9/19/08 - the wife's lament

In today's excerpt - 'The Wife's Lament', a beautiful and haunting tenth-century English poem of 53 lines, an elegy in the manner of the Old English frauenlied or woman's song—and a glimpse into both the emotional and poetic lives of our forebears:

"The wife doing the lamenting ... wants her husband back. ... The couple has been forced apart by vile in-laws, for unexplained reasons, and she has no hope that the two of them will ever be reunited. ... Her husband's kin have spirited him away, across the 'wild waves' of perhaps the English Channel. Now he lives in a foreign land somewhere far away, and she must exist in 'friendless exile' on hostile territory—her husband's family's lands. Her in-laws have thrown her out of the house, banishing her to an 'earth-cave' in a wooded grove, where she pines for him day and night.

"Full oft we pledged,
save death alone, naught should divide
us else; that is altered now.

Now is destroyed, as though it never were,
our friendship. ...

Friends there are on earth,
lovers living who lie abed,
when I, at daybreak, walk alone,
under oak-tree, through these earth-caves.
There I must sit the summer's day long,
where my exile-ways I mourn,
my many woes, for I never can,
my careworn self compose,
nor all the longing in me that this life begat.

"She and her 'much-loved one,' she thinks, both 'dwell wretched.' She feels his pain as sharply as her own, knowing that 'too often he will think upon a happier home,' which would be the marital home that no longer exists."

Click here to read the full poem.


Susan Squire


I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage


Bloomsbury USA, New York


Copyright 2008 by Susan Squir


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