Riddle 4, 9, and 10 translated by Bertha Rogers


RIDDLE 4 – BELL, MILLSTONE, FLAIL, QUILL PEN
Anglo-Saxon
Translated by Bertha Rogers

Ic sceal þragbysig      þegne minum,
hringum hæfted,      hyran georne,
min bed brecan,      breahtme cyþan
þæt me halswriþan      hlaford sealde.
Oft mec slæpwerigne      secg oðþe meowle
gretan eode;      ic him gromheortum
winterceald oncweþe.      Wearm lim
gebundenne bæg      hwilum bersteð;
se þeah biþ on þonce      þegne minum,
medwisum men,      me þæt sylfe,
þær wiht wite,      ond wordum min
on sped mæge      spel gesecgan.

RIDDLE 4 – BELL, MILLSTONE, FLAIL, QUILL PEN

Ring bound,      I am a sometimes worker,
giving way      to him whom I serve.
I leap from my night-bed,      bright-call—
My hall-lord has gifted me      with a torc.
Often, though sleep-bereft,      I must bide
patiently      the grim-hearted wave
of master or miss.      Though winter-rimed,
I respond.      A warm limb bursts
my ring at times,       making joyful
both me      and my dullard servant.
If we are lucky,      I sing truth,
a sounding, word-full      riddle.


RIDDLE 9 – CUCKOO

Mec on þissum dagum      deadne ofgeafun
fæder ond modor;      ne wæs me feorh þa gen,
ealdor in innan.      Þa mec an ongon,
welhold mege,      wedum þeccan,
heold ond freoþode,      hleosceorpe wrah
swa arlice      swa hire agen bearn,
þþæt ic under sceate–      swa min gesceapu wæron–
ungesibbum wearð      eacen gæste.
Mec seo friþe mæg      fedde siþþan,
oþþæt ic aweox,      widdor meahte
siþas asettan;      heo hæfde swæsra þy læs
suna ond dohtra, þy heo swa dyde.
Windward wings for the wide road.

RIDDLE 9 – CUCKOO

In the days      before I was given life
I was abandoned.      Father and Mother
I was without,      though needing both,
in the breaking world.      There I found
a friendly kinship      with a new protector.
She held me,      kept me covered—
weak I was—      and warmed me
like her own bosom-babe.      I, stranger-guest,
was loved in a world      of strange siblings.
This close keeping      fed my soul,
my need to increase       filled by mother love.
Then I, no longer daughter,      severed my kinship
and raised up my wings      to the wide, wind-road.


RIDDLE 10 – BARNACLE GOOSE

Neb wæs min on nearwe,      ond ic neoþan wætre,
flode underflowen,      firgenstreamum
swiþe besuncen,      ond on sunde awox
ufan yþum þeaht,      anum getenge
liþendum wuda      lice mine.
Hæfde feorh cwico,      þa ic of fæðmum cwom
brimes ond beames      on blacum hrægle;
sume wæron hwite      hyrste mine,
þa mec lifgende      lyft upp ahof,
wind of wæge,      siþþan wide bær
ofer seolhbaþo.      Saga hwæt ic hatte.

RIDDLE 10 – BARNACLE GOOSE

My beak was bound, tight—      and I,
beneath the water,      flood flowing.
Under the ancient,      dark stream.
From above to below,      my lone friend,
a wild wood      in the waves,
he the same as I.      Then my head woke,
night-black,      my body lit by white.
The wide wind      gathered me up,
and I sailed      over the seal’s bath.
Call me      by my name!


Bertha Rogers’s poems are published in literary journals and anthologies, and in her collections, the most recent, Heart Turned Back (Salmon Poetry, Ireland). Her new collection, Wild, is forthcoming from Salmon. Her translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf, was published in 2000, and her translation of the Anglo-Saxon riddle poems Uncommon Creatures, Singing Things, is forthcoming. She is the founding director, since 1992, of Bright Hill Press and Literary Center in New York’s Catskill Mountain Region.

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