Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book/Annotated/60

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Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book (1963)
translated by Paull Franklin Baum
1190282Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book1963Paull Franklin Baum

60 (k-d 28)

There’s a bit of earth     beautifully sown
with the hardest and the sharpest     and the grimmest that men own.
Cut and cleaned,     turned and dried;
pleached and wound;     bleached and bound;
adorned and arrayed     and borne away
to the doors of men.     Joy is within
for living creatures.     It delays and it stays
a long long while.     They live in joy
and naught gainsays.     But after the death
they start talking big,     chattering, chittering.
It is hard for a wise man     to say what this is.


Biþ foldan dæl     fægre gegierwed
mid þy heardestan     mid þy scearpestan
mid þy grymmestan     gumena ge streona ·
corfen sworfen     cyrred þyrred
bunden wunden     blæced wæced
frætwed geatwed     feorran læded
to durum dryhta     dream bið in innan
cwicra wihta     clengeð lengeð
þara þe ær lifgende     longe hwile
wilna bruceð     no wið spriceð
þōn æfter deaþe     deman onginneð
meldan mislice     micel is to hycganne
wisfæstum menn     hwæt seo wiht sy

This is a sprightly companion to the preceding and more conventional riddle. It describes the preparation and effects of malt liquor and is sometimes given the title of John Barleycorn, after the much later ballad of that name. The first part is notable for its jingling rimes:

mid þy heardestan     and mid þy scearpestan …
Corfen, sworfen,     cyrred þyrred,
bunden, wunden,     blæced, wæced …
cwicra wihta.     Clengeð, lengeð …

From l. 6 on the text is puzzling and something may have been omitted by the copyist. Literally: ‘it (the joy) clings, lingers, of those who before were living; for a long time they enjoy their pleasures and nothing gainsays (them). Then after death they begin to talk variously.’ This seems to mean that those who drink are happy and feel alive for a time; then they are overtaken, dead to themselves, and talk recklessly.