[Elizabeth Carter], “A Riddle”


“A Riddle


Nor form nor substance in my being share,
I’m neither fire nor water, earth nor air;
From motion’s force alone my birth derive,
I ne’er can die, for never was alive:
And yet with such extensive empire reign,                                                       5
That very few escape my magick chain.
Nor time nor place my wild excursions bound,
I break all order, nature’s laws confound;
Raise schemes without contrivance or design,
And make apparent contradictions join:                                                          10
Transfer the Thames where Ganges’ waters roll,
Unite th’ equator to the frozen pole;
Midst Zembla’s ice bid blushing rubies glow,
And British harvests bloom in Scythian snow;
Cause trembling flocks to skim the raging main,                                             15
And scaly fishes graze the verdant plain;
Make light descend, and heavy bodies rise,
Stars sink to earth, and earth ascend the skies.
If nature lie deform’d in wintry frost,
And all the beauties of the spring be lost,                                                          20
Rais’d by my pow’r new verdure decks the ground,
And smiling flow’rs diffuse their sweets around.
The sleeping dead I summon from the tomb,
And oft anticipate the living’s doom;
Convey offenders to the fatal tree,                                                                       25
When law or stratagem have set them free.
Aw’d by no checks, my roving flight can soar
Beyond imagination’s active pow’r;
I view each country of the spacious earth,
Nay visit realms that never yet had birth,                                                            30
Can trace the pathless regions of the air,
And fly with ease beyond the starry sphere;
So swift my operations, in an hour
I can destroy a town, or build a tow’r.
Play tricks would puzzle all the search of wit,                                                      35
And show whole volumes that were never writ.
In sure records my mystick powr’s confest,
Who rack’d with cares a haughty tyrant’s breast,
Charg’d in prophetick emblems to relate
Approaching wrath, and his peculiar fate.                                                            40
Oft to the good by heav’n in mercy sent,
I’ve arm’d their thoughts against some dire event;
As oft in chains presumptuous villains bind,
And haunt with restless fears the guilty mind.


Author  Signed “Eliza,” known to be Elizabeth Carter’s nom de plume in The Gentleman’s Magazine in this period.

6  magick  “Acting or doing by powers superior to the known power of nature; incantating; necromantick” (Johnson).

11  Thames  Largest river in southern England, flows through London  (Britannica); Ganges, A river in India sacred to Hindus and personified as the goddess Ganga in ancient texts and art. It flows from the Himalaya mountains to northern India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal (Britannica).

13  Zembla  Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago of two islands located in northwestern Russia in the Arctic ocean (Britannica).

14  Scythian  “Of or relating to Scythia, an ancient region extending over a large part of European and Asiatic Russia” (OED).

15  raging main  “The ocean” (Johnson).

25  the fatal tree  A reference to Tyburn, “a place of public execution for Middlesex (London) until 1783, situated at the junction of the present Oxford Street, Bayswater Road, and Edgware Road” (OED).

SOURCE: The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 8 (February, 1738), p. 99.  [Google Books]

 Edited by Tovanni Renteria





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *