Heathen and Christian Elements in the Wanderer
The modern word 'weird' bears only a superficial resemblance to its etymological descendent, wyrd. What now stands for 'strange' and 'queer' only has an archaic connection to its classical meaning of 'Fate'. During the process of evolution, however, the word went through many phases, especially during the formation of the English language by the Anglo-Saxons.
Wyrd appears fairly often in Old English poetry and prose, indicating a certain importance in Germanic society. By following the changes the word undergoes, it is also possible to follow some of the changes that the culture undergoes as well. A fine example of Old English poetry that employs wyrd on four separate occasions - with four separate meanings - is The Wanderer.
What began as a word firmly rooted in what can only be termed 'heathen' culture eventually began to take on much more religious overtones. The word wyrd, though originally pagan in meaning, had found an entirely Christian colouring by the time of its use in The Wanderer.
Before beginning an analysis of a single word that appears four times in this poem, it is important to establish a few assumptions about the nature of the piece itself. Many an article and essay have been written about The Wanderer, trying to define its theme, genre, even its narrator. Yet the wonderfully ambiguous nature of the poem defies any single explanation, so it remains up to the critical reader to develop his own opinion.
For the purpose of this paper, it is believed that The Wanderer is, in essence, a heathen/pagan poem, rooted firmly in the Germanic culture from whence it hails. However, the beginning and the ending of the piece are definitely Christian in nature. Whether the opening and closing lines were added on by a christian scribe, or were intentionally written as parts of the whole (Timmer, Wyrd 221), it is a subject to be examined in another essay - this piece is more preoccupied by the nature, and evolution, of a single word: wyrd.
While the word wyrd itself undergoes a change throughout the poem, so does the 'narrator'/subject of The Wanderer.1 As "the wanderer [of the poem] deals with [the customs and trappings of Germanic society], transforming or transcending them, he also moves from basically pre-christian or pagan concerns to Christian ones." (Bjork 120) Running parallel to this evolution, the word wyrd leaves behind its pagan roots and develops a connotation that is entirely christian as well.
It is also essential to fully understand the various meanings of wyrd before examining its evolution in The Wanderer. As mentioned, the word is steeped in Germanic lore, and reaches even further back into Greco-Roman times and mythology. Its classical meaning refers quite simply to Fate (what has been spoken [by some superior power]), but...