Wednesday, April 14, 2010

a riddle

Ic eom wunderlicu wiht, wifum on hyhte,

I am a wonderful help to women,

neahbuendum nyt. Nængum sceþþe

The hope of something to come. I harm

burgsittendra nymþe bonan anum.

No citizen except my slayer.

Staþol min is steapheah; stonde ic on bedde,

Rooted I stand on a high bed.

neoþan ruh nathwær. Neþeð hwilum


I am shaggy below. Sometimes the beautiful


ful cyrtenu ceorles dohtor,

Peasant's daughter, an eager-armed,

modwlonc meowle, þæt heo on mec gripeð,

Proud woman grabs my body,

ræseð mec on reodne, reafað min heafod,

Rushes my red skin, holds me hard,

fegeð mec on fæsten. Feleþ sona

Claims my head. The curly-haired

mines gemotes seo þe mec nearwað,


Woman who catches me fast will feel


wif wundenlocc-- wæt bið þæt eage.

Our meeting. Her eye will be wet.

Just for once, I'm not heading the page with a picture... but here is the answer to the riddle, #23 in the Exeter Book Manuscript, which proves that the Anglo-Saxons were a filthy minded lot...

As I posted to my FB page status earlier, I really didn't think I would come upon the phrase "copulating female onions" in a colleague's (completely fascinating) description of her current work on gender and Anglo Saxon ... but I did. Or rather, I never anticipated coming upon the phrase anywhere. Only if I'd learned AS from riddles, or, indeed, been taught it by Stacy, I might have found it a great deal more interesting than grimly memorizing lines about Byrthnoth standing steadfast on the strand. The Wanderer and The Seafarer and The Ruin were a great deal more to my lyric taste: somewhere I didn't quiet grasp the idea that there was an interesting culture out there - just a whole lot of stuff to be learned by rote. I greatly admired Mr Watson, married to the woman who had the unfortunate task of drumming the material into me and the rest of my year at St Anne's - she had us over, at the end of our first Michaelmas term, to drink mulled wine and eat mince pies and listen to a gramophone record of Beowulf being read. Only we all found it so excruciating that when she went to the kitchen for refills, he ripped it off the machine and put on the Private Eye [the satirical magazine] Christmas record instead...

This seems to be the week for alliums (allia?) - though one thing that I think I've learned today is pre-Norman Conquest onions were probably quite different from the ones that turned up in this week's organic vegetable order. I suspect they were more like shallots - bulbous, but then with long whitish-green tops shading, yes, to red. Or the riddle wouldn't make a great deal of sense: there's not much that's phallic about this vegetable - though, as Jonah reminded me on FB, there's always Marvell's "vegetable love," which has more to do with slow growth - no arugula need apply - than with adoring one's leeks and red kale.

1 comment:

  1. This is the modern English translation - it should have pasted at the same time, and is hidden deep on the right of the page somewhere...

    “I am a wonderful help to women
    The hope of something good to come
    I harm only my slayer
    I grow very tall, erect in a bed
    I am shaggy down below
    The lovely girl grabs my body, rubs my red skin
    Holds me hard, claims my head.
    That girl will feel our meeting!
    I bring tears to her eyes!
    What am I?”