Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging: Old English Edition

The following is one of my favorites from the Old English riddles in the Exeter Book. You can read more – including the naughty ones (one of which HeoCwaeth once posted) – at this site, which presents them in Old English and in translation (based on Craig Williamson’s 1977 edition, so with a numbering system different from Krapp-Dobbie, for those of you who care about those things). For those new to Old English, the ð character is equivalent to the modern th. And now I present it, in Old English and in translation (by John Porter, Anglo-Saxon Riddles, Norfolk, England: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1995, rpt. 2003), without further comment.

Riddle 69

Wundor wearð on wege; wæter wearð to bane.

Wonder formed in wave; water turned to bone.


What Now? said...

All right, the Americanist confesses: I don't get it. What exactly is the riddle here? Or what's the answer? Are both halves of this statement supposed to refer to the same thing? Or do they both refer to something else? And are we supposed to guess what that thing is?

Dr. Virago said...

Yes, both halves refer to the same thing and you are supposed to guess the answer. Like all OE riddles, it works metaphorically (one of the reasons I love them -- they suggest language and poetry themselves are riddling).

The answer is....


...either ice or, more specifically, an iceberg.

Anniina said...


I was going to say "a whale," but then I read the spoiler, and now I won't say "whale" after all. Although it does have a certain poesy about it.