Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book/2

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An annotated version of this text is available.

2 (K-D 2)

Sometimes I set forth     —when none would expect it—
under turbulent waves,     seeking the depths,
the floor of ocean.     The sea is aroused,
. . . . .     foam is tossed up;
the home of whales     roars and rages.
Streams lash the shore,     violently dash
up the steep strand     with sand and shingle
and seaweed, when surging     I struggle and strive
beneath the sea currents,     stir up the bottom,
the broad sea deeps.     Nor can I escape10
from the sea’s surface     until He permits
who guides all my ways.     O wise man, say,
who is it drew me     from the sea’s embraces
when the surges again     are stilled and quiet
and calm the waves     which covered me first.

(K-D 3, 1–16)

Sometimes my Lord     constrains me close
and forces me under     the broad bosom
of the fertile fields     and holds me there,
drives me into darkness,     where hard on my back
the earth sits heavy.     There is no escape
from all that torment;     but the houses of heroes,
their gabled halls,     I cause to tremble
and shake the walls     of the dwellings of men,
high over their heads.     The air seems still
in the skies above     and the waters quiet—
until from confinement     upwards I thrust,
even as He commands     who laid at the beginning
my fetters upon me.     I can never be free
from the power that points     the path I follow.

(K-D 3, 17–35)

Sometimes from above     I rouse the surges,
stir up the waters     and drive to the shore
the flint-gray flood.     Foaming the waves
fight with the wall.     Dim stands up
the dune over the deep;     dark behind it
blended with the sea     comes another surge.
Together they meet     by the sea-mark there
by the high ridges.     Loud is the wooden ship,
the noise of the sailors.     Calmly await
the steep stone cliffs     the battle of waters,
the clashing waves,     when high the violence
crowds on the headlands.     There must the keel
find bitter battle,     if the sea lifts it
with all its men     in that terrible hour;
till out of control,     robbed of its life,
it rides through the foam     on the back of the waves.
Then will be panic there,     manifest to mortals;
. . . . .     but I must obey,
strong on my fierce way.     Who will still that?

In this last there may be an echo of Matt. 8:24–27 (Christ calming the waves), and in the shipwreck picture a notion of divine retribution at the Last Judgment.

(K-D 3, 36–66)

Sometimes I rush     through the wan wet clouds
that ride on my back,     scatter them wide
with their streaming water.     Sometimes I allow them
to glide together.     Great is the din,
uproar over houses,     and loudest of crashes,
when fiercely comes     cloud against cloud
like sword against sword.     Darkling spirits,
swift over mortals,     sweat with fire,
with gleaming flame     and fearful noises.
Above mankind     with dreadful din10
they fare fighting;     they let fall then
swart rattling streams     from out their bosom,
water from within.     Fighting moves on
the terrible host;     panic arises,
a mighty fear     in the hearts of mankind;
horror in towns     when gleaming shoots
the gliding demon     with sharp weapons.
He is dull who dreads not     these arrows of death;
he dies nonetheless     if the true Lord
down through the rain,     straight from above20
lets fly the darts     of the fiery storm,
its swift arrows.     Few escape this
who are reached by the darts     of the hostile rain.
I stand in the van     of this battlefront
when on I press     the column of cloud,
push through the strife     in masterful might
on the breast of the burns.     Crowding in battle
the high storm bursts.     Then down I bend
under the helm of the sky     close to the ground,
bearing on my back     the burden I carry30
by the command of him,     the all-powerful Lord.

K-D 3, 67–74

Thus a mighty servant     I do battle by turns—
sometimes under ground;     sometimes I must deep
undermine the waves;     sometimes from on high
I arouse the waters,     or rising aloft
stir up the clouds.     Widely I pass,
swift and violent.     Tell me my name,

or who lifts and drives me,     when I may not rest,
or who it is steadies me     when I become still.