A simple, single vocal cord have I
And yet I sing, describe a graceful arc
And sentence man and beast alike to die.
My bite is vicious, though I have no bark;
You’ll hear me groan, perhaps, but never cry.
In bones and history books I’ve left my mark.
I took the field in numbers long ago;
With me, serfs conquered kingdoms, but no more.
From princes to the lowest of the low
They feared, despised and hated me. To draw
Me takes a practised hand; an art on show
For all the world to see at Agincourt.
And though I’m long supplanted I can still
Prove deadly when you bend me to your will.
I’m everywhere and nowhere, constantly
In motion. There’s an air of mystery
About me; where I come from, where I’m bound;
They say that if you whistle, I’ll be found,
But though I may be harnessed, ridden, named
And farmed (or even trapped) I shan’t be tamed.
I will submit to touch and taste and smell;
You’ll hear me, too, but you will never tell
My whereabouts by looking; all you’ll see
Is where I pass, by weathercock or tree.
When I am One you’ll hardly know I’m there;
But when I’m Twelve, and fully grown, I’ll tear
The slates from roofs, bring trees down in the wood;
Yet I’ll be doing someone, somewhere good;
For when I have expended all my power
I’ll waft a seed or pollinate a flower.
I’m fickle, always rushing high to low,
My soft caress becomes a sudden blow.
Sometimes I’ll turn against you; in your face
I’ll slow your bicycle to walking-pace
And force your yacht or sailing ship to tack:
But you’ll be flying with me at your back.
Maybe too easy. But it’s been a tough day.
I lie in wait, a cold gleam in my eye,
In shady spots, on bends, so hard to see
Till it’s too late. My time is slipping by:
For though long Ages have belonged to me
In which I levelled mountains, shattered stone
I cannot last forever. Comes the day
When my old foe will rise; with warmth alone
Melt my defences, make me run away.
And should my playful tug at sole or wheel
Raise bruises, break your bones, I’ll make amends:
The injuries I cause I help to heal;
Just hold me close and soon we shall be friends.
And when you feel the world just doesn’t care,
You need not drink alone; for I’ll be there.
Couldn’t resist it. This one should be a bit easier…stay safe out there, folks.
I have no voice. Yet I sing sweet and high
As any summer lark. I draw no breath
But must have air; without it, I will lie
Inert, in rigid silence, cold as death.
I have no heart. But press me to your lips
And I’ll requite thee instantly; you’ll feel
My racing pulse beneath your fingertips.
I’m delicate, refined, yet with a steel
That runs right through: scratch me, I will not bleed.
My joints are straight and true: I do not bend.
I’ll do your bidding: all my strength and speed
Are in your hands. But here’s the trick, my friend:
I’m always on your right side, always near.
But when you pick me up, I disappear.
Another Anglo-Saxon-inspired brain-teaser for a chilly winter’s morning. I had such fun writing this.
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.