The poem begins with the Wanderer asking the Lord for understanding and compassion during his exile at sea. He cannot avoid going to sea, however, because this life is his fate.
The Wanderer goes on to recall the hardships he has faced in his life, like watching his kinsmen be ruined and even slaughtered. He knows that while he is lonely and isolated, he will think about these things constantly. He then argues that no matter how hard a man tries to contain his emotions, he can never avoid his fate. An ambitious man can conceal his sorrowful heart, but he cannot escape it. He returns to his own example. His kind lord died of old age and as a result, the Wanderer has been exiled from his country. He left home with the coldness of winter in his heart and sailed the rough waves in search of a new lord. He was friendless, yearning for the comforts and pleasures of a new mead-hall, but found none.
Everything is subject to fate. Wealth fades, friends leave, and kingdoms fall. In conclusion, the Wanderer advises all men to look to God for comfort, since He is the one who is responsible for the fate of mankind.