Metaphor and Riddle
A riddle mediates between man and the Other–its voice is sometimes the bard's, sometimes the birds. We contrive to know the riddler's meaning, the creatures's world. Through other eyees we see our own symbolic systems. With reason we separate day from night, man from monster, plant from penis–only to discover in riddles a nightmare of resemblances and crossed categories. Can the fox be a great mother, the moon a night-bandit, the sword a celibate and serving thane? Can the dead ox revive to carry man (shoes) or sin through its skin the word of God (Bible)? Can a bird be a poet, a bagpipe a bird? This is the power the word confers--especially in the shape of metaphor.36
Disguise and disclosure are the twin movements of metaphor and riddle. Aristotle discovered the poles of the dance. In discussing riddles and metaphors in The Poetics and Rhetoric, he says:
Riddles and metaphors disguise one creature in the garb of another.
The bird is a poet, the blade is a warrior, the rake is a dog.
The real creature is what I. A. Richards calls the tenor, the disguise is the vehicle; the common ground is what makes the comparison, the disguise possible.40
The nightingale and poet sing and celebrate beauty,
In addition to Richards's triad of terms, there is also what I call the gap, those characteristics which separate the true tenor from the vehicle, the real creature from the assumed disguise.41
By calling the nightingale "bright singer of beauty,"
By calling the bird a "winged, penless poet," we highlight the distinction (the gap). Ground words reinforce the metaphoric equation; gap words recall the separate worlds of tenor and vehicle.
The ground extends a metaphor; the gap produces paradox.
An extended image often contains both ground and gap. For example:
the rake as dog might be "a one-legged ground-scruffer,"
The gap and ground produce the clash and confirmation of metaphor, the collision and collusion of worlds.42
2. Riddles: Tenor, Vehicle, Ground and Gap
How does this work in practice in the Old English riddles? The lyre (tenor) is disguised as a lady singer (vehicle):