Towards the Source of ‘The Wanderer’

Christopher Brennan's sequence 'The Wanderer' does not have to be defended as one c the most important literary artefacts of Australia's most interesting literary decade. It ha rightly deserved the quantity and quality of the critical attention it has received. And yet is surprising that the most important extraneous thing about it seems not to have bee remarked: its relationship to an Old English poem of the same name.

The importance of Tennyson in the poem's ancestry (and particularly of 'I Mcmoriam') has been recorded. So has the influence of the English fin-de-siecle. But tin the eighth or ninth century poem nowadays called 'The Wanderer' must have been a majc influence is. apparently, nowhere commented upon, either because it is too obvious t need remarking or because it has not yet been discovered- which ought to be incredible.

There is no escaping the relationship. Not only does Brennan's sequence appear to hav derived some of its imagery and diction from an OE source, but its title, 'ideas' an structure all replicate those of the ancient poem. Indeed, it is hard to believe other tha that Brennan thought that he was putting together a new version of the older poem, an that it would be generally understood that that was what his 'Wanderer' was. Certainly, I would suggest, a right reading of Brennan's work would be aware of tr earlier poem, for the one is an extended allusion to the other. The OE poem is part of Brennan's meaning, just as its original is part of the meaning of a parody.

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Published 1 October 1979 in Volume 9 No. 2. Subjects: Imagery, Literary influences, Writer's research & sources.

Cite as: Castle, E. R.. ‘Towards the Source of ‘The Wanderer’.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, 1979.