Our theme for the month of September is Alphabet Soup. Each writer was assigned a letter and will title their post “___ is for ___.”
Note from the Supreme Senior Editor: The following document was recently submitted to The Journal of Completely Correct and Characteristically Competent Papers for peer review and publication. Even the most sophomoric and—pardon my language—undergraduate of readers should immediately deduce the reason for its rejection.
In this decade’s strangest scholarly discovery, a previously unknown page of the late-tenth-century Exeter Book was recently found among the collection of books strewn across a Kalamazoo graduate student’s library carrel. Like many other pages in the codex, it contains a riddle from the point of view of an inanimate object. The poem does, however, display substantive differences from most of the Exeter riddles. For example, the poet seems to be familiar not only with hospitals and the relative atomic weight of hydrogen and but also with Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Greek letter eta, and the relationship between rocks and lava. (There is also the minor oddity of its being in Modern English, which developed several centuries after the book’s composition.)
While bitterly cynical skeptics and devotees of William of Ockham may be tempted to dismiss this momentous find as an obvious and rather juvenile hoax, the document’s authenticity has been incontrovertibly verified through all available scientific processes. The only possible explanation is that, in a stunning new revelation that will certainly rewrite the foundations of Anglo-Saxon studies, one of the Exeter Book’s scribes was a time-traveling, etymology-obsessed chemist with a passion for geology and contemporary American road signs.
Three sticks make me, but mostly I’m breath,
Meaningful wind from a word-speaker’s mouth.
The song-namers stopped before me.
Test-scorers, lest terror be unleashed,
Stop much sooner. Sometimes I name
Five-dozen sixties, a sign to healing,
Water’s ingredient, weight-smallest.
Alone, I heave, hum, hem and haw
But with a friend I furnish new sounds:
I chortle and thunder, chuckle, whistle, laugh.
I came from the islands of olives and thinkers—
There I was voiced, a victor of verse.
But my name has changed since, and my sound likewise.
Longer ago, I looked like a fence.
Books say that then I bore my new sound.
But I forget that ancient time:
Such is my nature.
I know old tales
Only so long as living breath tells them.
When scrawled or scratched on the skin of a beast
Or the earth’s frozen entrails, or the flesh
Of a leaf-maker, then I last longer.
Through the eyes I exit the lips
Of a new bard, a babe in books.
But still I fade, as fade all things
That moths and storms steal away from those
Who breathe and write, break and change
Beneath the eye of the All-father.
Say what I am called.
Photo by Flickr user Per Se; original image available here
Josh Parks graduated from Calvin in 2018 with a BA in English literature and violin performance, and he completed an MA program in medieval studies at Western Michigan University in 2020. He is currently a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, which means his plans to be in school forever are working out well. When not writing, he can be found playing violin, drinking coffee, making excruciating puns, and trying to learn Old French.