Literary Places

Exeter Riddle Sculpture

The Exeter riddle sculpture stands in the High Street and was created by Michael Fairfax in 2005. It is 6.5 metres high and made up of eight panels each with a riddle laser-cut into the stainless steel in mirror writing, readable from their reflections in an opposite panel.

Between each pair of ‘wings’ is a polished, stainless-steel sphere on which is engraved the answer to the riddle.The eight Old English riddles were originally recorded in the Exeter Book around 950 C.E. and the translations used are by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

The womb of the wold, wet and cold,
Bore me at first, brought me forth.
I know in my mind my making was not
Through skill with fells or fleeces of wool;
There was no winding of wefts, there is no woof in me,
No thread thrumming under the thrash of strokes,
No whirring shuttle steered through me,
No weaver’s reed rapped my sides.
The worms that braid the broidered silk
With Wierd cunning did not weave me;
Yet anywhere over the earth’s breadth
Men will attest me a trustworthy garment.

Say truly, supple-minded man,
Wise in words, what my name is.

Riddle 35 (above) is taken from Old English Riddles from the Exeter Book translated by Michael Alexander, published by Anvil Press Poetry in 2007. Reprinted by permission of the publishers.

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– Michael Fairfax: Public artist, sculptor, designer.

– Read more about the Exeter Riddles at the Joel Segal Books blog