Riddle 39 (or 37)

Gewritu secgað      þæt seo wiht sy
mid moncynne     miclum tidum
sweotol ond gesyne.      Sundorcræft hafað
maran micle,      þonne hit men witen.
5     Heo wile gesecan      sundor æghwylcne
feorhberendra,      gewiteð eft feran on weg.
Ne bið hio næfre      niht þær oþre,
ac hio sceal wideferh      wreccan laste
hamleas hweorfan;     no þy heanre biþ.
10     Ne hafað hio fot ne folme,      ne æfre foldan hran,
ne eagena     ægþer twega,
ne muð hafaþ,      ne wiþ monnum spræc,
ne gewit hafað,      ac gewritu secgað
þæt seo sy earmost      ealra wihta,
15     þara þe æfter gecyndum     cenned wære.
Ne hafað hio sawle ne feorh,     ac hio siþas sceal
geond þas wundorworuld     wide dreogan.
Ne hafaþ hio blod ne ban,      hwæþre bearnum wearð
geond þisne middangeard     mongum to frofre.
20     Næfre hio heofonum hran,     ne to helle mot,
ac hio sceal wideferh      wuldorcyninges
larum lifgan.      Long is to secganne
hu hyre ealdorgesceaft      æfter gongeð,
woh wyrda gesceapu;      þæt is wrætlic þing
25     to gesecganne.      Soð is æghwylc
þara þe ymb þas wiht      wordum becneð;
ne hafað heo ænig lim,      leofaþ efne seþeah.
Gif þu mæge reselan     recene gesecgan
soþum wordum,      saga hwæt hio hatte.

Writings say that the creature is
among humankind much of the time
plain and perceivable. She has a special skill
much greater, when people know it.
5     She will seek specially every one
of life-bearers, departs again to travel away.
She is never there a second night,
but she must roam the wretched path
homeless for a long time; she is not humbled by that.
10     She does not have a foot nor hand, she has not ever touched the earth,
nor does she have either of two eyes,
nor a mouth, nor speaks with humans,
nor has a mind, but writings say
that she is the saddest of all creatures,
15     of those who were born naturally.
She does not have a soul nor life, but she must endure
journeys widely throughout this wonder-world.
She does not have blood nor bone, but is a comfort
for many children throughout this middle-earth.
20     She has never touched heaven, nor may she [go] to hell,
but she must for a long time live in the teachings
of the glory-king. It is long to tell
how her life-condition goes afterwards,
the twisted shapes of events; that is a wondrous thing
25     to say. Everything is true
of that which is indicated with words about this creature;
she does not have any limbs, yet lives even so.
If you may say the solution straightaway
with true words, say what she is called.

Highlight the box with your cursor to reveal the possible solutions: Dream, Death, Cloud, Speech, Faith, Day, Moon, Time, Comet


6 thoughts on “Riddle 39 (or 37)

  1. albertine

    Love this riddle – I’ve been puzzling over it all morning. Is there any chance that she might be ‘faith’ ? Faith never needs to touch heaven, because once one reaches heaven one doesn’t need faith any more. ‘Saddest’ in Early Modern English can mean ‘most serious’, which can help, I guess, but is it possible in OE?.

    1. Now there’s an idea! The Old English word I’ve translated as ‘saddest’ is earmost, which literally means ‘most wretched’ or ‘poorest’. When used with the first sense, it tends to be applied to sinners, demons, etc. But the second sense might work for a Faith reading. If I’m remembering correctly, the personification of Faith in the Psychomachia (a Late Antique poem by Prudentius) is depicted as a sort of rustic, peasant-type. Prudentius’ work was widely read in Anglo-Saxon England — it’s even been referred to as a core curriculum text for monastic education.

      But what do we do with the reference to her departure and the fact that she’s never there a second night?

      1. albertine

        yes – I struggled to fit that in too – unless one sees faith as fleeting, and hard to keep hold of (hard to sustain). But also, why by night particularly? Unless it’s in those sleepless small hours that one most needs her.
        I like your Prudentius reference! I haven’t read the Psychomachia in ages. So Faith according to that imagery is indeed poor (not sad/serious) which works better.

      2. Or, I suppose, if faith is a revelation it could be seen as coming one time, since once you’ve had an epiphany you can never have the same one again.

        I should also say, for any readers who aren’t already Prudentius fans, you can find the Latin and an English translation here.

  2. Guess what I’ve just found: someone has indeed solved this riddle as Faith before! (clearly I didn’t do my research thoroughly enough for this commentary post). My library doesn’t have access to the journal in question (for shame!), but here’s the reference in case you’d like to take a look: Dennis, Caroline. “Exeter Book Riddle 39: Creature Faith.” Medieval Perspectives, vol. 10 (1995), pages 77-85.

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