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Sarah Ray


Bold Points






Tulsa Community College

Associate's degree program
2021 - 2024
  • Majors:
    • English Language and Literature, General


  • Desired degree level:

    Bachelor's degree program

  • Graduate schools of interest:

  • Transfer schools of interest:

  • Majors of interest:

  • Not planning to go to medical school
  • Career

    • Dream career field:

      Writing and Editing

    • Dream career goals:

      RonranGlee Literary Scholarship
      An Interpretation of “Wulf and Eadwacer” By Sarah Ray It is as though my people have been given A present. They wish to capture him If he comes with a troop. We are apart. Wulf is on one isle, I am on another. Fast is that island set among the fens. Murderous are the people who inhabit That island. They will wish to capture him If he comes with a troop. We are apart. Grieved have I for my Wulf with distant longings. Then was it rainy weather, and I sad, When the bold warrior laid his arms about me. I took delight in that and also pain. O Wulf, my Wulf, my longing for your coming Has made me ill, the rareness of your visits, My grieving spirit, not the lack of food. Eadwacer, do you hear me? For a wolf Shall carry to the woods our wretched whelp. Men very easily may put asunder That which was never joined, our song together. Lēodum is mīnum swylce him mon lāc gife; willað hȳ hine āþecgan gif hē on þrēat cymeð. Ungelīc is ūs. Wulf is on īege, ic on ōþerre. 5Fæst is þæt ēglond, fenne biworpen. Sindon wælrēowe weras þǣr on īge; willað hȳ hine āþecgan gif hē on þrēat cymeð. Ungelīce is ūs. Wulfes ic mīnes wīdlāstum wēnum hogode, 10þonne hit wæs rēnig weder ond ic rēotugu sæt, þonne mec se beaducāfa bōgum bilegde, wæs mē wyn tō þon, wæs mē hwæþre ēac lāð. Wulf, mīn Wulf! wēna mē þīne sēoce gedydon, þīne seldcymas, 15murnende mōd, nales metelīste. Gehȳrest þū, Ēadwacer? Uncerne eargne hwelp bireð wulf tō wuda. Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs, uncer giedd geador. The Modern English translation is by Richard Hamer, A Choice of Anglo-Saxon Verse (1970). The Old English version is from The Exeter Book of Old English Poetry, published in 1933 with some introductory chapters by R. W. Chambers. The screenshot was taken from Peter S. Baker’s peer-reviewed article, “The Ambiguitiy of ‘Wulf and Eadwacer’” (1981). The word “wulf” in line 16 was highlighted by me. Ancient texts can be confusing due to their lack of context, and the Old English poem “Wulf and Eadwacer” is no different. It is an intriguing poem precisely because very little is known about exactly when it was written (it is found in the Exeter Book from about 975 A.D., but could have been penned prior to that), who wrote it, and what story is being told within it. But from the cryptic verse, the thin line of a story can be drawn. The story I propose is this: Wulf and the female narrator were lovers from warring tribes before he had to go into his current hiding place, on an island separate from her and her people who want to kill him. Then she had to marry Eadwacer, and the wolf referred to at the end of the poem is actually the man Wulf, who has come and stolen away the child of the narrator and Eadwacer. One of the first facts of the poem that can be discovered is that the narrator is a woman. We can tell this because, aside from the narrator’s relationships with men, the Old English word reotugu has an adjectival ending that denotes the gender of the speaker as female. This fact is mentioned in the poem’s preface in The Norton Anthology of English Literature (2018), where I first read Hamer’s translation. As this detail, crucial to understanding an already complex poem, is hidden from the reader until line 10, the poem must be read several times and examined as a whole in order to get the fullest meaning possible. (This is a work that especially merits rereading!) While the female narrator is not named, there are two male names in the poem: Wulf and Eadwacer. As the narrator has different reactions towards both of the names (grieving for Wulf, and making sure Eadwacer can hear her before saying that their child will be taken away), it makes the most sense that these names refer to two separate men. The first nine lines, when taken together, indicate that Wulf and the female narrator were lovers from enemy tribes. Phrases in the poem, from the narrator’s people “wish[ing] to capture” Wulf, to the mention that they “are apart”, to the female narrator’s admission that she has “grieved… for… Wulf with distant longings” all support the idea that they were together at one point, and want to be now, but can’t (lines 2, 3, and 9, respectively). These two groups the narrator belongs to – the tribe she is a part of and the couple she and Wulf are (or were) together – represent a pull between the often-opposing forces of duty and love. But duty seems to win out, as the next part of the poem focuses on her relationship, and possibly marriage, with a “bold warrior” (line 11). This line makes the most sense in reference to Eadwacer, even though he is not mentioned by name until line 16. The bold warrior is definitely someone other than lone Wulf, because the narrator was sad that Wulf was gone when “the bold warrior laid his arms about [her]” (line 11). And the only other man named in the poem is Eadwacer. His name also literally means “property watcher” (both his and Wulf’s name meanings are given in the poem’s Norton Anthology preface). After Wulf left or had to go into hiding from the narrator’s tribe, the narrator must have had to marry Eadwacer, someone acceptable in her own tribe. And wouldn’t a property-watcher, like a shepherd, try and keep dangerous “wolves” away from the property, perhaps including his wife? I posit that the wolf referred to in line 16 of the poem is actually Wulf, the man that the female narrator longs for who has been referred to throughout the poem. After all, the Old English version of the poem has “wulf”, spelled the same as the man’s name, written for what is translated in Hamer’s version as “wolf” So the fact that his name is quite literally the word for a wolf , which was often a symbol of an outlaw, supports the idea that Wulf is the one referred to in line 16 and that he is in hiding from the woman’s tribe or clan. Since the wolf is carrying the child away, it makes sense to call the child a whelp, especially since it denotes a sort of helpless state. And if the narrator seems to not care as deeply for Eadwacer as she does for her former lover or her child, that makes sense, if she did not want to marry Eadwacer in the first place, as evidenced by the mixed feelings of “delight… and also pain” she has in regards to him (line 12). The mention of a child also brings up the question of whether the “whelp” is the offspring of the narrator and Wulf or of her and Eadwacer. But the idea that the child is Eadwacer’s makes the most sense with the (albeit muddled) timeline in the poem, for if the child was conceived when the bold warrior “laid his arms about [the female narrator]” that would have been when Wulf was already gone, as has been previously established. And if it is Eadwacer’s child, it makes even more sense that a jealous Wulf would come to steal, and perhaps kill, it, for a disastrous end seems to be spelled for the whelp, and it is unlikely that Wulf would want to inflict that on his own child. So if we take “wolf” in line 16 to mean Wulf the man, then we must also take the “wolf coming to steal the child” part as the more logical idea that Wulf is coming to get his revenge on Eadwacer, and, perhaps, the female narrator too. The last lines of the poem have the narrator stating that “Men very easily may put asunder / That which was never joined, our song together” (lines 18 – 19). This could potentially refer to Wulf or Eadwacer. Does the narrator mean her relationship with Wulf, which was (we can assume) not joined in marriage, or the relationship with Eadwacer, which wasn’t joined by mutual love or an emotional connection? It could be argued that Hamer’s translation invites more confusion than is actually there, as it translates wulf in line 16 as “wolf”, which some people (including the writers of the poem’s Norton Anthology preface) take to mean a literal wolf. Of course there is not a good way in Modern English to represent the symbolism present in the Old English with Wulf’s name being spelled the same as that of the animal, but it could at least be written as wolf/ Wulf in the translation, so as to show the possibilities of the word’s meaning. Thanks to the Old English version of the poem, it can be deduced that the wolf referred to in line 16 is actually Wulf. Further examination of the text leads to the notion that Wulf and the female narrator were lovers from opposing tribes, that Wulf went into hiding, the narrator had to marry Eadwacer, and that at the end of the poem Wulf comes to carry the child of the narrator and Eadwacer to the woods. However, none of this is clear or readily apparent from a surface-level reading of the text. It still isn’t perfectly clear after hundreds of years of scholars researching and studying old writings. These ambiguities of the poem, which act as signposts that point the reader in various directions but do not clear the fog in order to get there, are what makes it such an interesting poem to discuss from a literary standpoint.