Exeter Book

Exeter Book Summary

In the elegy "Deor," the narrator provides several examples from history and legend of men and women who overcame mental or physical hardships. Weyland was imprisoned and hamstrung by his enemy, but he survived. Beadohild was impregnated by her brothers' murderer and felt much emotional turmoil, but the pain eventually passed. Geat and Maethild's love was tormented, but that passed. Theodric's difficult reign lasted thirty years, but the struggle passed. Ermanaric was a cruel ruler who did not treat his warriors with respect, but that passed. Deor himself suffered because he was once a loyal court scop to a lord, but was replaced by another poet. His suffering also passed. The message of "Deor", reiterated by the poet many times, is that all types of grief eventually fade away with time.

In "The Ruin", the narrator gazes upon an empty, ruined city. He observes broken buildings, towers, and gates, imagining what the city looked like when proud warriors strode the city streets and treasure piled up in the halls. We learn that a plague swept through the city and killed all the inhabitants, leaving the narrator to muse on the transience of earthly life.

In "The Wife's Lament", the protagonist is in a foreign land, far away from her husband. While her husband was away, his kinsmen turned him against her, so she is now in hiding (or her husband turned out to be dishonest and sent her away). She is imprisoned under an oak tree and mourns her marriage. She is devastated by their separation and thinks longingly about happy lovers.

In "The Wanderer", the narrator is traveling at sea after his lord has died and he was unable to find another one. Exile is torture for him, and he suffers on his lonely journey on the icy, wintry seas. He remembers the comfort of the kinsmen in his hall and his relationship with his kind lord. However, he understands the grander scope of life. He urges readers to be wise and avoid being anxious, brash, proud, or grasping. Earthly life is short and men pass away. A man should remain courageous and stouthearted, keeping his emotions to himself. He should also trust God and fear Him, because He is the only one with the power to save a man's soul.

In "The Seafarer", the narrator is also alone at sea, but unlike the Wanderer, his exile is voluntary. He is traveling to the land of the exiles because he felt a yearning in his heart to undertake the journey. However, life at sea is lonely and marked by bitter cold, freezing rain, and roiling waves. He contrasts the ease of life on land with the difficulties of life at sea, but concludes that the latter leads to wisdom. A man should be aware that earthly life is short and everything fades away. Doing great deeds and making a name for oneself is something to strive for on earth, so that people can remember his name. A man should also look to God for security and peace, because it does not occur unless God wills it.

There are nearly 100 riddles in Exeter Book. Scholars often refer to Riddles 1, 2, and 3 as the "storm riddles" because they depict natural phenomena like thunderstorms, wind, and other atmospheric occurrences. Riddles 25, 44, and 45 are classified as double entendres, for they seem to be depicting sexual images but are actually referring to regular household items such as, respectively, an onion, a key, and dough. Riddle 72 possibly refers to the sun, but has been the subject of much speculation and scrutiny over the years.