Like Wulf and Eadwacer (Text 39), The Wife's Lament is a lyric of complaint sung by a female voice; and it, too, has an enigmatic and allusive narrative which defies complete elucidation. Nevertheless, in many ways The Wife's Lament fits into a pattern familiar from other OE lyrical poems. The opening declaration by the first-person speaker of her ability to tell the true story of herself is remarkably like the opening of The Seafarer, and an inventory of key words reveals the unmistakable kinship of the poem with the OE lyrics of lament, especially The Wanderer. There is the diction of sadness and mental anguish (geōmorre, 1, geōmormōd, 42, ūhtceare, 7, mōdceare, 40 and 51, brēostceare, 44), of physical hardship (yrmþa, 3, earfoþa, 39), and of exile and the landscape of exile (wræcsīþa, 5 and 38, winelēas wræcca, 10, eorðsele, 29, storme behrīmed, 48).
We may deduce that the narrator is a woman exiled from her husband's tribe (which is presumably not her own), probably during his absence, though he seems to have been instrumental in forcing her to live as she does. Some sort of feud is perhaps operating and there appear to be references to hidden enmities or betrayals. The woman's lament is that of a rejected or separated lover, and perhaps another man is involved as well; that could explain the ‘very suitable man’ referred to in line 18. The density of personal reference in the poem is remarkable. There are thirty-five first-person pronouns in all (fifteen of them the nominative ic) and five dual pronouns, which of course include the speaker in their reference (unc, ‘us two’, wit, ‘we two’, etc). Although the poem's concluding lines are ostensibly more objective, including a final aphorism, their subject is still ‘my lover’. There is no resolution, no release from sorrow.
Supplying modern punctuation for a poem whose narrative detail is so elusive presents great problems. At the end of line 10, for instance, a full stop dictates the translation ‘then’ for Đā in line 9, but if a comma were used, Đā would be the conjunction ‘when’. Again, in lines 20–1, several sequences of punctuation are syntactically possible, and they may give radically different results.