I'm taking an early British Lit class this summer, and we just read "The Wife's Lament". I really like this translation of it, so I'm going to copy it here:
The Wife's Lament
Full of grief, I make this poem about myself, my own fate. I have the right to say what miseries I have endured since I grew up, new or old -- never greater than now. Endlessly I have suffered the wretchedness of exile.
First my lord went away from his people here across the storm-tossed sea. At daybreak I worried in what land my lord might be. Then I set out -- a friendless exile -- to seek a household to shelter me against wretched need. Hiding their thoughts, the man's kinfolk hatched a plot to separate us so that we two should live most unhappy and farthest from one another in this wide world. And I felt longing.
My lord commanded me to stay in this place. I had few dear ones, faithful friends, in this country; that is why I am sad. Then I found my husband like-minded -- luckless, gloomy, hiding murderous thoughts in his heart. With glad countenance, how often we vowed that death alone -- nothing else -- would drive us apart. That vow has been overthrown. Our friendship is as if it had never been. Far and near, I must suffer the feud of my much-beloved.
I was told to live in an earth-cave beneath an oak tree amid the forest. This earthen hall is old. I am overcome with longing. These dales are dark, and hills high, bitter bulwarks overgrown with briers, a joyless dwelling. Here very often my lord's going away has wrenched me. There are couples on earth, lovers lying together in bed, while at dawn I come out of this cave to sit under the oak tree the summerlong day along. there I weep my exile, the many burdens. Therefore I can never set my cares at rest, nor still all this life's longing, which is my lot.
Should a young person ever be sad, harsh care at heart, he must then at one and the same time have heartache and a glad countenance, although he suffers endless surging sorrows. Whether my friend has all the world's joy at his bidding or whether, outlawed from his homeland, he sits covered with storm-frost beneath a rocky cliff -- my weary-minded friend, drenched in some dreary hall -- he suffers great anguish. Too often he remembers a happier place. Woe is the one who, languishing, waits for a lover.
Apparently there are three possibilities as to the subject of this poem.
1. There is a love triangle between the woman, her lover, and her lord (husband).
2. The woman is the "bride of christ" (the church) waiting for her lord's return (2nd coming).
3. The woman is dead and her voice is coming from the grave.
Personally, I'd rather think of it straightforwardly as a woman who is madly in love with her lord/husband who has had to leave her. Much more romantic that way.