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The Husband's Message

The Husband's Message

by Anonymous

Analysis: Calling Card

Mystery Speaker, Runes

"The Husband's Message" isn't technically a riddle, but in The Exeter Book it's preceded by a series of short poems in which inanimate objects or animals ask the reader to "say what I am." This – and the fact that it's voiced by a mystery speaker who promises to reveal his identity through self-description – makes it like a riddle.

Very quickly, though, the focus of the poem shifts to the message the speaker bears. Not until the end does it return to a riddling mode, this time when it presents five runes, or mysterious pictograms, as a guarantee of the lord's commitment to his love-vows. These runes, which Anglo-Saxons may have believed had magical properties, represent both whole words and single letters. They implicitly ask the reader to "say what I am," because only through knowing them can their message be deciphered. Alas, the technique of rune-reading has been lost to us, making "The Husband's Message" as much of a riddle today as it was a thousand years ago.

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