Riddle poems and conundrums

The gentle and literate art of the rhyming riddle

The forthcoming movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit,  has me thinking about the riddle game played by Bilbo and Gollum. I’ve linked to a great site (at the end of this post) that explains how to construct a riddle poem and has lots of references to riddles from the Exeter Book (an actual historical book, not a work of fiction like Tolkein’s The Hobbit). The Exeter Book is an anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is one of the four major Anglo-Saxon literature codices.

So riddle me this…

Riddle: What is my name?

By Annette Marie Hyder

My secret is perfume, held close in my arms all through the long night.
My riddle is softness that you cannot feel until my defenses take flight.
My question is what disappears in the dark but appears with morning’s light?

My identity reveals itself, I am a flower and I dream of the sun.
My colors will shine when he is up, my petals will open and allow touch
Releasing my perfume into the air — and into the bottle of your expectations.

Answer: Night Dreaming Flower

Rumplestiltskin (an excerpt)

By Annette Marie Hyder
Previously published in Fairy Tales, Fables and Folklore Magazine

She wears a veil of language
across her face like
gauzy light and fluffy
one way mirror lace

arrays herself luxuriously
swathes herself in words
vermilion silks embroidered with purple
satins, quilted with pearls

says “Was if for nothing that I spun
coarse straw to gold
took the fabrics’s measure with
the size tape of my mind
cut the cloth precisely
with the sharp edge of my tongue?”

Rebus Poetry
By Anonymous –19th Century

Inscribe an M above a line,
Then write an E below.
The flower you seek is hung so fine,
It sways when breezes blow.


Scroll down past the picture to read the answer.

Image courtesy of agathyum.com


—   (an M on an E) = ANEMONE

Beer stains and smoke damage

Arnold Sanders, Associate Professor of English at Goucher College has a page on the Exeter Book:

English books were rare (before Caxton began printing in English with
moveable type, c. 1475), all the “literature” in a region might be
contained in a sort of single-volume “library” bound together between
boards usually made of birch, from the German name for which we get the
word “book” via Old English.  The great book we know as the “Exeter
Book” was given to the library of Exeter Cathedral by the first bishop
of Exeter, Leofric, who died in 1072.  His will describes one great
“englisc boc” which scholars believe could only have been the Exeter
Book because of its extraordinary size.  Its parchment leaves measure
about 12.5 inches by 8.6 inches, slightly larger than a standard sheet
of American paper, and the book originally probably contained a total of
131 leaves.  It probably was written by a single scribe.  At some time
after Leofric’s donation, but before its first study by a Renaissance
antiquary named John Joscelyn, someone bound an additional eight leaves
to its front, but also, the original first eight leaves were torn out,
leaving the first original text (the hymn “Christ”) lacking its
beginning.  The Exeter Book is our only surviving source for most works
it contains, the most famous of which are “The Wanderer,” “The
Seafarer,” “Widsith,” “Wulf and Eadwacer,” “The Wife’s Lament,” and a
great collection of the witty riddles at which the Old English poets

The manuscript survived because the Exeter
Cathedral library resided in a building which would escape the dangers
of fire and storm, civil war and two world wars.   Even so, the ravages
of time inflicted upon this unique text in nearly a thousand years can
best be appreciated by George Phillip Krapp and Elliott Van Kirk
Dobbie’s editorial description of the damage it sustained:

manuscript, though well preserved on the whole, has suffered severe
damage in several places.  The fact that fol. 8a, the first page
preserved of the original manuscript, has been scored over with knife
strokes suggests that at one time in its history the book was used as a
cutting board.  Near the outer margin of this folio, where two very deep
strokes come together, a triangular piece has been torn out of the
parchment, apparently containing the final n of eadga[n], Christ 20.

vessel containing liquid, perhaps a beer mug, has made a circular stain
near the center of fol. 8a.  The liquid has been spilled over a large
portion of this page, and has gone through the next two folios also,
causing a brown stain on these folios and making the text in some places
very difficult to read.  This severe damage which fol. 8a has suffered
indicates that the lost folio at the beginning of the manuscript was
detached from the rest of the book at a very early date, and that from
that time on, the book was without a binding at least until after folios
1 to 7 were added at the beginning.”
Read more here.

Links of Interest:

Riddle Poems and How To Make Them: www.catb.org/~esr/riddle-poems.html
The Exeter Book
The Straight Dope: Why is a raven like a writing desk?
Flower Coloring Pages

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