I need no food, and drink but once a day.
I take no leisure: work is all I know.
In summer I bring in the precious hay;
In autumn, break the ground; in spring I sow.
Although I have no arms, no hands or feet
I travel far, lift mighty loads and bear
A man upon my back. I eat no meat
Yet killed a million horses. Should we share
The road, you may resent my company,
For I have many followers. I tower
Above the one who’s master over me:
I am subservient, for all my power.


OK, an easy one to start 2012. Over Christmas, I’ve been reading a selection from the hundreds of riddles the Anglo-Saxon poets wrote about birds, animals and everyday objects, and they’ve inspired me to have a go myself. I’ve always loved the ‘riddles in the dark’ exchanged by Bilbo Baggins and Gollum in The Hobbit, which are written in exactly this style (let’s not forget that JRR Tolkein was a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford for 20 years) As with so many ancient forms of writing, it appears very simple, but is actually surprisingly tricky and subtle. The originals tend to be about swords, shields, helmets and other gear of war; mine describes something a bit more contemporary. No prizes for guessing what.

13 thoughts on “Riddle

  1. Hi Nick,

    I am laughing at myself now! I have always been useless with riddles and this was no exception. I only got it because I read the tags!!!

    I’m a bit worried now because you said it was an easy one! OMG – am I really thick??!!

    Happy New Year to you and your really ridiculously not easy riddles!

    Christine x

    • LOL – I must confess some of the original Anglo-Saxon ones defeated me, too: there was one about a swan, and another about the Bible, that I didn’t fully get even when I’d skipped ahead and read what the answers were! I think I’ve got my revenge, though: there’s no way they’d guess what mine is about. Cheating slightly, I know, as the tractor wasn’t invented until about 1,000 years after their time, but still…

  2. A Happy New Year!
    This is fun 🙂 !
    It’s amazing how you can make even a riddle into a poem.
    I really must read the Hobbit in original version, so much gets lost when translated into another language. Thank you for the valuable information!

    • Happy New Year to you from a rather wet and stormy South of England! I must say I’m intrigued by the idea of a Japanese translation of The Hobbit: orcs and goblins and trolls and elves aren’t that easy to explain or understand in English! The riddle-poem is a lot of fun; Sussex, where I live, derives its name from ‘land of the South Saxons’, so I like to think I’m just carrying on work that was being done here 1,000 years ago!

  3. What a delightful trip back into history, Nick, and then to plow us up with something like this as a wonderful poem! I am glad to see you back in the new year. I loved the riddles in the Hobbit too. But this delights me to no end. If I see any fields lying around, I’ll be sure to send them to you.

    • Hi Thomas – glad you liked the riddle. As the most cursory trawl through my archives will attest, I have a fondness for tractors and farm machinery that stretches back to childhood: I’m still dreaming that one day I’ll be hailed as the founder of a whole new school of ‘agripoetry’. Too much to hope, perhaps! In the meantime, all fields gratefully received. N.

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