Wulf and Eadwacer: For Whom, For What?
Medieval and Early Modern English Studies, vol. 12 (2004) No. 2
Probably, no poem in the Anglo-Saxon corpus has occasioned as much scholarly disagreement and curiosity as Wulf and Eadwacer. The poem has been variously regarded as a riddle, a charm, a Franuenlied, a funeral lament, a canine or lupine story. However, nothing encourages us to regard the poem as merely one of these literary genres. Lacking sufficient plot, any doctrinal framework, conventional theme, or obviously formulaic passages, the poem defies interpretation, as labeled in the title of Alain Renoir’s article (147-63). Though everything in Wulf and Eadwacer is so cryptic and ambiguous that we are invited to fill the missing links in the adequately filled-out story, one thing must be clear that this is a lament by a female speaker addressed to an absent wulf, as indicated by the nominative feminine reotugu, “weeping,” in line 10 and seoce, “troubled or sick” in line 14. From now on, I want to show the tracks I followed to solve this elaborate cross-word puzzle like poem with my imagination and old English dictionaries. I hope that my simple way of translating the poem line by line will answer some intriguing questions thrown by the poem in the end―what is the situation with this female speaker? Who is Wulf, who is Eadwacer? Are they one and the same? Or different men? What is their relationship to the speaker? And what kind of imagery or metaphors are employed to disclose their ‘drastic’ situation?