Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book/4

4 (k-d 39)

The books tell us     that this thing has been
among mankind     through many ages
clear and manifest.     A special power
it has much greater     than any men know.

It wishes to seek     all living beings
one by one;     then goes its way;
no second night     in the same place;
but homeless roves     for ever and aye,
the path of exile.     It is none the poorer.

It has neither foot nor hand,     nor touches the ground,
nor two eyes nor mouth     nor speaks with men.
It has no mind,     but the books say
it is quite the poorest     of all creatures
that were ever begotten     according to nature.

It has no soul nor life,     but makes its way
far and wide     through this wonderful world
It has no blood, no bone,     yet gives aid and comfort
to many men     the wide world over.

It never reached to heaven,     it may not to hell,
but forever it must     live by the teachings
of the King of Glory.     Long is it to relate
how its way of life     will go thereafter
fate’s crooked ways.

                                  This is a marvelous
thing to say:     it is all true
that ever with words     is told about it.
It has no limit.     It lives nevertheless.

If you can straightway     rede this riddle
with true words,     tell what its name is.




Gewritu secgað     þæt seo wiht sy
mid moncynne     miclum ticlum
sweotol gesyne     sundorcræft hafa&eth
maram micle     þōn hit men witen

heo wile gesecan     sundor æghwylcne
feorhberendra;     gewiteð eft feran onweg ·
Ne bið hio næfre     niht þær oþre
ac hio sceal wideferh     wreccan laste
hamleas hweorfan     no þy heanre biþ ·

Ne hafað hio fot ne folm     ne æfre foldan hran
ne eagene     ægþer twega
ne muð hafað     ne wiþ monnum spræc
ne gewit hafað     ac gewritu secgað
þæt seo sy earmost     ealra wihta
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

næfre hio heofonum hran     ne to helle mot ·
ac hio sceal wideferh     wuldor cyninge
larum lifgan     long is to secganne
hu hyre ealdorgesceaft     æfter gongeð
woh wyrda gesceapu ·

                                   þæt wrætlic þing
to gesecganne     soð is æghwylc
þara þe ymb þas wiht     wordum becneð
ne hafað he hænig lim     leofaþ efne seþeah

gif þu mæge reselan     recene gesecgan
soþum wordum     saga hwæt hio hatte · :⁊

The usual answer is Moon and Day. The paradoxes remind one of 11 (k-d 40), with which it has some metrical and stylistic similarities. Both may be by the same author. Mrs. von Erhardt-Siebold, who regards it as “one of the finest” and praises its “ingenious and fascinating poetry,” offers the tempting solution (PMLA lxi [1946], 910–15) of Hypostatized Death, in the manner of Plato. She divides it into seven parts (as printed above): death is not real, not abstract; it comes privately and only once; it is a “suprasensible entity”; it is not really lifeless: it has eternal life; this is not conjecture, but fact; you first explain it and then name it.