An enigma is a riddle written in verse. Here is a collection of enigmas for you to solve. (Answers for this section begin on page 316.)
What does man love more than life Fear more than death or mortal strife What the poor have, the rich require, and what contented men desire, What the miser spends and the spendthrift saves And all men carry to their graves?
I am just two and two, I am warm, I am cold, And the parent of numbers that cannot be told: I am lawful, unlawful — a duty, a fault, I am often sold dear, good for nothing when bought, An extraordinary boon, and a matter of course, And yielded with pleasure when taken by force.
A Breed Unfit
Unlike my mother, in semblance different from my father, of mingled race, a breed unfit for progeny, of others am I born, and none is born of me.
— By Symphosius in the fourth century A.D.
I do not straightway die while breath departs; for repeatedly it returns, though often too departs again: and now my store of vital breath is great, now none.
Six eyes are mine; as many ears have I; Fingers and toes twice thirty do I bear.
Of these, when forty from my flesh are torn, Lo, then but twenty will remain to me.
— By Aldhelm, a seventh-century English poet
I never was, am always to be, No one ever saw me, nor ever will And yet I am the confidence of all To live and breathe on this terrestrial ball.
My sides are firmly laced about, Yet nothing is within; You'll think my head is strange indeed, Being nothing else but skin.
— From the Guess Book, by William Davidson (1781–1858)
We are little airy Creatures, All of diff'rent Voice and Features, One of us in Glass is set, One of us you'll find in Jet, T'other you may see in Tin, And the fourth a Box within, If the fifth you shou'd pursue, It can never fly from you.
— By Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)
Ever eating, never cloying, All-devouring, all-destroying, Never finding full repast, Till I eat the world at last.
— By Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)
I'm named after nothing, Though I'm awfully clamorous, And when I'm not working, Your house is less glamorous.
A Yellow Fork
I am, in truth, a yellow fork From tables in the sky By inadvertent fingers dropped The awful cutlery.
Of mansions never quite disclosed And never quite concealed The apparatus of the dark To ignorance revealed.
— By Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)
Four people sat down at a table to play; They play'd all that night, and some part of the next day: This one thing observ'd, that when they were seated, Nobody played with them, and nobody betted: Yet when they got up, each was winner a guinea; Who tells me this riddle, I'm sure is no ninny.
— Sir Isaac Newton, 1773
I'm not in earth, nor the sun, nor the moon; You may search all the sky — I'm not there.
In the morning and evening — though not in the noon — You may plainly perceive me, for like a balloon, I am midway suspended in air.
Though disease may possess me, and sickness and pain, I am never in sorrow nor gloom; Though in wit and wisdom I equally reign, I'm the heart of all sin, and have long lived in vain, Yet I ne'er shall be found in the tomb.
— Lord Byron (1788–1824)
Oft I must strive with wind and wave, Battle them both when under the sea I feel out the bottom, a foreign land.
In lying still I am strong in the strife; If I fail in that they are stronger than I, And wrenching me loose, soon put me to rout.
They wish to capture what I must keep.
I can master them both if my grip holds out, If the rocks bring succor and lend support, Strength in the struggle. Ask me my name!