Riddle me, fiddle me

(There’s a contest at the end.)

A few days ago, the phrase musk and testosterone led me to the verse form the double dactyl, and I was reminded of the doubly dactylic poet Saskia Hamilton, who got attention from Ben Zimmer on Language Log a while before that (“She’s got two sibilants, no bilabial plosives”), thanks to a song; from the song’s Wikipedia entry:

Saskia Hamilton was featured in the album Lonely Avenue as the subject of the eponymous song written by Ben Folds and Nick Hornby who ‘thought she had a fantastic name for her line of work’. The liner notes indicate that the song’s narrator is a teenage poetry nerd. Ben Folds commissioned Charlie McDonnell to make a video for the song.

And then — synchronicity! — she turned up in the June 9 New York Review of Books, in Christopher Ricks’s review (“Mixing Mystery and Intrigue”) of The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation (ed. by Greg Delanty and Michael Matto), a book with many translations of Anglo-Saxon riddle poems. Including Hamilton’s “It is Written in Scriptures”.

You can hear Hamilton read the poem on the Poets Out Loud site, here. Ricks writes of two poets who

mingle mystery and ingenuity. Saskia Hamilton’s riddle is a casket permitting — riddlingly enough — of three keys: a prophetic dream, or death, or time.

and quotes

the opening, making its way toward its secret, with tingling circumspection as to revelation


What stealth of gait, inexorably allusive. No mouth to speak of.

Here’s the whole poem (Ricks’s excerpt takes us up to nor mind, boldfaced in the text):

It is written in scriptures that this
creature appears plainly to us
when the hour calls,
while its singular power compels
and confounds our knowing.
It seeks us out, one by one,
following its own way; fares on,
with its stranger’s step, never
to no place; moves according
to its nature. It has no hands,
no feet, has never touched the ground,
no mouth to speak of,
nor mind. Scriptures say
it is the least of anything made.
It has no soul, no life, but travels
widely among us in this world;
no blood nor bone, but
consoles all the children of men.
It hasn’t reached heaven,
it won’t touch hell,
but takes instruction from
the king of glory. The whole story
of its fate — limbless as it is,
animate — is too obscure to tell.
And yet all the words we find
to describe it are just and true.
If you can say it call it
by its rightful name.

Now, here’s the challenge: dream up a double dactyl that has Saskia Hamilton as its second line and uses the subject matter (and, where possible, the text) of this poem. Feel free to enjamb lines, even by word division, and remember that two lines in the form (the fourth and eighth) are short, having a dactyl followed by a single accented syllable. So

wríttĕn ĭn scríptŭres thăt


síngŭlăr pówěr cŏm-
péls ănd cŏnfóunds

are fair game, if properly deployed.

The prize: a copy of doubly-trochaic songwriter Ian Lawler’s CD Future Nostalgia.

Submit entries as comments on this posting. Contest closes June 10 (giving some slack for the Memorial Day holiday in the U.S. and seasonal holidays elsewhere). Winner to be chosen by an inscrutable subjective ranking scheme of my own.

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