends were a loan.

Anyone at all, a loan.

Your family only ever a loan—

And this whole foundation of the earth wastes away!” (106-10)

The narrator was deprived of his homeland. He speaks in a way that there is not a singular soul on earth besides himself. He also speaks as if he is the last man walking on earth. He is a lonely, wandering, lost soul. The way that earth is described in this excerpt is gloomy and insidious. He describes winter as raw, tumbling snow, serpents seething, etc. This time of the year could be viewed entirely differently by someone who finds the word fulfilling and wonderful. It could be described as a joyful time of year with bright white snow. But, it is clearly described from the perspective of a miserable lonely man. The narrator even described himself as a wandering warrior who felt lonely and weary but continued to pass through this earth like a soft passing breeze. 

We can continue to see the pattern of isolation in loneliness in Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley. For example, Grendel has a miserable and relentless existence. For the majority of the novel, Grendel is looking for someone to befriend and talk to. He longs for a response and conversation other than his own while also longing for a real human connection. This unfulfilled desire leads him to feelings of loneliness and isolation. He doesn’t even have his own mother to talk to as she can’t communicate with him. “Behind my back, at the world’s end, my pale slightly glowing fat mother sleeps on, old, sick at heart, in our dingy underground room. Life-bloated, baffled, long-suffering hag. Guilty, she imagines, of some unremembered, perhaps ancestral crime. (She must have some human in her.) Not that she thinks. Not that she dissects and ponders the dusty mechanical bits of her miserable life’s curse.” (11) The animals that Grendel talks to can’t even respond back to him. Aside from the dragon. Yet, I wonder, is the dragon really Grendel’s friend? The dragon tends to be ignorant towards Grendal and quite uninterested in what he has to say. The people that Grendel communicates with misunderstand him as an evil monster. His hostile personality and violent outbursts are mistaken for his desire to reach out and communicate with someone else. I believe that he lashes out for those reasons and desires.

Overall, in the texts Beowulf: A New Translation, The Wife’s Lament, and The Wanderer by Aaron K. Hostetter and Maria Dahvana Headley, the characters represent the theme of isolation and loneliness. One could disagree with this statement, but when analyzing the characters fully, they are inevitably isolated and lonely. Whether that be literally alone in the world, or being lonely on the inside with no one to really talk to or befriend. The characters are indirectly craving a world of fulfillment. They crave a world of friends and loved ones in their lives. It’s undeniably heart-wrenching. As stated before, this theme most likely goes unnoticed by its readers. But, when looking back at the text, it undeniably is one of the most important themes in the story. 

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