Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Anglo-Saxon Riddles

As we have discussed (briefly) in class, JRR Tolkien was an Anglo-Saxon scholar, and many aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture, literature, and history greatly influenced his primary fiction (The Hobbit and LOTR). For example, the Anglo-Saxons had a vibrant riddle culture, which we can see today chronicled in The Exeter Book, a collection of 95 riddles which range in mood and theme from the serious to the light-hearted (and some of them have never been solved!). Can you solve these?

My clothes are silent as I walk the earth
Or stir the waters. Sometimes that which
Makes me beautiful raises me high
Above men's heads, and powerful clouds
Hold me, carry me far and wide.
The loveliness spread on my back rustles
And sings, bright, clear songs,
And loud, whenever I leave lakes
And earth, floating in the air like a spirit.

A worm ate words. I thought that wonderfully
Strange--a miracle--when they told me a crawling
Insect has swallowed noble songs,
A night-time thief had stolen writing
So famous, so weighty. But the bug was foolish
Still, though its belly was full of thought.

I was warrior's weapon, once.
Now striplings have woven silver wires,
And gold, around me. I've been kissed by soldiers,
And I've called a field of laughing comrades
To war and death. I've crossed borders
On galloping steeds, and crossed the shining
Water, riding a ship. I've been filled
To the depth of my heart by girls with slittering
Bracelets, and I've lain along the bare
Cold planks, headless, plucked and worn.
They've hung me high on a wall, bright
With jewels and beautiful, and left me to watch
Their warriors drinking. Mounted troops
Have carried me out and opened my breast
To the swelling wind of some soldier's lips.
My voice has invited princes to feasts
Of wine, and has sung in the night to save
What savage thieves have stolen, driving them
Off into darkness. Ask my name.

Our world is lovely in different ways,
Hung with beauty and works of hands.
I saw a strange machine, made
For motion, slide against the sand,
Shrieking as it went. It walked swiftly
On its only foot, this odd-shaped monster,
Traveled in an open country without
Seeing, without arms, or hands,
With many ribs, and its mouth in its middle.
Its work is useful, and welcome, for it loads
It's belly with food, and brings abundance
To men, to poor and to rich, paying
Its tribute year after year. Solve
This riddle, if you can, and unravel its name.

A creature came through the waves, beautiful
And strange, calling to shore, its voice
Loud and deep; its laugher froze
Men's blood; its sides were like sword-blades. It swam
Contemptuously along, slow and sluggish,
A bitter warrior and a thief, ripping
Ships apart, and plundering. Like a witch
It wove spells--and knew its own nature, shouting:
"My mother is the fairest virgin of a race
Of noble virgins: she is my daughter
Grown great. All men know her, and me,
And know, everywhere on earth, with what joy
We will come to join them, to live on land!"

1 comment:

Luthien said...

The only one I'm going to dare to guess is #3 - is it a trumpet/instrument like a trumpet?