Anglo-Saxon Eleagic Poetry


Anglo-Saxon Eleagic Poetry

Hlafdige Arastorm the Golden

Aka Tchipakkan © 2009

The group of short poems called “Eleagic” are mostly found in the manuscript The Exeter Book, which was made in the late 10th century, and so called because it was given to the see of Exeter in the late 11th. The poems include The Wanderer, The Seafarer, Deor, Wulf and Eadwacer, the Wife’s Lament, the Husbands Message, & the Ruin.  They are part of the larger group called Wisdom literature, including the Rune Poem, which is supposed to express universal truths, (like the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Bible, and they also have features in common with the Riddles also found in the Exeter Book.

Also often included in the Eleagic category are the Rhyming Poem, and the laments that make up parts of longer poems like Beowulf, Guthlac, and Resignation. All Eleagic poems, both the short poems and the pieces of longer ones, share themes of loss, exile, and physical hardship, and feature desolate landscapes and other symbols of the transient nature of earthly happiness. Most of them are presented as first person, either the exiled one ore the person contemplating separation. The poem generally takes the form of a monolog that begins with the speakers plight and ends with a general conclusion for the audience.

The formula is one that portrays deep feelings. These range from longing for an absent loved one (as in the Husband’s Message and the Wife’s Lament), or something lost, (a beloved Lord and fellowship in Deor), to the inexplicable longing for the sea expressed in the Seafarer, or the more philosophical contemplation of the difference between current desolation and former joy in The Ruin. The endings may be homotitic or gnomic, and the poems often have stressed repetitions, although Deor is unique in surviving poems in having a refrain (“Those sorrows passed, so may these.”)

There are no known local source to this genre, but similar forms are seen in the laments in the Welsh Llwarch Hen cycle, and in Latin, Norse and other Celtic works.


Many of these can be found in translation in

Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Anglo-Saxon World


You can find Deor on line at the Engliscan Gesithas web site:

Old English Elegies Anne Klinck- takes a while to load, but there are photos of Resignation- lovely calligraphy.



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