RIDDLES

[There are various authors of Latin riddles -- Symphosius, Aldhelm of Malmesbury, Bishop of Sherbourne, Tatwine, Archbishop of Canterbury, Eusebius, Abbot of Wearmouth, and others. The relation of the Old English riddles in the Exeter Book to these Latin riddles has been a good deal discussed. Out of all the riddles -- nearly a hundred in number -- comparatively few owe much to Latin riddles on the same subjects. Generally speaking, the Old English poet develops his theme in his own way. The so-called First Riddle which we now know by the name of Wulf and Eadwacer was formerly interpreted to give the solution 'Cynewulf,' and on this theory the authorship of all the riddles was ascribed to Cynewulf. This view is no longer tenable, and the authorship of the riddles is unknown. It is probable they are not all from one hand, nor of the same date. It is likely that the majority were written down in the eighth century. In merit the riddles vary greatly. Some are merely obscure or ingenious; the text of some is so imperfect that we can know neither their worth nor meaning. But not a few show remarkable skill in workmanship. There is description of nature as in the riddles on the Storm, charming fancy as in those on the Swan and the Book, sympathy for animals as in the vivid poem on the Badger, and above all many traces of old folklore and intimate pictures of English life before the Norman Conquest.]


STORM ON LAND

WHO of men is ready-witted and wise enough to say who drives me forth on my journey, when I arise in my strength, exceeding furious, when I resound in my might? Sometimes I move with malice through the land, burn the people's halls, spoil the houses; the smoke rises up, grey over the roofs; there is noise on earth, the death-pang of men. When I stir the wood and the flowery groves, when, covered with water, sent by the high powers to drive afar in my roving, I fell the trees, I bear on my back what erstwhile covered the forms of dwellers on earth, flesh and spirits together in the water. Say who it is who covers me, or what I, who bear those burdens, am called.


STORM AT SEA

AT times I go, as men do not expect, to seek the earth, the bottom of the sea, beneath the press of the waves. The ocean

-289-

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Anglo-Saxon Poetry
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