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Friday, April 1, 2011

Riddle Me an Answer: A Book to Celebrate National Poetry Month

Posted by Alana T.

Whilst searching library books for upcoming poems of the month for the blog, I came across the new book, The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation, edited by Greg Delanty and Michael Matto.  I will admit that I'm not a huge fan of poetry; I have to be in just the right mood to sit down and read it.  This book, then, was a big surprise. The editors begin with a brief description of Anglo-Saxon history and culture, then describe the process by which the poems were translated by contemporary poets and scholars (many with no knowledge of Old English).  A large variety of poems and poem riddles are given both in Old English (a pronunciation key is provided for the brave) and translated, or exchanged, into modern English

The longer poems are a bit solemn and introspective for me, but the poem riddles, so much fun!  If you are a fan of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, you will recall the chapter when Bilbo is down under the Misty Mountains in Gollum's cave.  Bilbo desperately wants to know how to get out and he bargains with Gollum for his freedom: whoever guesses a series of riddles correctly wins the game.  The riddles in The Word Exchange are the same type as those provided by Tolkien, not a surprise when you know that Tolkien was a professor of languages and drew heavily on northern European cultures while writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The poem riddles will not only give insight into life long ago, but provide hours of entertainment (if you don't peek to the back for the answers!). Highly recommended for parents and children to enjoy together.

A sample poem riddle from the book:

I Saw Four Beings
     translated by Jane Hirshfield

I saw four beings
traveling strangely as one.
That creature took dark steps,
left tracks of surprising blackness.
It moved more quickly when as a bird flock
it climbed now in clear air,
plunged now beneath black waves.
It seemed a ceaseless laboring
when a noble warrior drove those four
to mark one road across the painted gold.

(The answer is provided at the bottom of the left sidebar.)

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