“The Deor’s Lament” is a moving elegy of forty lines which gives voice to the suffering of a minstrel or a scop who has been replaced by a rival after years of service to his Lord. The speaker’s self consolation takes a meditative form as he looks back upon five instances of suffering inflicted upon Germanic heroes for the comfort that he is not the only one who has had to face loss and despair. By recalling the misfortunes that fell upon gods and heroes, Deor opines that suffering is the common lot of man and that every evil passes with time. He hopes that the pain of his rejection will pass away just like the sorrows of the Germanic legends passed eventually –
“And so I sing of my own sad plight
Who long stood high as the Heodening’s bard
Deor my name, dear to my Lord.
Mild was my service for many a winter,
Kingly my king till Heorrenda came
Skilful in song and usurping the land-right
Which once my gracious lord granted to me.
That evil ended. So also may this!
Towards the end, the poem moves beyond a pagan endurance of the rule of fate and asserts a conventional Christian belief that the divine providence is the protector of all.
This elegy is unique owing to its strophic form and the use of the constant refrain: That evil ended. So also may this!
Deor’s lament reaches great heights of personal feelings which along with the expressive melancholy of the elegy gives rise to a strong lyrical appeal. Deor’s lament is not just purely personal but also universal as the sense of loss, estrangement and solitude strongly discernible in the poem makes the hearer or the reader sympathize deeply with the speaker of the poem.
The elegiac poems of the Anglo-Saxon Age with their stress on loss, exile and lamentation along with the belief in the impermanence of earthly pleasures, leaves upon us as an impression that is as dismal as the one cast by the Ossianic poems of Macpherson. These elegies are the songs of suffering souls which give them a lyrical and more importantly a universal appeal because “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts”.