Monday, April 11, 2011

Lamenting the Bygone Days

I'm not the first to notice the strong similarities between The Lord of the Rings and The Wanderer.  The latter is a beautiful Old English poem.  The Lord of the Rings contains many poems and songs, and one of them has lines that are very close to those in The Wanderer.  Both use the ubi sunt motif, which basicially means, "where are?" and laments the passing of the days done by.
The beginning lines of these poems are quite close. The LOTR poem is a song of a race called the Rohirrim and begins, "Where now the horse and rider?" The section of The Wanderer that I am talking about is an imagined speech by a man looking back and begins, "Where has the horse gone? Where the young warrior?"
The structure of these poems is similar too. They both begin with "where are?" questions and move into a discussion of the passage of time: it flows of time and how everything is fleeting in the context of time.
The imagery is similar too, they seem like they could have both been written by Anglo-Saxons. Both conjure up images of the hall and war near the beginning and darkness and shadow near the end.  The wanderer asks, "What has become of the feasting seats? Where are the joys of the hall? Alas, the bright cup!" The Rohirrim song asks, "Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?" Although this does not directly indicate the hall, we know from reading the book that the Rohirrim kings did live in a hall and where simila. The "harpstring" could indicate a bard who would perform in the hall before an audience.  On the other hand, it could denote a smaller intimate setting.  For the war imagery, The Wanderer has, "Where the young warrior?" and "Alas, the mailed warrior!"  while LOTR asks, "Where the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?"
Both poems mention the flow of time, how time is fleeting, and that glory days are no more. "How that time has gone, vanished beneath night's cover, just as if it never has been!" says the wanderer.  "They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;" are the lines from LOTR. In fact these lines of the poems blend together easily and seem like they could be from the same poem!
When reading The Wanderer I am also reminded of "Ballade des dames du temps jadis" (Ballad of the women of yore) by Francois Villon.  He was a French poet of the 1500s and he asks where the great women of history have gone.  Like The Wanderer and the Rohirrim poem, the passage of time is highlighted and the glorious past lamented.

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