Nathaniel Evans, “A Riddle”


“A Riddle”


Barrcado’d with white bone,
Lab’ring under many a groan,
Curtain’d in my room with red,
And smoothly laid in crimson bed;
‘Tis I dissolve the stony heart,                                                              5
And comfort’s balmy joys impart;
‘Tis I can rule the wav’ring croud,
Or tame the haughty and the proud;
‘Tis I o’er beauty oft prevail,
That queen of life’s capricious vale;                                                   10
‘Tis I can fire the warrior’s soul,
Or passion’s giddy voice control;
Senates have felt my lordly sway,
And kings my magic pow’r obey;
‘Tis I, so garrulously gay,                                                                      15
That rouze the dames whose heads are grey;
Gilded o’er with truth and lies,
Under many a mixt disguise,
I dress to cheat unpractis’d youth,
With falsehood’s garb for honest truth;                                             20
XANTHIPPE bold, in dead of night,
Taught SOCRATES to own my might!

Strange enchantress, motely creature,
Oddest prodigy of nature!
As raging billows, now I’m wild,                                                          25
And now as warbling fountains mild;
Now religion’s laws proclaiming,
And now the good and just defaming;
Now cementing patriotism,
And now in church provoking schism.                                               30
Enough, O muse!– kind reason cries,
The man who has this monster dies!

Expound my riddle, if you’re able,
For ‘twas this confounded BABEL!


6 balmy “Delicately and deliciously fragrant” (OED).

10 capricious “Characterized by play of wit or fancy; humorous, fantastic, ‘conceited’” (OED).

15 garrulously “Given to much talking; fond of indulging in talk or chatter; loquacious, talkative” (OED).

16 rouze “To tussle with (a person) in a sexual or flirtatious manner” (OED).

17 Gilded “To cover entirely or partially with a thin layer of gold, either laid on in the form of gold-leaf or applied by other processes” (OED).

20 Garb-“Grace, elegance, stylishness of manners or appearance” (OED).

21 Xanthippe (435 BCE- ???) “Athenian wife of Socrates whose name, thanks to the philosopher’s disciples, has for centuries been a byword for a sharp-tongued shrew” (

22 Socrates (469-399 BCE) “Greek philosopher whose way of life, character, and thought exerted a profound influence on ancient and modern philosophy” (Encyclopedia Brittanica).

31 Muse The source of poetic inspiration.

34 Babel Another name for the ancient city of Babylon; a reference here to the Biblical story in Genesis 11:1-9 that describes the human race united under one language building the city and tower, but God intervenes to “confuse their language so they will not understand each other” (11:6), thus destroying the city and dispersing humanity around the world speaking different languages (OCB).

Source: Poems on Several Occasions (Philadelphia, 1759), pp. 19-20. [Google Books]

Edited by Ben Niden-Preis

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