The common thread that runs through Anglo-Saxon poetry like the golden coils of a Sutton Hoo serpent is the nostalgic pain of longing for lost things. Again and again the same phrases are spoken in ‘Beowulf’ and in poems like ‘The Seafarer’ and ‘The Wanderer’. It feels as if one were a direct source for another and they may well have been if the poets were familiar with other works and created variations on a common theme of loss on a heroic scale through generations of oral transmission, weaving one passage into another over time.
Reading these works we almost get a sense that the Anglo-Saxons were fixated by the imagery of hardship and loss. Whether it be the exile of the sea or the abandonment of old age; the longing for the mead hall in day gone by pervades their poetry and the imagery is poignant and beautiful and intensely moving.
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