Anglo-saxon Poetry: Elegies And Their Functions

Elegy, according to the OED is a song that expresses sorrow, such as a funeral or lament. These were a popular form of Anglo-Saxon poetry and Middle English poetry. Elegies allowed peace weavers to speak up when faced with the challenges of living among men of enormous power.

An elegy is a discussion about the loss of something and the grief they feel as a result. One of the earliest elegies was “The Wife’s lament”. The grief and sadness that the wife felt can be felt by readers. An elegy can affect you deeply, and you feel closer to the story. She fears being isolated and is finding it difficult to accept this. She says that the man’s kin plotted to seperate them so they could live in such a hostile world. She feels alone because her husband has abandoned her and left her without any protection. “First my Lord went away from his people across the storm-tossed ocean” (4). She also discusses how she keeps her safe while writing her lament. This shows tremendous courage and determination. This elegy reveals the torture and pain Peace weavers went through. They were not looking for love or respect, but power and silence when they married men. Women were considered second-class citizens and had to play the role of peacekeepers and mistresses. Men could give women to them who could provide a prosperous life. Sometimes, they would buy wealth into a marriage. Men were just as protective of women as their husbands. The women’s decisions were made by men. The Elegies give readers the chance to look into the lives of these “peaceweavers” and to understand what they went through. This woman was forced to leave her family to live with a hostile tribe. The wife of this hero is brave because she must handle everything on her own, while also dealing with the severe consequences. This poem is about a woman who finds herself in a predicament. It’s a melodramatic poetic soliloquy with extraordinary emotional language.

Hildeburh, another peace-weaver who felt under pressure, was another example. She was the Danish king’s daughter, and she married Finn, the King Of Jutes. She is at first a happy princess. She is “deprived” of her beloved ones at shield-play, of brother and son (121). Finn, Finn’s brother and son, died when she married him from a hostile tribe. She lets go her passiveness and tries to assume her role of peace-weaver. Hildeburh demonstrates her disgust for the social norm by taking complete control of her elegy. She brings out the peace symbol, even though we don’t hear it. Hildeburh is known to mourn through “geomrode gaidum,” or songs of sorrow. Some may argue that Hildeburh was not able to fulfill her peace-making role. But, Hildeburh shows her power by ordering the burnings of bodies. Hildebruh used “Beowulf,” an elegy, to bring together a hostile tribe and a peaceful one.

Judith, AngloSaxon heroine, has a distinctive personality that sets her apart from previous peaceweavers. Because she is a widow, her household includes servants and enormous power. She also has a lot of money and she uses that to purchase gold to seduce Holofernes. Her appearance is described as “laden with rings” or “bedecked by ornaments.” This power allows her to command the Jews to go against Holofernes. It is her guilt and love for her husband that drives her to fight. Her touching and poignant elegy ignites the fire that she needs to defeat Holofernes. She said, “Lord God Israel, grant me strength! Now, guide these hands right, and give Jerusalem relief that thou promised. 8 Then she moved to the couch’s head and unfastened her scimitar. 9 She took the man’s hair by the ear and grabbed him. “Lord God, I need your strength now!” (134). After her powerful elegy Judith is able to decapitate Holofernes.

Elegies serve two purposes: to help them deal with painful events and motivate them to live on. Even though the Elegies were deeply sad, these women had courage and showed hope. Elegies gave women the freedom to express themselves freely, even though they were not able to do so in the Middle Ages.



Makhi is a 34 yo educational blogger who is passionate about writing and exploring new content ideas. She has a degree in English from the University of Utah and is currently working as a teacher in a public school in Utah. Makhi has been published in numerous online journals and has been featured on national television networks.