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.


Bear said...

Came across this by accident, and I'm fascinated :) So tricky! I don't read Old English, so I'm not sure what to make of it. Could you (if you still have it) sometime post the more literal translation, maybe with double meanings included?

The second part immediately gives a 'Dream of the Rood' reminiscent impression of the cross, but that doesn't seem to /exactly/ solve the first part. There are references, like sacrifice and glory and all that, but the riddle still doesn't seem clearly unravelled- without a stretch.

The first part seems maybe like stars; but how are they passed after hand, and kissed? I thought it could mean that they were sought after and honoured, or something, but I'm not sure. The same part could also be like snow, storm-assembled, gloriously white, troubled by fire (maybe the last line having to do with spring?), and also bringing forth the generation/blessing of the last part... But again, that doesn't seem to solve the whole second stanza.

The likeness to the cross at the end still makes me feel strongly that this might be one element of the riddle, with a surprising double-image happening among it, something totally different. Hankering to know, now :) It's beautiful anyway, hidden inside a rich culture.

Caroline said...

Hello Bear! I'm glad you enjoyed this post. Old English makes for a beautiful, fascinating study. I'll be sure to post my literal translation soon as well a guide to some books that are great aids to learning and studying Old English.

Bear said...

I'd love to see them :)

Caroline said...

Here you go! Enjoy and let me know if you have any other questions.