Old English Riddles

Stained glass window showing St Aldhelm, in Ma...
Stained glass window showing St Aldhelm, in Malmesbury Abbey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We visited a local thrift store in search of several pairs of shorts for my oldest son to wear this week while away at summer camp. After finding the items we came for, we decided to search for other treasures that I’ve heard can be found a’thrifting: scratched and dented furniture, mismatched china, vinyl records, and dog-eared reading material.

We found Baby-Sitters Club installments galore, Bible trivia books, and college textbooks. I settled on a couple of literature anthologies and a text on teaching algebra. Help me, Rhonda! I’ll have an 8th grader in the fall.

In The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volume One, I found some Old English riddles. I thought it’d be fun to reprint them here and see if anyone would like to take a stab at solving them. The first three are Aldhelm’s and have answers, while the five that follow are from the Exeter Book with answers from modern editors. I’ll put the answers at the bottom, but try not to peek. 😉

Three Anglo-Latin Riddles by Aldhelm
We seventeen sisters, voiceless all, declare
Six others bastards are, and not of us.
Of iron we are born, and find our death
Again by iron; or at times we come
From pinion of a lofty-flying bird.
Three brothers got us of an unknown mother.
To him who thirsts for instant counsel, we
In silence quickly bring out hoarded words.



Of honey-laden bees I first was born,
But in the forest grew my outer coat;
My tough backs came from shoes. An iron point
In artful windings cuts a fair design,
And leaves long, twisted furrows, like a plow,
From heaven unto that field is borne the seed
Or nourishment, which brings forth generous sheaves
A thousandfold. Alas, that such a crop,
A holy harvest, falls before grim war.

The shining pelican, whose yawning throat
Gulps down the waters of the sea, long since
Produced me, white as he. Through snowy fields
I keep a straight road, leaving deep-blue tracks
Upon the gleaming way, and darkening
the fair champaign with black and tortuous paths;
Yet one way through the plain suffices not,
For with a thousand bypaths runs the road,
And them who stray not from it, leads to heaven.

Five Old English Riddles translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland

I’m a strange creature, for I satisfy women,
a service to the neighbors! No one suffers
at my hands except for my slayer.
I grow very tall, erect in a bed,
I’m hairy underneath. From time to time
a good-looking girl, the doughty daughter
of some churl dares to hold me,
grips my russet skin, robs me of my head
and puts me in the pantry. At once that girl
with plaited hair who has confined me
remembers our meeting. Her eye moistens.

An enemy ended my life, took away
of my bodily strength; then he dipped me
in water and drew me out again,
and put me in the sun where I soon shed
all my hair. The knife’s sharp edge
bit into me once my blemishes had been scraped away;
fingers folded me and the bird’s feather
often moved across my brown surface,
sprinkling useful drops; it swallowed the wood-dye
(part of the stream) and again traveled over me
leaving black tracks. Then a man bound me,
he stretched skin over me and adorned me
with gold; thus I am enriched by the wondrous work
of smiths, wound about with shining metal.
Now my clasp and my red dye
and these glorious adornments bring fame far and wide
to the Protector of Men, and not to the pains of hell.
If the sons of men would make use of me
they would be the safer and more sure of victory,
their hearts would be bolder, their minds more at ease,
their thoughts wiser, they would have more friends,
companions and kinsmen (true and honorable,
brave and kind) who would gladly increase
their honor and prosperity, and heap
benefits upon them, holding them fast
in love’s embraces. Ask what I am called,
of such use to men. My name is famous,
of service to men and sacred in itself.

A moth devoured words. When I heard
of that wonder it struck me as a strange event
that a worm should swallow the song of some man,
a thief gorge in the darkness on fine phrases
and their firm foundation. Thievish stranger
was not a whit the wiser for swallowing words.

I watched four curious creatures
traveling together; their tracks were swart,
each imprint very black. The birds’ support
moved swiftly; it flew in the air,
dived under the wave. The toiling warrior
worked without pause, pointing the paths
to all four over the beaten gold.

I sank roots first of all, stood
near the shore, close by the dyke
and dash of waves; few men
saw my home in that wilderness,
but each dawn, each dusk,
the tawny waves surged and swirled
around me. Little did I think
that I, mouthless, should ever sing
to men sitting at the mead-bench,
varying my pitch. It is rather puzzling,
a miracle to men ignorant of such arts,
how a knife’s point and a right hand
(mind and implement moving as one)
could cut and carve me — so that I
can send you a message without fear,
and no one else can overhear
or noise abroad the words we share.

Answers to Aldhelm’s riddles: 1. Alphabet; 2. Writing Tablets; 3. Pen

Answers to the five : 1. Onion; 2. Bible; 3. Book worm; 4. Pen and fingers; 5. Reed)

Finding Delight — Week 3

This week I took delight in meditating on Psalm 19.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

I love what Spurgeon has to say about this psalm in The Treasury of David: “The doctrine revealed by God he declares to be perfect, and yet David had but a very small part of the Scriptures, and if a fragment, and that the darkest and most historical portion, be perfect, what must the entire volume be? How more than perfect is the book which contains the clearest possible display of divine love, and gives us an open vision of redeeming grace. The gospel is a complete scheme or law of gracious salvation, presenting to the needy sinner everything that his terrible necessities can possibly demand. There are no redundancies and no omissions in the Word of God, and in the plan of grace; why then do men try to paint this lily and gild this refined gold? The gospel is perfect in all its parts, and perfect as a whole: it is a crime to add to it, treason to alter it, and felony to take from it.”

My Bible reading plan has me all over the place, so I also spent time in Acts. I have been delighted to read how the gospel began turning the world right-side up. I take heart believing that it continues to do so wherever goes out and takes root. Elle’s thoughts on Paul’s address to the Areopagus (shared as part of last week’s Finding Delight) came to mind when I read Acts 17. I encourage you to read it if you haven’t already.

If the notes I took while reading this week are correct, then I literally found the word delight one time.

Proverbs 16:13
Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
and he loves him who speaks what is right.

*** *** ***

Now it’s your turn. Where did you find delight in God’s word this week? Please share your post by clicking the link below and adding your post url to the list or by leaving a comment.
Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…
Powered by Linky Tools

One Thing…to know, to do, to seek

A Call for the Perseverance of the Saints 2007 National Conference – Desiring God.

One thing I know: “He answered, ‘Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see'” (John 9:25).

One thing I do: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

One thing I seek after: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).

— Helen Roseveare

I encourage you to listen to the recording (link above).


(HT: JT)

Physical Evidence

Jules writes,

Because bloggers sometimes need a comic boost and a nudge, here’s a meme which demands physical evidence:

1.  What could serve as physical evidence that you sometimes lose focus?

My flickr account, my Spanish notebook, my piles of half-read and unread books, my stack of photographs on empty frames, two bags of clothing supposed to be delivered to goodwill over a week ago STILL in the back of my van.

That’s just a list of items off the top of my head. I’m sure that if I thought about it for a few minutes, I could add a few more.

2.  What could serve as physical evidence that you are loved?

A husband who likes to come home at the end of his workday.

3.  What could serve as physical evidence that you’re from wherever you’re from?

My accent, y’all. Just one word from this mouth is all you need.

4.  What could serve as physical evidence that you went anywhere this past week?

The overflowing bag of library books leaning against the schoolroom wall.

5.  What could serve as physical evidence that you recently caved in to temptation?

Can a smile and pleading the 5th count as evidence? I can’t think of a single thing I want to confess to the internet then pretend like it isn’t my death sentence.

I tried to think of something that I could at least spin into something funny, but none of today’s “cave-ins” are funny to me right now.

This morning, I read, “The Secret of Sanctification,” a weekend article in this month’s Tabletalk magazine. Unfortunately, as Nicholas Batzig describes, my lack of focus (see #1) does not manifest itself when it comes to my sin.

It is far easier to fixate on the problem than to focus on the solution. It is actually quite easy to focus on sin and quite difficult to keep our eyes steadfastly fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). Consequently, it often seems expedient to offer pragmatic — dare I say it, even biblical — advice that does not actually give the power to overcome sin (Col. 2:20-23). In order to progress in Christian living, we must remember that sin’s dominion was broken when Christ died for us at the cross.

Remember that sin’s dominion was broken when Christ died for us at the cross.” Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.

On a lighter note, I was able to write and publish this post in one sitting. I haven’t accomplished that in quite a while. Thanks for tagging me, Jules!

No meme is complete without tagging some other bloggers. I tag Lynn, Chrissy, and Molly. Y’all don’t have to participate, but I’d love it if you would.