Exeter Riddle 31


Date: Thu 13 Nov 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 31

This week’s translation is a guest post from Christopher Laprade. Christopher is a PhD student at the University of Toronto, where he is working on book history and early modern drama.

Original text:

Is þes middangeard     missenlicum
wisum gewlitegad,     wrættum gefrætwad.
Ic seah sellic þing     singan on ræcede;
wiht wæs nower (1)      werum on gemonge
5     sio hæfde wæstum     wundorlicran.
Niþerweard      wæs neb hyre,
fet ond folme     fugele gelice;
no hwæþre fleogan mæg     ne fela gongan,
hwæþre feþegeorn     fremman onginneð,
10     gecoren cræftum,
     cyrreð geneahhe
oft ond gelome     eorlum on gemonge,
siteð æt symble,     sæles bideþ,
hwonne ær heo cræft hyre     cyþan mote
werum on gemonge.     Ne heo þær wiht þigeð
15     þæs þe him æt blisse     beornas habbað.
Deor domes georn,     hio dumb wunað;
hwæþre hyre is on fote     fæger hleoþor,
wynlicu woðgiefu.     Wrætlic me þinceð,
hu seo wiht mæge     wordum lacan
20     þurh fot neoþan,     frætwed hyrstum.
Hafað hyre on halse,     þonne hio hord warað,
baru (2), beagum deall,     broþor sine,
mæg mid mægne.     Micel is to hycgenne
wisum woðboran     hwæt sio (3) wiht sie.


This middle earth is in manifold
ways made beautiful, with works of art adorned.
I saw a strange thing sing in a hall;
nowhere was there a creature among men
5     that had a more fantastic form.
Downward was her beak,
feet and hands like a bird;
she may not fly, however, nor walk much,
yet eager to go she begins to perform,
10     chosen with skill, she moves frequently
often and again among men,
sits at the feast, bides her time,
until when she might make known her skill
amidst the men. She consumes nothing
15     that the men there have for their pleasure.
Brave, eager for glory, she sits silent;
yet there is in her foot a fair sound,
a charming gift of song. It seems curious to me,
how that creature can play with words
20     through that foot from beneath, adorned with finery.
They have her by the neck, when she guards treasure,
bare, proud with rings, her brothers,
maid among an army. It is a great thing to think
for a wise songster what that creature may be.

Click to show riddle solution?
Bagpipes, Quill Pen and Fingers, Musical Instrument


This riddle appears on folios 108r-108v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 196.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 29: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 86-7.

Textual Notes

  • (1) nower is an editorial intervention that does not appear in the manuscript;
  • (2) note that Krapp and Dobbie retain the manuscript form bær, while Williamson emends to baru;
  • (3) sio also does not appear in the manuscript.

This page was edited for clarity on 30 November 2020 and its list of solutions on 17 March 2022.

Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 31 

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