Two Old Engblish Riddles

Translations by Kevin Crossley-Holland

(copyright 1965)

Bible-Codex (Old English Riddle #26)

An enemy ended my life, deprived me
Of my physical strength; then he dipped me
In water and drew me out again,
And put me in the sun where I soon shed
All my hair. After that, the knife's sharp edge 5
Bit into me and all my blemishes were scraped away;
Fingers folded me and the bird's feather
Often moved over my brown surface, sprinkling
Meaningful marks; it swallowed more wood-dye
(Part of the stream) and again travelled over me 10
Leaving black tracks. Then a man bound me,
He stretched skin over me and adorned me
With gold; thus I am enriched by the wondrous work
Of smiths, wound about with shining metal.
Now my clasp and my red dye 15
And these glorious adornments bring fame far and wide
To the Protector of Men, and not to the pains of hell.
If only the sons of men would make use of me
They would be the safer and more victorious, their
Hearts would be bolder and their minds more at ease, 20
Their thoughts would be more wise; and they would have more friends,
Companions and kinsmen (courageous, honourable,
Trusty, kind) who would gladly increase
Their honour and prosperity, and heap
Benefits upon them, ever holding them 25
Most dear. Ask what I am called,
Of such use to men. My name is famous,
Of service to men and sacred in itself.

Bookworm (Old English Riddle #47)

A moth devoured words. When I heard of that wonder
It struck me as a strange event
That a worm should swallow the song of some man,
A thief gorge in the darkness on a great man's
Speech of distinction. The thievish stranger
Was not a whit the wiser for swallowing words.