The Old English riddles are a metaphoric and metamorphic celebration of life in the
eye of the Anglo-Saxon. Metaphoric because each riddlic creature takes on the guise
of another: the nightingale is an evening poet, mead is a wrestler, the sword a celibate thane, the silver wine-cup
a seductress. Metamorphic because in the natural flow all creatures shift shapes:
the horn turns from twinned head-warrior of the wild aurochs to battle-singer or mead-belly--sometimes it swallows
the blood of hawthorn and gives to quill and vellum page the gift of words. The book
too has its own beginnings --it sings in Riddle 24:
A life-thief stole my
Ripped off flesh and left me skin,
Dipped me in water and drew me
The hard blade, clean steel, cut,
Scraped-fingers folded, shaped
Now the bird's once wind-stiff
Darts often to the horn's dark
Sucks wood-stain, steps back again
With a quick scratch of power,
Black on my body, points trails.
|But the flow, the form and movement, remains. As
the mind shifts, it shapes meaning. When is an iceberg a witch-warrior? When
it curses and slaughters ships. When is it a great mother? When
transformed and lifted, it rains down. There is a primitive participation and poetic
synchronicity in this. Man charts the world and the world sings in images his uncharted
spirit. The Riddles are primitive flower and lyric seed.
To us they offer a world in which there is an eye (I)
in every other, a charged world where as Walt Whitman
says, there is "God in every object."
If we no longer see the tree in the table or sense the sinuous vine
in the wine's work
or quicken in the bow of the nightingale's song,
this may be a world we need.