Tag Archives: riddle

[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





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” (Encyclopedia.com).

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