What Does the Wall in The Wanderer Symbolize? Decoding the Meaning Behind the Barrier

The Wanderer is a powerful poem from the Anglo-Saxon period that is still studied and celebrated today. This epic poem tells the story of a lone traveller who wanders the earth, searching for his place in the world. One of the most intriguing symbols in the Wanderer is the wall that the traveller comes across. This seemingly simple aspect of the poem holds a wealth of meaning and depth that is worth exploring.

So, what does the wall in the Wanderer symbolize? Some scholars believe that the wall represents the ultimate barrier between man and nature. It is a physical manifestation of the divide between the two, and a reminder that man can never truly conquer the natural world. Others interpret the wall as a symbol of the limitations of human existence – a reminder that no matter how hard we try, we cannot escape the boundaries that are inherent in being alive.

No matter how you interpret the wall in the Wanderer, there is no denying its power and significance. It is a symbol that has stood the test of time, and one that continues to inspire and challenge readers today. As you delve deeper into this epic poem, take some time to consider the meaning and significance of the wall – you might be surprised at what you discover.

The meaning of wanderlust as a motif in literature

Wanderlust, defined as a strong desire to travel and explore the world, is a recurring motif in literature. As a concept, it represents the human desire for adventure, exploration, and the quest for self-discovery. The idea of wanderlust is often closely linked to the notion of the hero’s journey, in which the protagonist embarks on a physical and psychological journey to achieve a certain goal or gain a greater understanding of the world. The meaning of wanderlust in literature can be seen through several lenses, including the themes it represents and the various ways it is conveyed.

  • Themes of wanderlust
    • The search for identity: The desire to travel and explore comes from the human need to discover oneself. Literature often portrays the hero’s journey as a quest for self-discovery. By exposing themselves to new experiences and environments, characters are able to learn more about themselves and their place in the world.
    • The pursuit of happiness: Travel is often associated with happiness and freedom. Characters embark on journeys to escape from the mundane and embrace the unknown. They seek to find joy, fulfillment, and purpose in life.
    • The dangers of wanderlust: While travel and exploration can be exhilarating, they also come with risks. Characters may face physical challenges, encounter dangerous situations, or lose their sense of identity in the process. The theme of wanderlust can also be a cautionary tale about the dangers of chasing after an elusive dream.

The portrayal of wanderlust in literature can take many forms, from descriptions of exotic locales to the symbolism of a character’s journey. It can be represented through the use of imagery, language, and symbolism. For example, in “The Wanderer,” the wall symbolizes the separation between the protagonist and the rest of the world. The wanderer’s desire to break down this barrier and explore beyond it reflects the theme of wanderlust in the text. Through this exploration, the wanderer is able to find a deeper understanding of himself and his place in the world.

In summary, wanderlust as a motif in literature represents the human desire for adventure, discovery, and self-exploration. Through the hero’s journey, authors are able to explore themes such as identity, happiness, and the dangers of chasing after an elusive dream. The symbolism and language used to convey this theme can take many different forms and can be seen throughout literature as a whole.

The role of loneliness in the wanderer poem

Loneliness is a major theme in the wanderer poem and it plays a significant role in the symbolism of the wall. The wanderer is an exiled warrior who has lost his lord, companions, and even his family. He is left to wander alone and without purpose. His loneliness stems from a deep sense of loss and displacement.

  • The wanderer’s loneliness is emphasized by the changing seasons. The cold winter and the harsh storms amplify his suffering.
  • He is also surrounded by death and decay, which further isolates him from the living world.
  • His loneliness is portrayed as a spiritual emptiness, a lack of connection to the divine. Without his community and lord, the wanderer is left to struggle with his faith and purpose in life.

The wall symbolizes the wanderer’s emotional and spiritual isolation. The wall is described as being old and decayed, much like the wanderer himself. It stands alone and provides no protection or comfort. The wall is a physical representation of the wanderer’s spiritual and emotional barriers. It serves as a reminder of his loneliness and the obstacles he must overcome to find peace and purpose.

Symbolism of the wall in the wanderer poem Meaning
The wall is old and decayed The wanderer is alone and disconnected from the world
The wall provides no protection or comfort The wanderer is vulnerable and exposed to the harshness of the world
The wall symbolizes emotional and spiritual barriers The wanderer must overcome his sense of isolation to find peace and purpose

The loneliness portrayed in the wanderer poem is a reminder of the human condition. We all struggle with feelings of isolation and disconnection. The wall serves as a reminder that we must break down our emotional and spiritual barriers to connect with others and find our purpose in life.

Similarities between the Wanderer and Other Anglo-Saxon Poetry

The Wanderer is one of the most famous elegies in Anglo-Saxon literature, and it shares many similarities with other poems from this period. Here are some of the common themes and motifs found in The Wanderer and other Anglo-Saxon poetry:

  • The theme of exile: Many Anglo-Saxon poems deal with the theme of exile, which is also present in The Wanderer. In this poem, the speaker is a warrior who has lost everything and is forced to wander alone in a foreign land. Similar themes are found in other Anglo-Saxon poems such as The Seafarer, The Wife’s Lament, and Deor.
  • The use of kennings: Kennings are metaphors used to describe a person, object, or event. In The Wanderer, the speaker is described as a “lonely exile,” while the sea is called the “whale-road.” Kennings are also a common feature of other Anglo-Saxon poetry, such as Beowulf.
  • The number three: The number three is a significant symbolic element in many Anglo-Saxon poems, including The Wanderer. In this poem, the speaker talks about how he had three friends who once lived in the world, but now they are gone. This use of the number three is also present in other poems such as The Seafarer, where the speaker talks about “three gifts” that he received from the sea.


The Wanderer is a poignant elegy that captures the feelings of displacement and loneliness that were common in Anglo-Saxon society. While it is a unique work in its own right, it shares many similarities with other Anglo-Saxon poetry, including the themes of exile and the use of kennings. The repeated use of the number three in this poem and others is further evidence of the interconnectedness of literature from this period. Overall, The Wanderer reminds us of the enduring power of poetry to capture the essence of the human experience across time and cultures.

The Use of Kennings in The Wanderer

The Wanderer is an Old English poem that explores the concept of exile and the transience of life. One of the unique features of this poem is the use of kennings, a literary device commonly found in Old English and Norse poetry. Kennings are metaphorical expressions, often consisting of compound words that substitute a common noun with a poetic description. These kennings add depth to the imagery in the poem and help to convey a sense of emotion and meaning.

The Wall in The Wanderer

  • One of the most compelling kennings in The Wanderer is the “wall.” The speaker describes himself as having seen a “wall of waves” and a “sea-wall” which stands “steep and high, and overhangs with icicles.” The wall represents the isolation and loneliness felt by the speaker in his exile. He is like a ship lost at sea, without a home or a community to anchor himself to.
  • The wall also symbolizes the impermanence of life. Waves may crash against it, ice may cling to it, but ultimately, it will erode and crumble away. This mirrors the transience of earthly pleasures and the inevitability of death. The speaker laments the loss of his loved ones and his former way of life, realizing that everything eventually fades away.
  • Finally, the wall is a representation of the speaker’s inner turmoil. Like the waves crashing against the wall, the speaker is struggling with his emotions and the weight of his exile. He is frozen, like the icicles hanging from the wall, unable to move forward or find a solution to his predicament.

The Importance of Kennings in The Wanderer

Kennings are an essential aspect of Old English poetry, and they play a vital role in The Wanderer. They not only add depth to the imagery but also help to evoke emotions and establish a sense of time and place. The kennings in The Wanderer are remarkably vivid, painting a picture of the harsh and unforgiving landscape that the speaker finds himself in. They also provide insight into the speaker’s mental and emotional state, helping the reader to empathize with his plight.

Kennings in Modern Literature

Although kennings are most commonly found in Old English and Norse poetry, their influence can be seen in modern literature. Authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin have incorporated kennings into their work, creating unique and immersive worlds. By using poetic language and metaphors, these writers are able to transport their readers to new and exciting places while also exploring complex themes and emotions.

Kennings in Old English Poetry Kennings in Modern Literature
Whale-road Iron throne
Bone-house Greyjoy fleet
Bow-wave One ring to rule them all

The creative use of kennings is just one example of how literature has evolved over time, yet remains rooted in the traditions of the past.

Symbolism of the sea in the wanderer

The sea in “The Wanderer” represents the journey of life and the uncertainties that come with it. Just as waves crash against the shore, life can be unpredictable and tumultuous. The protagonist of the poem is in a state of mourning and feels lost at sea, much like he feels lost in his own life.

  • The sea is a metaphor for the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death. It is vast and unpredictable, much like life itself. The sea can be calm and peaceful one moment, and then become stormy and dangerous the next.
  • The sea also symbolizes the unknown, as the protagonist is unsure of what lies ahead in his life. He is forced to navigate the rough waters of grief and uncertainty on his own.
  • The oceanic imagery in the poem also represents the isolation and loneliness that the protagonist feels. The sea is vast and seemingly endless, much like the feelings of despair and hopelessness that the protagonist experiences.

The sea is also closely tied to the concept of fate in “The Wanderer”. The Anglo-Saxons believed in a strict fate that governed every aspect of one’s life. Just as the sea can be unpredictable, so can fate. It is unknown what lies ahead for the protagonist, and it is ultimately up to fate to decide his destiny.

Overall, the symbolism of the sea in “The Wanderer” underscores the themes of uncertainty and impermanence in life. The protagonist must navigate the rough waters of grief and loss, all while facing an unknown future.

The idea of fate in The Wanderer

The Wanderer, an Old English poem, is a lament of a warrior who has lost his lord and comrades. The poem portrays the idea of fate or wyrd, a pre-Christian concept of destiny or providence, which dictates the life of a person.

Throughout the poem, the wall that the wanderer sees represents the inevitability of fate. The wall, a symbol of impermanence and mortality, suggests that the wanderer’s past life and glory are fleeting and that everything is bound to disappear in time. The wall also indicates the boundary that separates the world of the living from the dead, emphasizing the transience of life.

  • The number 6

The poem’s structure and content also reveal the theme of fate. The poem consists of three sections, the first being the wanderer’s sorrowful soliloquy, the second is a flashback to a happier time, and the third is a Christian message of hope and salvation. The poem’s structure represents the three stages of life, namely, life, death, and the afterlife. Each section embodies the idea of fate, as the wanderer laments his losses, reflects on his past glories, and ultimately finds solace in the promise of eternal life.

Furthermore, the poem’s use of the number six symbolizes the transitory nature of life. The wanderer’s people consisted of six companions, and they shared six memories. The number six represents the fleeting aspect of life, as it is incomplete, just like the wanderer’s life without his lord and companions. The number six’s symmetrical form also emphasizes the transience of life, as everything has a beginning and an end. Hence, the number six echoes the poem’s theme of fate, emphasizing the inevitability of death, and the importance of cherishing life while one can.


The use of the wall and the number six in The Wanderer represents the pre-Christian concept of fate, which dictates a person’s life. The wall symbolizes the inevitability of death and the boundary between life and death. The number six embodies the fleeting nature of life and echoes the poem’s overall theme of fate, emphasizing the importance of living life to the fullest while one can. The Wanderer’s message is clear, appreciate life, for everything fades eventually.

Religious references in the wanderer

The Old English poem “The Wanderer” is one of the most famous Anglo-Saxon poems and has been the focus of many literary analyses. The poem describes the journey of a warrior who has lost everything he held dear.

The poem has several religious references, including Christianity and Germanic paganism, which were the two prevalent religions during the time it was written. One of the most significant religious references in the poem is the reference to the number 7.

In the poem, the number 7 is mentioned several times. The wanderer speaks about the fact that he has no companions to share his sorrows with and states that there were originally seven sea-faring companions who were with him before they perished.

  • The number 7 is a highly symbolic number in Bible as it is mentioned over 700 times, mostly in the Old Testament.
  • According to the Bible, the number 7 is the number of completeness and perfection.
  • The Book of Genesis describes how God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th day, thus making the number 7 holy.

According to the Anglo-Saxon belief system, the number 7 was considered an important number associated with the cycles of nature. The seven days of the week were named after the gods of the Anglo-Saxon pantheon, and each day was believed to hold divine significance.

Biblical Reference Meaning
7 days of creation Perfection and Completeness
7 days of the week Divine Significance
7 deadly sins Imperfection and sin

Therefore, the reference to the number 7 in “The Wanderer” symbolizes the notion of completeness, perfection, and divine significance. However, in the context of the poem, it also portrays the fleeting nature of life, the impermanence of happiness, and one’s inevitable solitude. The wanderer could not find completeness and perfection in his earthly life and longs for an afterlife that holds the promise of eternal happiness.

The reference to the number 7 is just one example of how the religious references in “The Wanderer” enrich our understanding of the poem and its themes.

Analysis of the paradox between joy and sorrow in the wanderer

In the poem “The Wanderer,” the wall is a powerful symbol that represents the paradox between joy and sorrow. Although the wall is a physical barrier that separates the wanderer from the world, it also serves as a metaphorical reminder of the impermanence of life and the inevitability of death.

The wall is described as “steep and towering, gabled with stone” (line 8), emphasizing its unyielding and impenetrable nature. It serves as a physical reminder of the wanderer’s isolation and loneliness, as he is separated from the rest of humanity by this inanimate object. However, it also represents the transience of human life, as the wall itself will one day crumble and decay, just like all living things.

The Number 8

  • One of the most significant representations of the paradox between joy and sorrow is the use of the number 8 in the poem. The wanderer laments the loss of his kingdom and comrades, saying “Where is the horse gone? Where the rider?/Where the giver of treasure?/Where are the seats at the feast?/Where are the revels in the hall?” (lines 11-14). These four questions, repeated twice for a total of eight, emphasize the sense of loss and absence that permeates the poem.
  • However, the number 8 is also significant in a more positive way. In Norse mythology, the number 8 is associated with the god Odin, who sacrificed himself on the world tree Yggdrasil for knowledge and wisdom. This sacrifice brought about the creation of the world and all living things on it. In this way, the number 8 represents not just loss and absence, but also renewal and rebirth – a reminder that even in the darkest times, there is always the hope of a new beginning.
  • Moreover, the use of the number 8 in the repetition of the questions emphasizes the cyclical nature of life. Just as the seasons turn and the sun rises and sets, so too do human lives follow a pattern of birth, growth, decay, and death. The repetition of the questions highlights this cyclical nature, as if to suggest that the loss and absence the wanderer feels is merely a part of the natural order of things.

The Table

Additionally, the poem also contains a table, which serves as a physical representation of the wanderer’s former life. The table is described as “richly adorned” (line 22) and covered in mead, suggesting that it was once the site of joyful feasts and celebrations. However, the wanderer now sits alone at this table, surrounded by emptiness and silence. This contrast between the past and present underscores the theme of loss and absence in the poem, as well as the fleeting nature of worldly pleasures.

Line Quote
22 “The joys of earth are fled away”
23 “Dark is my soul, and drear”
24 “All that I love is gone”

The table also serves as a reminder of the wanderer’s own mortality. Just as the table will one day decay and crumble, so too does the wanderer’s body grow older and weaker with each passing day. This realization reinforces the poem’s theme of impermanence, as well as the importance of cherishing the joys and pleasures of life while they last.

Connection between the wanderer and medieval elegy

The wanderer is an Anglo-Saxon poem that has been classified as an elegy. Elegies were a popular literary genre during the medieval period, typically written in Old English or Latin. They were melancholic poems that mourned the loss of something or someone, often expressing feelings of sadness, isolation, and ruin. The wanderer is similar to other elegies in that it also serves as a lamentation for the past, specifically the loss of the warrior society that the speaker once belonged to.

One of the defining characteristics of the wanderer is the thematic presence of the number nine. Throughout the poem, the number nine is consistently used to symbolize the completion of a cycle or the passage of time. For example, the earth is described as having nine homes, the speaker has lost nine lords, and years are referred to in multiples of nine. This focus on the number nine is not unique to the wanderer, but rather a common motif in elegiac poetry.

  • The number nine in other elegies
  • Connection between the cyclic nature of life and elegies
  • The role of Christianity in elegiac poetry and the wanderer

The cyclic nature of life is a prominent theme in the wanderer and in other elegies. In the wanderer, the speaker reflects on the fleeting nature of human existence, using imagery of the changing seasons and the constant ebb and flow of the tides to illustrate this idea. Similarly, other elegies often use images of the natural world to convey the impermanence of life and the inevitability of death. This focus on the cyclical nature of life serves to amplify the melancholic tone of the poem and emphasize the sense of loss and sorrow that permeates throughout.

The influence of Christianity on elegiac poetry is also worth noting. During the medieval period, Christianity was a dominant force in society and culture, and many literary works reflected this influence. In the case of elegies, Christian beliefs about the afterlife and the final judgment were often interwoven into the poems. In the wanderer, for example, the speaker suggests that the only way to escape the sorrow and isolation of this life is to find solace in the arms of God in the afterlife. This Christian element, combined with the pervasive sense of loss and longing, makes the wanderer a particularly poignant example of medieval elegiac poetry.

Number Symbolism in the wanderer
9 The completion of a cycle or the passage of time
3 The Trinity, often used in relation to God and the afterlife
7 A numerologically powerful number, often used to symbolize perfection or completeness

In conclusion, the wanderer is an eloquent example of medieval elegiac poetry that reflects the deeply melancholic and mournful mood of the era. The use of the number nine as a symbol of time and completion is just one of the many literary devices used to convey the sense of loss and sorrow that permeates the poem. By examining the connections between the wanderer and other elegies, as well as the influence of Christian beliefs on the genre as a whole, we can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for this powerful example of medieval literature.

Significance of the wall in Anglo-Saxon culture and literature

The wall holds significant importance in Anglo-Saxon culture and literature. It serves as both a physical and metaphorical barrier, separating and protecting individuals and communities from danger or invasion. In fact, Anglo-Saxon societies were known for their fortifications, with walls being a key aspect of their defense strategies.

  • In Beowulf, the wall surrounding Herot is a symbol of the Danes’ strength and safety. It is a place of refuge for the people, and the mere existence of the wall serves as a deterrent for the Grendel.
  • The wall in The Wanderer, meanwhile, represents a sense of loss and grief. It is a physical manifestation of the Wanderer’s loneliness and displacement from his society. The wall serves as a reminder of what once was, and what has since been lost.
  • The wall also appears in the poem The Fortunes of Men, where it represents the fragility of earthly power. Despite its size and strength, walls can crumble and be breached, just as power and wealth can be lost.

The wall’s significance in Anglo-Saxon literature demonstrates the importance of physical and metaphorical boundaries in defining individuals and societies. Walls represent both protection and restriction, highlighting the precarious nature of human existence.

In conclusion, the significance of the wall in Anglo-Saxon culture and literature is multifaceted. It serves as both a symbol of strength and safety, as well as a metaphor for loss and grief. The mere presence of a wall can define and shape human experience, reminding us of the fragility of life and the importance of boundaries.

FAQs: What Does the Wall in the Wanderer Symbolize

1. What is the Wanderer?

The Wanderer is an Old English poem written in the Anglo-Saxon period. It tells the story of a warrior who is alone and wandering after the death of his Lord.

2. What is the Wall in the Wanderer?

The wall in the Wanderer is a metaphor for the impermanence of life. It represents the transience of human existence and the fleeting nature of all things.

3. What does the Wall symbolize in the poem?

The wall symbolizes the ultimate futility of human existence. It reminds us that all things must come to an end, and that nothing is permanent.

4. What does the Wall represent?

The wall represents the boundary between life and death. It is a reminder of the inevitable passage of time and the transient nature of all things.

5. Does the Wall have any deeper meaning?

Yes, the Wall can be seen as a symbol of the spiritual journey that the Wanderer is on. It represents the obstacles that he must overcome in order to reach enlightenment.

6. Is the Wall important in the poem?

Yes, the Wall is a central motif in the poem. It serves as a reminder of the impermanence of all things and the fleeting nature of human existence.

7. Why is the Wall important?

The Wall is important because it serves as a powerful reminder of the inevitability of death. It forces the Wanderer to confront his mortality and reflect on the significance of his life.

Closing Title: Thanks for Exploring the Symbolic Meaning of the Wall in the Wanderer

Thanks for taking the time to explore the meaning behind the wall in the Wanderer. As we have seen, this symbolic motif serves as a powerful reminder of the fleeting nature of human existence and the inevitability of death. By exploring the poem’s themes and motifs, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the challenges that we face in life and the spiritual journey that lies ahead. So thanks again for reading, and be sure to check back soon for more insights and inspiration.