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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

III. Early National Poetry

§ 11. The Husband’s Message

The Husband’s Message, so far as it can be read, is a much simpler poem; but, unfortunately, a number of letters have been lost in 11. 2–6 and 32–40 owing to a large rent in the MS. The poem is in the form of a speech addressed, apparently by means of a staff inscribed with runic letters, to a woman of royal rank. The speech is a message from the woman’s husband (or possibly lover), who has had to leave his country in consequence of a vendetta. It is to the effect that he has succeeded in gaining for himself a position of wealth and dignity in another land. He now wishes to assure her that his devotion is unchanged, to remind her of the vows they had made in times past and to ask her to sail southwards to join him as soon as spring comes. This is the gist of the poem as it appears in almost all editions. It has recently been pointed out, however, that the seventeen lines which immediately precede it in the MS. and which, have generally been regarded as a riddle—unconnected with the poem itself—seem really to form the beginning of the speech. In these lines the object speaking states that once it grew by the seashore, but that a knife and human skill have fitted it to give utterance to a message which requires to be delivered privately.

Again, more than one scholar has remarked that the poem looks very much like a sequel to The Wife’s Complaint. Others have denied the connection between the two poems on the ground that in The Wife’s Complaint, 1. 15, the lady’s imprisonment is attributed to the husband himself. But it should be observed that this passage is scarcely intelligible in its present form and, further, that it seems to conflict with what is said elsewhere in the poem. On the whole the balance of probability seems to me to be in favour of the connection.