The poetry of the Anglo-Saxons echoes thoughts, sentiments and moral values from a period of English history encompassing roughly six hundred years, beginning with the fifth-century influx of Germanic tribes from beyond the north-west boundary of the Roman empire and ending with the Norman Conquest.
First time readers of Old English (Anglo-Saxon) literature often expect to find clear pagan motivations in the texts as well as a stoical ethos: the plight of the warrior-farmer confronting his foes. Yet, more often than not, the poetry's heroic aspect is cast in the light of Christian concepts such as spiritual warfare and, as is the case in The Wanderer, the condition by which an outcast may come to a redeeming insight: that even the world of heroes is "mutable under heaven" and that only through consciousness of God's immutability may he be saved from despair and find purpose in this world.

The Wanderer is part of a codex known as the Exeter Book, which was given to the library of Exeter Cathedral by its first bishop, Leofric, who died in 1072. The poetry in the Exeter Book (which also contains The Seafarer, Widsith, The Wife's Lament, and a collection of riddles) is perhaps the largest collection of Old English literature we have. It appears to have been copied by a single scribe, probably in the late 10th century, though The Wanderer is possibly much older, perhaps dating to the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon tribes to Christianity, which began around 600 A.D. The poem conforms to a classic archetypal pattern of the Middle Ages: the journey from worldly attachment to spiritual awareness. The poet begins by voicing his yearning for lost splendor and a noble -heroic- past. He also mourns a perished fellowship and the loss of kin. But this yearning, this sense of utter loneliness ("none now lives to whom I dare openly express my inmost thoughts") is seen as ultimately beneficial to the speaker, for "to desire the help of grace is the beginning of grace" (Augustine of Hippo, On Rebuke and Grace) This journey homewards for which the Wanderer longs, and for which exile has prepared him, is finally understood to be life's journey towards death and union with "the Father in heaven, where for us, all stands fast."

The basic pattern of the Anglo-Saxon verse is that of an unmeasured line divided by a caesura into two half-lines each carrying two stresses. These two hemistichs are then bound together by alliteration. This sound connection was meant to occur in at least two (but often three) of the accented syllables. The overall shape of the first half of the verse was expected to create a sense of anticipation or drama that would unfold in the second half-line where the first word carrying a stress was meant to have a maximum of rhetorical significance and was therefore the only one expected to alliterate with the accented syllables in the first half-line. The translation from Old English into Modern English was made for the purpose of creating a text suitable for musical setting. Although all errors remain my own, I am grateful to Caleb Carr and Josh Cohen for their patient help in trimming down some of the infelicities of my English verse.

From a musical standpoint, The Wanderer was set as a six-part counterpoint. The sound world is re-interpretative of early Renaissance music (ca. 1480-1520), particularly of the work of Josquin des Prez. The actual counterpoint is perhaps unusual in that I developed a set of rules that, while inspired by the mechanics of the earlier practice, substantially redefine the treatment of dissonance, the notion of consonance and core aspects of voice-leading. This alternate musical environment was meant to allow for both a smooth, consistent surface and a "timeless" way of handling harmonic progressions.


- Ezequiel Viñao