Here is how alliterative verse works. Each line of the poem is divided into two halves, each of which has two syllables with principal stress (strong stress), plus any number of other syllables. The first strong stress of the second half-line must alliterate with the first strong stress of the first half-line. The second strong stress of the first half-line may optionally alliterate with these two, but the second strong stress of the second half-line cannot alliterate with them. Usually there is a caesura (pause) between the two half-lines. All vowels alliterate with each other, and syllables with an "s" sound must have all subsequent consonants alliterate (e.g. "said" alliterates with "source", but not with "start"). Thus the poem consists of short half-lines with singular images, where each second half-line contains an echo of the first.
The poem is a lament about the dying warrior culture in Anglo-Saxon England, in the context of the new Christian faith that is taking hold. There are many powerful images and phrases throughout the poem. Tolkien, who was very much influenced by Anglo-Saxon literature and culture as well as the Old English language, even used a line from "The Wanderer" in a song about Rohan in The Lord of the Rings. I can't post the entire poem here yet, because I am submitting it to a few magazines and contests which won't accept published material. To give a flavor of it, however, I will post a few lines here:
92 “Where is the horse? Where is the rider?
Where is the hand giving gold?
Where are the seats at the feast?
Where are the songs in the halls?
94 Alas the bright chalice!
Alas the mailed warrior!
Alas the king’s grandeur!
What a long ago time…
96 the night has obscured it,
as if it never were.
The half-lines are written on separate lines in my rendering, with the second half-line indented (hence the numbering, which counts every two lines as one). The first half-line in the selection above (92a) is the line used by Tolkien. I will release the full poem on this website as soon as I am able.
I also set up a new page for my original poetry. So far, I only have one poem posted ("The Mask of Dante"), but I will add more over time. As before, I will continue to post new work from my Iliad translation week by week, and I thank my readers for following along. Until next week, then.