‘No man is wise until he lives many winters
In the kingdom of the world.’
So it is written in the ancient Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Wanderer’. It was one of my daughters who sent me these lines and they struck a chord. And the poet goes on:
‘The wise must be patient,
Never too hasty with feelings nor too hot with words
Nor too weak as a warrior nor too witlessly brash
Nor too fearful nor too ready nor too greedy for reward
Nor even too feverish for boasting until testing his fibre.
A man should wait before he makes a vow
Until, like a true warrior, he eagerly tests
Which way the courage of his heart will course.’
Here is a man who has seen all the victories, the joys of allegiance to tribe, fellowship, surrounded by kindred spirits and led by his trusted and beloved leader and chief, all lost long ago, in battle and ruins, so it seems, leaving the wanderer, the lost and lonesome he has become, grieving, wandering, searching for words to express the wisdom such loss has wrought. Not for a long time have I read such a moving account of human despair yet also utter insight and wisdom concentrated in tears of loss.
What is wisdom anyway? Some young may well scoff at the word as they can’t have it, yet, and some older ones who know they do have it, a bit of it anyway, deep insight, take no joy in it, as they know too well that the wisdom they might call their own was earned through countless painful crisis, every bit of it. That’s the thing with wisdom. It comes at a painful and often bitter price, one we will inevitably pay for in life or we haven’t lived. It wipes the smug grin of one’s face. St Augustine was wise, St John of the Cross and many others. They too had their falls, trials and tribulations, their drunken bouts and questionable encounters with the other sex before reforming themselves and turning into the wise men and teachers we remember them for. As for me, I have done things I am not proud of and what I’ve learned I learned the hard way, made me ask for forgiveness to this day, still makes me try to make amends every day. How about you?
As for the poem, I cannot help but smile yet ponder too over words of old celebrations in mead halls, friendship, the profound sense of belonging. All lost, however, gone, in ruins, in the past.
And yet there is solace too:
‘Often the lonely receives love’, so the poem begins.
And the knowledge of the price of victory and loss is here too. It’s all here in fact and this was written when? A very long time ago. How little we have changed as a race. I can’t help but think there’s a profound message for us here in our time, from old, and not just because the days get shorter and colder and nights longer and darker. You have to go out into the dark to see the stars.
This poem resonates with me and I will ponder for a while longer, I guess, just why that is so. One thing is for certain, the poem has survived to this day for a reason, and is not known by many for other ones. For it takes courage to recognise that we must fall, that even kingdoms must fall at some stage, for there to be something new. It also takes willingness to accept that we should cherish and look after what we have for it will not last. Not for our own sake we should do that but for those we care for, for the world too, which we inherited and have yet to pass on, are in the constant process of passing on. Not to squander lightly what we are blessed with, for as the wanderer reflects
‘The good warrior must understand how ghostly it will be
When all this world of wealth stands wasted
As now in many places about this massive earth
Walls stand battered by the wind,
Covered by frost, the roofs collapsed.
The wine halls crumbled; the warriors lie dead,
Cut off from joy; the great troop all crumpled’
I am grateful to my daughter for giving me this poem. It made me stop in my usual tracks and listen differently for the moment to what is happening these days, realise what may well happen, will happen, appreciate differently what did happen. I give it to you herewith, this beautiful and powerful poem. Spend some time with it, it is well worth it.
Take care and good luck.