The Husband's Message
The Husband's Message

Table of Contents

The Husband Message

“The Husband Message” stands as an enigmatic Old English poem, spanning 53 lines and residing exclusively on folio 123 within the Exeter Book. This poetic composition takes the form of a personal communication, with the author remaining anonymous throughout, addressing a wife. It presents a compelling puzzle, inviting readers to unravel the concealed identity of the speaker and the underlying substance of their discourse. Adding to the intrigue is the presence of a burn-hole near the outset of the poem, further shrouding its secrets in mystery.

This poem is exclusively preserved within the Exeter Book, a rare and invaluable anthology of poetry from the Anglo-Saxon era. The Exeter Book, believed to have been created during the 10th century, with certain estimates suggesting an even earlier inception, stands as a significant testament to the literary heritage of that era, possibly originating as early as 970.

The Husband's Message
The Husband's Message

Integrity Of The Poem

The poem is exclusively preserved within the Exeter Book, a rare surviving compilation of poetry from the Anglo-Saxon period. Originating in the 10th century, some estimates even trace the book’s inception back to as early as 970. This remarkable manuscript encompasses over 90 riddles along with numerous other poetic compositions.

However, the manuscript bears the scars of burn damage that afflict the initial passage of the poem. These burn marks shroud lines 2 to 8 in uncertainty, rendering their precise meaning elusive due to the missing words. From the fragmentary words that remain in these lines, it becomes apparent that the poem unfolds in the first person, with the speaker alluding to their origins as a tree, recurring journeys by ship, involvement of another land, and a lord who dispatched the speaker on a quest to find their true love.

While other parts of the poem also suffer from damage, the extent is not as severe as that afflicting lines 2 to 8. “The Husband Message​”


The Husband’s Message tells the story of a man who was forced to leave his homeland and his wife due to a feud. The poem takes place after the feud has ended. The supposedly wealthy and established husband carves a message onto a plank or staff of wood and sends it to his wife or his betrothed, the exact relationship between the man and woman is never specified, recounting the past years without her, reflecting on his past misfortunes, professing his love for her and imploring her to reunite with him in his new home. Thus, the “message” becomes the physical plank of wood itself, as well as the poem’s written lyrics. “The Husband Message​”

Issues of Interpretation

Although the poem’s overall text presents a relatively clear narrative, scholarly discourse has given rise to debates surrounding various aspects of interpretation:


As an illustration, numerous Anglo-Saxon scholars assert that the poem should be hailed as a “love lyric” distinguished by its “ingenious form and emotive power.” Conversely, there exists a counterpoint among scholars who contend that the themes of “loss,” particularly the loss of time due to adverse circumstances, and “happiness” cast The Husband’s Message more in the light of an elegy. An elegy, in the realm of poetry, serves as a lament for someone or something lost.

Anne L. Klinck, for instance, categorizes this poem as optimistic, emphasizing themes of love and lamentation. Nevertheless, she still positions it within the elegies contained in the Exeter Book. Niles, on the other hand, groups The Seafarer, The Wife’s Lament, Wulf and Eadwacer, and The Husband’s Message together, considering them all as elegies within the Exeter Book. Niles also draws attention to the parallel of the first-person speaker in The Husband’s Message and the 50 riddles found in the Exeter Book, signifying the need for readers to unravel the identity of the speaker within both the riddles and this particular poem. “The Husband Message​”

Identity Of The Speaker

Another prominent conundrum associated with this work revolves around the identity of the speaker: who, indeed, is the voice behind the poem’s words? While some argue that the speaker assumes a human persona, implying that it is the husband himself, employing the literary device of personifying the wood’s voice, others maintain that the wood itself serves as the husband’s messenger. Advocates of the wood-messenger theory find support in the Exeter Book’s riddles, which employ analogous personifications. Additionally, the poem commences with the lines, roughly translated from a damaged manuscript, “Now I will tell you especially / what kind of tree I, as offspring, grew from,”  which, when taken literally, may suggest that the wood functions as the messenger.

However, John D. Niles posits that no distinct speech identity is developed and that there is no clear introduction of the actual speaker. An alternative school of thought contends that the speaker shifts throughout the poem, indicating that at times the husband recounts a story, while at other times, the wood itself speaks. Yet another perspective asserts that the messenger is a human dispatched by the exiled man, but the message he brings is somehow inscribed onto a piece of wood.


One final enigmatic element of “The Husband’s Message” revolves around the presence of runes or special characters. Towards the conclusion of the poem, special characters are etched onto the wood carried by the messenger. In lines 49-50, the reader encounters the messenger bearing a runic stave, which is essentially a stick inscribed with a runic message, including these distinctive characters: “S,” “EA,” “M,” “R,” and “W.” These characters stand out conspicuously within the manuscript, both in terms of their size and their isolation.

Scholars widely believe these characters to be runes, yet Anglo-Saxonists remain uncertain about the precise role they are meant to fulfill in the poem’s narrative. One theory posits that they should be “deciphered…as an oath that the man swears to the woman and are his secret instructions concerning the journey she must make to find him.” This interpretation aligns with the husband’s past exile, suggesting that it would be advantageous for him and his wife to keep his new whereabouts confidential.

Some scholars have ventured to translate these special characters. In John D. Niles’ essay on “The Husband’s Message,” his translation incorporates two groups: the standard Anglo-Saxon futhorc, which is the Runic alphabet with additional letters for writing the Old English Alphabet, and Standard Insular Script, a medieval script developed in Ireland, significantly influenced by Celtic Christianity in England. In this context, the special characters within the Anglo-Saxon futhorc represent “S” for sigel, “EA” for ear, and “M” for mann. Meanwhile, the “R” corresponds to rad, and the “W” to wynn, both belonging to the insular script.

A modern translation by Bradley assigns the following meanings to the characters: “S” for sun, “EA” for earth, “M” for man, “R” for road, and “W” for joy. These characters are regarded as a unique code, akin to a riddle, and the key to unraveling this code lies in understanding the runic alphabet.

Connection to Riddle 60 or The Wife's Lament?

Another enigma surrounding “The Husband’s Message” pertains to its potential connection, or lack thereof, with “The Wife’s Lament” and Exeter Book Riddle 60. “The Wife’s Lament” and “The Husband’s Message” share similarities in style and mood. Some Anglo-Saxon scholars have posited a link between the two poems based on their treatment of lovers’ separation. However, it’s important to note that there is no definitive evidence establishing a connection between them, beyond their modern titles and stylistic resemblances.

The connection to Exeter Book Riddle 60 may present a more compelling argument, primarily because Riddle 60 directly precedes “The Husband’s Message” within the manuscript. Lines 49-50 of “The Husband’s Message” reference a rune-stave, a device involving personification. Notably, this notion of personification is employed in Riddle 60, where the object being personified is a tree or plant. Some have posited that Riddle 60 serves as the prelude to “The Husband’s Message” due to this common theme of personifying a tree or plant. However, the prevailing consensus maintains that these are distinct texts.

Furthermore, the 17 lines of Riddle 60 do not contain the perplexing contradictions often found in other riddles within the Exeter Book, which seem designed to confound the reader.

The poem’s nature may indeed be riddle-like, as suggested by the runic clues at its conclusion. Various interpretations have been proposed, ranging from identifying the solution as ‘Christ’ to ‘The Gospel.’

Editions And Translations

1. “Old and Middle English c.890-c.1400: an Anthology,” edited by Elaine Treharne. Published by Blackwell in 2004. (Page 245)

2. “The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry,” edited by B.J. Muir. This is a two-volume work, with Volume 1 being a 2nd edition published in Exeter in 2000. You can find relevant content on pages 354-356, and commentary in Volume 2, pages 597-602.

3. “A Choice of Anglo-Saxon Verse,” edited and translated by R.F.S. Hamer in 1970. This work can be found in “A Choice of Anglo-Saxon Verse,” edited by the same person, in London.

4. “Three Old English Elegies,” edited by R.F. Leslie in 1961.

5. “Anglo-Saxon Poetry,” translated by S.A.J. Bradley in 1982. This can be located in the book “Anglo-Saxon Poetry,” edited by the same person, in London. Relevant content is on pages 398-400.

6. “Seven Anglo-Saxon Elegies,” translated by Louis J. Rodrigues in 1991. This work can be found in Felinfach and covers pages 87-95.


What is the Theme of The Husband’s Message?

The theme of “The Husband’s Message,” a poem found in the Exeter Book, revolves around longing, loyalty, and the challenges of separated lovers. It explores themes of reconciliation and the enduring nature of love despite physical and emotional distance.

What is the Translation of The Husband’s Message?

“The Husband’s Message” has been translated from Old English to modern English, and its essence conveys a heartfelt appeal from a husband to his estranged wife, urging her to join him overseas where he has established a new life and promising loyalty and love.

Who Wrote The Husband’s Message?

“The Husband’s Message” is an anonymous Old English poem from the Exeter Book, and its author remains unknown. It was likely written by a scop (a poet as per Anglo-Saxon tradition) and is attributed to the collective literary tradition of that era rather than a single individual.

What is the Tone of The Husband’s Message?

The tone of “The Husband’s Message” is pleading and hopeful. The speaker, a piece of wood carved with runes, conveys a heartfelt and persuasive message from the husband, characterized by a tone of longing and assurance.

What is the Main Message of the Story?

The main message of the story often depends on its context, but generally, it involves the critical theme or moral the author wishes to convey. This could range from the importance of honesty to the resilience required to overcome adversity.

What is the Theme Message of the Story?

The theme message of a story encapsulates its central moral or message, which could involve lessons about life, critiques of society, or explorations of universal human values like love, betrayal, or courage.

What is the Prosopopoeia in The Husband’s Message?

In “The Husband’s Message,” the prosopopoeia is employed by giving human characteristics to a wooden stick, which speaks to the wife conveying messages of love and loyalty from her husband. This literary device helps to animate an inanimate object to enhance the narrative’s emotional impact.

What is the Meaning of Wulf and Eadwacer?

“Wulf and Eadwacer” is another poem from the Exeter Book, and its meaning is complex and debated. It appears to describe a troubled relationship between the speaker, possibly a woman, and two men, involving themes of loyalty, longing, and social separation.

Who Wrote The Husband?

“The Husband” can refer to several works by different authors. For example, Dean Koontz wrote a novel titled “The Husband.” If you are referring to a different “The Husband,” please provide additional context.

What is the Theme of My Husband Discovers Poetry?

In Diane Lockward’s poem “My Husband Discovers Poetry,” the theme explores the transformative power of poetry and the unexpected ways it can affect individuals, highlighting changes in perception and emotional depth that poetry can evoke in someone previously indifferent to it.

Who Wrote The Husband’s Secret?

“The Husband’s Secret” is a novel written by Liane Moriarty. It delves into the lives of three women affected by a tragic secret that has the potential to change their lives dramatically.

What is the Summary of Deor’s Lament?

“Deor’s Lament” is an Old English poem in which the titular Deor reflects on his misfortunes and the historical woes of others, ultimately concluding that many troubles have passed and so will his. The refrain “That passed away, so may this” underscores a theme of enduring and overcoming adversity.

What is the Poet’s Tone In?

The poet’s tone can vary significantly across different poems but generally refers to the attitude or emotional mood conveyed by the poet through the choice of words and style. It can range from somber and reflective to joyful and lighthearted.

What is the Message of The Wife’s Lament?

“The Wife’s Lament” is another poignant poem from the Exeter Book that deals with themes of loneliness and longing. The message revolves around the deep sorrow and exile felt by the wife, accentuating the pain of separation and betrayal.

How Does Tone Convey the Poem’s Message?

In poetry, tone plays a crucial role in conveying the poem’s message. It shapes the reader’s emotional response and can subtly enhance the thematic significance of the poem through nuances in mood and expression.

What is the Central Message?

The central message of a piece of writing is the primary point or moral that the author intends to impart to the reader. It is a foundational element that drives the narrative or discourse.

What is an Author’s Message?

An author’s message is the key idea or commentary they wish to convey through their writing. It involves the insights, teachings, or perspectives they embed within their narrative to influence or enlighten the audience.

What is the Author’s Message and Theme?

The author’s message and theme are closely linked but distinct concepts. The message is what the author aims to communicate on a particular issue, while the theme is a broader umbrella under which various messages might fall, often representing a universal aspect of human experience or societal commentary.

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