Sunday, December 28, 2008

Riddle Contest Winner!

I greatly enjoyed reading the responses of riddle ideas! It was particularly fun to read extensive explanations and confessions of using an Anglo-Saxon dictionary online to try a first-hand translation for clues.

Overall, there were four people who submitted solutions, and ten solutions overall (Moriah, you get full credit for the most solutions submitted!) but only one could be the winner.

The solution that I found most adequate in answering the riddle and most beautifully expressed also happened to be very close to the official answer, so that made for a pleasant coincidence. The official answer is the Vehicle of the Cross. The winning answer, submitted by Ms. Suzanne Brennan, is an oak tree.

Suzanne's explanation develops the connection between her answer and the canonical answer. Here is the bulk of what she wrote (edited only slightly):

It's talking about the oak tree. They are majestic, beset by gloriously colored flame-leaves in fall, that are sacrificed among the wind but wrapped in pigmented splendor. Storm assembled.. they gather together after a storm/they are arranged in no particular order among the arms of the tree, but messily placed and easily detached. Perishable, they may go up in actual flames, flower in a cool groove with blossoms, or remain as the last evidence of a warm fire.

Now it gets more metaphorical: oak trees often grow together, have long lives, become like companions in their wise old age. The oak trees are personified and become more than just companions [...] what I gather is that the suggestions of "mercy" and "blessedness" refer back to the importance of trees in Anglo-Saxon society [...] It seems that they held trees, especially a "tree of life" reference in high regard. So we get: trees are integral to society, and this is a union of Christian love, majestic like the oak, and giving. The companion nature of their love. Now, "send me after hand" - is their a piece carved from their wood? a cross? that husband and wife kiss? I think this because it is a tradition in the Roman Catholic church to bend down/kneel before a plain wooden cross and kiss it, every year on Good Friday. To acknowledge the Sacrifice. I can't think of an awesome way to resolve this, just that it is talking about a tree - love of companions - love of Christians - the Ultimate Love.

Well done Suzanne! Please email me a reliable post location where I can send your prize.

Thanks again to all the entrants! Once I get fully marinated in Latin, perhaps we can do something similar with a riddle or aphorism.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Riddle 30: What a Conundrum

Constellations are a fascinating idea: take five or so stars, imagine some lines, and then announce that you've discovered the shape of a dipper or a bear in the sky. Sometimes the conclusions are rather unlikely, but charming once you can make them out.

That's how I feel about the Old English riddles in the Exeter Book. They are lovely, of course (if you like Old English), but the solutions sometimes seem a bit of a stretch. The descriptions can be hazy at best, with no clear answer.

When I took a linguistics course and we did a far too short segment on the history of English, we had the option to recite Old English or translate a riddle. I took as my object Riddle 30, translated it very literally, and then smoothed it out for a clearer modern English version.

Here's the kicker. I have no idea what the solution to this riddle is. Once upon a time, I looked up a scholarly opinion, disagreed with it, and promptly forget the official answer. So, I am starting the first ever contest on Marvelous Things. Whoever provides the most amusing and what I deem the most fitting answer to the Riddle will win a fantastic (yet to be determined) prize. Please don't be lame and try to Google the correct answer; be creative and come up with something. I promise it will be well worth your while. The contest will run for one week.

Please note that the formatting on the riddles below is rather odd; the underscoring between each half of the line is to prevent Blogger from absorbing the space between the characters. The autoformatting eats the caesura (the break in the middle) so the underscoring acts as a buffer. Normally, these riddles would have about a tab's worth of space between the two halves.

First of all, the original riddle in Old English, verse Indeterminate Saxon:

Ic eom legbysig, ___ lace mid winde,
bewunden mid wuldre, ___ wedre gesomnad,
fus forðweges, ___ fyre gebysgad,
bearu blowende, ___ byrnende gled.

Ful oft mec gesiþas ___ sendað æfter hondum,
þæt mec weras ond wif ___ wlonce cyssað.
þonne ic mec onhæbbe, ___ ond hi onhnigaþ to me
monige mid miltse, ___ þær ic monnum sceal
ycan upcyme ___ eadignesse.

My translation:

I am beset by flames, ___ sacrifice among wind
wrapped with glory, ___ storm-assembled
eager for departure, ___ fire-troubled
grove-blooming, ___ burning ember.

Very often companions ___ send me after hand
that myself, husband, ___ and splendid wife kiss
then I exalt myself ___ and she bends down to me.
Many with mercy, ___ there I for mankind must
increase up-springing ___ of blessedness.

Mesdames et messieurs, I await your responses.

ETA: I've published a new post about Old English and this Riddle which includes my first, literal translation.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hear That Sound?

Yep, all around the world (or at least schools with semestrial schedules), students are huddling in corners with books, coffee, and fevered expressions.

I'm no exception, though I have the benefit of loose-leaf black tea and a pleasant study space. Still, it's crunch time, so original blog content may not be forthcoming. Even so, inspired as I now am by the discovery of some amazing new blogs, I may be posting a little work that I did last year. We'll see.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


This is why I love English nerds. No, really. You must experience the greatness.

Now back to your regularly scheduled studying.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sprouting Up All Over

When I was in grade school, I once slept over at a friend's house (not an uncommon occurrence among the elementary schoolgirl set). We discussed our plans for our Halloween costumes and she informed me that she was dressing up as a "hippie." I had never heard the term before (in my mind I saw the word spelled as "hippy," for one thing) and assumed it was some sort of medical joke about pelvic dimensions.

Somewhere along the line I learned that hippies were part of a 1960s counter-cultural movement that involved odd clothing, free love, and rampant drug use. Along with their political mobilization and brain-killing ingestion of various substances, they were also in natural living and commune-style arrangements. All this is vastly generalized, of course, but that is the gist.

Now it's trendy to be green, to promote environmentally-friendly policies, to invest in solar panels and hybrid cars. While I'm all for stewardship of the earth, I also enjoy the humour of mocking the hardcore sort of crunchy granola types. I like being barefoot, but I do wear shoes 90% of the time. I like knitting and sewing, but I don't have my own organic cotton fields in my backyard.

So while I do embrace some natural living related ideas, like bringing my own bag to the grocery store and using dishrags instead of paper towels, I consider myself fairly sane when it comes being earth-friendly.

Then I fell prey to a new hobby that is both economical and healthy, but possibly slightly insane.

I've started growing sprouts in my bedroom in a glass jar. I'm growing plants in my room and I like it. I was wary about growing sprouts...wouldn't wet seeds or beans in a jar just grow mold and start smelling nasty? However, after Internet research, I decided it was worth a shot.

Here is my first crop of chickpeas!

first sprout harvest!

They grew for three days and then I stuck them in the fridge. You can eat the sprouts raw or cooked. Raw, they are funkier than normal cooked chickpeas (basically, not as soft), but still tasty.

I've just started a new crop of mung beans. Should be interesting to see how it turns out!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Harry Potter Lives On Forever

NB: This post is dedicated to my younger siblings, who share in my joy for this series. I love you both!

It's not hard to figure out via context clues and my obsessive ramblings, that I adore the Harry Potter books. Not everyone understand this, which I can appreciate. Still, there are many that shared my sadness when the series concluded a little over a year ago.

So, when J.K. Rowling announced the publication of a new book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard (which figured prominently in the last book of the series), I was among those rejoicing. But wait! I'm abroad! How will I ever find this lovely text in this strange and foreign land?

Fear not! A few weeks ago I read in the promotional newsletter for my favourite bookstore, La Boîte à Livres (the box of boxes) that I could expect to see Les Contes de Beedle le Barde very soon! Therefore, I went and obtained my very own copy today. I haven't started reading it yet -- I am going to try to really stretch it out.

Here is the lovely cover:


I adore the design and layout -- old-school is the way to go. J.K. Rowling did the illustrations inside as well, but I am not photographing those because everyone should go find a copy in a local bookstore to enjoy the surprise.

Of course, I am very excited about eventually getting the English version too and comparing the two editions. In reading the original series in French, I pick up on slight translational liberties.