An awesome beauty angled the wave; Suckled by the sea, sheltered near shore;
The deep-throated creature called to land, Cradled in cold catch of waves,
Laughed loud-lingering, struck terror Footless and fixed—often I offered
Home to men. Her blades honed sharp, To the sea-stream a stretch of mouth.
She was slow to battle but battle-grim, Now a man will strip my bonelike skin
Savage wound-worker. The slaughterer From the sides of my body with a bright blade
Struck ship-walls, carried a curse. And bolt my flesh, relish me raw:
The cunning creature said of herself: A quick cuisine—crack to jaw.
“My mother, who comes from the kind of women
Dearest and best, is my daughter grown 79
Great and pregnant; so is it known to men
My race is old, my seasons many,
On earth that she shall come and stand
My sorrows deep. I have dwelt in cities
Gracefully on the ground in every land.”
Since the fire-guardian wrought with flame
My clean beginning in the world of men,
32 Purged my body with a circling fire.
Now a fierce earth-brother stands guard,
I saw close to the houses of men The first to shape my sorrow—I remember
A strange creature that feeds cattle. Who ripped our race, hard from its homeland,
By tooth-hoard and nose-haul Stripped us from the ground. I cannot bind
(A useful slave), it scruffs the ground, Or blast him, yet I cause the clench of slavery
Scratches at plants, dogs walls Round the world. Though my wounds are many
Or drags fields for plunder-seeks On middle-earth, my strength is great.
A crop-catch and carries it home. My craft and course, power and rich passage,
Its prey is bent stalk and weak root; I must hide from men. Say who I am.
Its gift is firm grain and full flower
On a glittering plain-growing, blooming. 87
48 My head is struck by a forging hammer,
Sheared close by a shaping blade,
On earth this warrior is strangely born Honed smooth by a fierce file.
Of two dumb creatures, drawn gleaming Sometimes I swallow my tempered foe,
Into the world, bright and useful to men. When bound by rings, I heave from behind,
It is tended, kept, covered by women- Thrust a long limb through a hard hole,
Strong and savage, it serves well, Catch hard the keeper of the heart’s pleasure,
A gentle slave to firm masters Twist with my tongue and turn back
Who mind its measure and feed it fairly The midnight guardian of my lord’s treasure
With a careful hand. To these it brings When the conquering warrior comes to hold
Warm blessings, to those who let it run The gift of slaughter, the joy of gold.
Wild it brings a grim reward.
In battle I rage against wave and wind, I am man’s treasure, taken from the woods,
Strive against storm, dive down seeking Cliff-sides, hill-slopes, valleys, downs;
A strange homeland, shrouded by the sea. By day wings bear me in the buzzing air,
In the grip of war, I am strong when still; Slip me under a sheltering roof-sweet craft.
In battle-rush, rolled and ripped Soon a man bears me to a tub. Bathed,
In flight. Conspiring wind and wave I am binder and scourge of men, bring down
Would steal my treasure, strip my hold, The young, ravage the old, sap strength.
But I seize glory with a guardian tail Soon he discovers who wrestles with me
As the clutch of stones stands hard My fierce body-rush-I roll fools
Against my strength. Can you guess my name? Flush on the ground. Robbed of strength,
Reckless of speech, a man knows no power
19 Over hands, feet, mind. Who am I who bind
Men on middle-earth, blinding with rage
Head down, nosing-I belly the ground.
And such savage lows that dazed
Hard snuffle and grub, I bite and furrow
Fools know my dark power by daylight?
Drawn by the dark enemy of forests,
Driven by a bent lord who hounds my trail,
Who lifts and lowers me, rams me down, 30
Pushes on plain, and sows seed. Middle-earth is made lovely in unmatched ways
I am a ground-skulker, born of wood, Rich and rare, I saw a strange creature
Bound by wizards, brought on wheel. Riding the road, weird craft and power
My ways are weird: as I walk one flank From the workshops of men. She came sliding
Up on the shore, shrieking without sight,
Of my trail is gathering green, the other
Eyes, arms, shoulders, hands
Is bright black. Through my back and belly Sailed on one foot over smooth plains
A sharp sword thrusts; through my head Treasure and haul. Her mouth in the middle
A dagger is stuck like a tooth: what I slash Of a hoard of ribs, she carries corn
Falls in a curve of slaughter to one side Gold, grain-treasure, wine-wealth.
If my driving lord slaves well. The feast-floater brings in her belly food
For rich and poor. Let the wise who catch
The drift of this riddle say what I mean.
Shunning silence, my house is loud
While I am quiet: we are movement bound
Who am I who stand so boldly by the sea road—
By the shaper’s will. I am swifter,
Hightowering, cheek-bright, useful to men?
Sometimes stronger-he is longer lasting,
Harder running. Sometimes I rest
While he rolls on. He is the house Key
That holds me living—alone I die.
Fish and River