Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book/10


10 (K-D 43)

I know a noble guest,    dear to princes,
whom grim hunger    cannot harm,
nor hot thirst,    nor age nor illness.
If kindly the servant    always tend him,
he who must go    along on the journey;
safe and certain    they will find at home
food and joy    and countless kin;
but sorrow if the servant    obeys his lord badly,
his master on their journey;    nor will brother fear brother
when unharmed they leave quickly    the bosom of their kin,10
mother and sister.    Let whoever will
with fitting words    name the guest or the servant
I speak of here.

Soul and Body. The guest is the soul; the servant, and brother, the body; they will both be harmed when they leave the earth. The mother and sister are the earth: mother since the body is dust, and sister since body and soul have the same father, God. This is a rather ambitious one, but metrically inferior. More often than is usually the case the word-order is determined by the alliteration. In l. 12 the guest is called “comer,” apparently for the alliteration; in the last lines the alliteration falls on the weak words “or,” “of.” The first three lines read literally: ‘I know a lordly dear to nobles guest in dwellings whom grim cannot hunger harm.’