Exeter Book Riddle 5

Early medieval English shield-fittings and boss, uncovered during the Sutton Hoo excavation (1938), reassembled and housed at the British Museum.

Old English Riddle 5 (solution: scyld)

Ic eom anhaga      iserne wund,
bille gebennad,      beadoweorca sæd,
ecgum werig.      Oft ic wig seo,
frecne feohtan.      Frofre ne wene,
þæt me geoc cyme      guðgewinnes,
ær ic mid ældum      eal forwurðe,
ac mec hnossiað      homera lafe,
heardecg heoroscearp,      hondweorc smiþa,
bitað in burgum;      ic abidan sceal
laþran gemotes.      Næfre læcecynn
on folcstede      findan meahte,
þara þe mid wyrtum      wunde gehælde,
ac me ecga dolg      eacen weorðað
þurh deaðslege      dagum ond nihtum.

“Hip Hop Shield Riddle”: A Modern Translation by Aaron Hostetter

Alone is only me, loneliness my claim,
iron boiling in my blood, iron all the pain
Glanced through by the glaive,
I be battered by the blade
Saddened by these battle-works, filled up by the stain,
Tired edges in my bones, weary splinters ingrown
Cultivate in conflict zones, reap crops of ashen foes.
Comfort ain’t coming soon, when does it ever come?
Bites of blades every day — buffet for all this hate
This body don’t go on forever, someday it will go,
though everywhere the men are there, everywhere I know
Lanced by a thousand lances, beaten up & down,
Venom in they fangs,  they artfully arranged
Killin points keened to keenness,
Every edge cleaned to meanness
Blacksmiths birthin snakes,
midwifin all these bone breaks
I’m all what’s left for this mess,  
holes & tears in my flesh
Heirs of hammers hailin down
beds of anvils now they pound
Bitin me like biters bite,
battle verses no one writes
Spittin out just for spite,
mouthless mouthin on the mike
Lastin through this loathsome moot,
Can’t wind my wounds with healin roots
What kind of doctor fleshes me, where is their academy?
Deathly gashes growin greater,
yawnin jaws from the hater —
Am I just a shield to you, bulwark for the chosen few?
At least you got your shoulder-brothers —
so who would stand at MY shoulder?

Dr. Hostetter discusses his interpretative approach and translation principles in his translator’s preface.

For more translations by Dr. Hostetter, see his Old English Poetry Project.