What am I?

An enemy ended my life, deprived me
of my physical strength; then he dipped me
in water and drew me out again,
and put me in the sun where I soon shed
all my hair. After that, the knife’s sharp edge
bit into me and all my blemishes were scraped away;
fingers folded me and the bird’s feather
often moved over my brown surface,
sprinkling meaningful marks; it swallowed more wood-dye
(part of the stream) and again travelled over me
leaving black tracks. Then a man bound me,
he stretched skin over me and adorned me
with gold; thus I am enriched by the wondorous work
of smiths, wound about with shining metal.
Now my clasp and my red dye
and these glorious adornments bring fame far and wide
to the Protector of Men, and not to the pains of hell.
If only the sons of men would make use of me
they would be the safer and the more victorious,
their hearts would be bolder, their minds more at ease,
their thoughts wiser; and they would have more friends,
companions and kinsmen (courageous, honorable,
trusty, kind) who would gladly increase
their honour and prosperity, and heap
benefits upon them, ever holding them
most dear. Ask what I am called,
of such use to men. My name is famous,
of service to men and sacred in itself.

From “The Exeter Book of Riddles”, translated and Introduced by Kevin Crossley-Holland. Benguin Classics, ISBN 0140433678

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