A short note on Widsith, an Anglo Saxon poem and its importance

The place of the earliest known Anglo-Saxon poem is attributed to Widsith. The work is rather of a pagan tradition, but it remains quite interesting for a modern reader. The unknown Anglo-Saxon poet of Widsith has definitely displayed the very nature as well as the outlook of pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon poetry.

Widsith is a short poem–rather a song. It records the experience and sensations of a traveler who has wandered much. Widsith or the far wanderer has traveled widely among different tribes and races and come across different tribal chiefs and princely rulers. The wanderer gives a list of the tribal princes with whom he was acquainted and who had given him rich presents. Some of these princes, like Eormenric, king of the Goths, Attila, king of the Huns and Alboin, king of the Lombards, and Theodrik, king of Franks, are historical figures. References are also made to Hrothgar and Hrothwulf and their victory over an incident mentioned in Beowulf. The poet also describes the rituals and the social manners and customs of different primitive people. It further contains some details about the wandering minstrels of primitive times. In short, Widsith is a record of the tribes and tribal heroes of the remote Teutonic world.

Widsith is a valuable piece of the social documents of primitive life and times in Britain. It has, no doubt, a historical and legendary character. But the historical elements, recorded in it, are seldom accurate. Widsith, in fact, is plainly no historical work, but a typical document of primitive societies and social life. The importance of the poem mainly lies in its social aspects. The work contains too much of the rites and customs, habits, and manners of the Teutonic people of the past.

Widsith is also rich in descriptive details and may be characterized as the first parent of descriptive English poems, like Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. In its enumeration of different primitive princes and lords, the poem, though not an epic itself, contains much matter common with epic poetry. Yet, Widsith bears plenty of lyrical notes in the poet’s subjective description and reflections. Moreover, the unknown poet’s concluding glorification of his craft is strongly personal and, at the same time, synthesizes individuality and universality. All these are definitely
lyrical features.

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