Dragons, fey folk, and even the odd, shriveled cave creature are known to be fond of them. Prophets speak them. Even Christ’s parables seem to be a relation to the riddle.
There is something fascinating, even a little unsettling, to challenge how well one knows a thing by taking away the name and describing it from a different angle. It seems to go beyond testing English skills, how well one can see and decode a metaphor. It is a test in familiarity. I can know a thing by name or by sight…but can I know a thing so well that I can recognize it even in disguise?
While reading Earliest English Poems, I came across some intriguing riddles- which I thought I would share here. May you all fare better deciphering them than I did!
‘My home is not silent: I myself am not loud.
The Lord has provided for the pair of us
A joint expedition. I am speedier than he
And sometimes stronger; he stays the course better.
Sometimes I rest, but he runs on.
For as long as I live I live in him;
If we leave one another it is I who must die.’
‘The wave, over the wave, a weird thing I saw,
Thorough-wrought, and wonderfully ornate:
A wonder on the wave- water became bone.’
‘I saw four fine creatures
Travelling in company; their tracks were dark,
Their trail very black. The bird that floats
In the air swoops less swiftly than their leader;
He dived beneath the wave. Drudgery was it
For the fellow that taught all four of them their ways
On their ceaseless visits to the vessel of gold.’
‘I am the scalp of myself, skinned by my foeman:
Robbed of my strength, he steeped and soaked me,
Dipped me in water, whipped me out again,
Set me in the sun. I soon lost there
The hairs I had had
The hard edge
Of a keen-ground knife cuts me now,
Fingers fold me, and a fowl’s pride
drives its treasure trail across me,
bounds again over the brown rim,
sucks the wood dye, steps again on me,
makes his black marks.
A man then hides me
Between stout shield-boards stretched with hide,
Fits me with gold. There glows on me
The jewelsmith’s handiwork held with wires.
Let these royal enrichments and this red dye
And splendid settings spread the glory
Of the Protector of peoples- and not plague the fool.
If the sons of men will make use of me
They shall be the safer and the surer of victory,
The wiser in soul, the sounder in heart,
The happier in mind. They shall have the more friends,
Loving and kinsmanlike, kind and loyal,
Good ones and true, who will gladly increase
Their honour and happiness, and, heaping upon them
Graces and blessings, in the embraces of love
Will clasp them firmly. Find out how I am called,
My celebrated name, who in myself am holy,
Am of such service, and salutary to men’