Wonderful Things

Genre: Vocal


Forces: SSA

Length: 6 Minutes


Wonderful Things (2011) – Setting of three Anglo-Saxon riddles from the Exeter Book, 6’.

Commissioned by Suzanne Fatta.

‘We brought the house down with “Ic waes faemne geong”!!!’ – Suzanne Fatta

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Programme notes

Wonderful Things

Hrægl min swigað ~ Ic eom wunderlicu wiht ~ Ic waes faemne geong

The Exeter Book is an anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry, put into the library of Exeter Cathedral by Leofric, its first bishop, and still held there today. It dates from around 900AD, and among much else includes ninety-odd Anglo-Saxon riddles.

Scholars say that the riddle is a standard Anglo-Saxon form – though the Exeter Book provides almost the sole evidence. There seem to have been some regular conventions: many begin with ‘I am a wonderful thing’ – which gave my selection its title.

The brilliant and generous Michael Drout of Wheaton College, Norton, MA can be heard reading in the original Anglo-Saxon at:


These readings formed the basis of my transliterations, which are intended as a guide for singers. They are by no means the final word on the subject, but may help those unused to singing in Anglo-Saxon (which will be pretty much everybody, I’m guessing).

The numbering of the riddles varies according to how you count them, so I have given each its first line title instead of the numbers. Those I quote below are those used by Michael Drout in his readings.

Translations into modern English seem to fall into one of two categories: either an attempt at a literal translation, which lacks poetry; or a poetical translation which strays from the source. So I have translated them to my own satisfaction; no doubt my versions have as many failings as all the others.

Ic eom wunderlicu wiht (Drout 25) is the most famous of the Exeter riddles – probably because of its sexual innuendo. It would have been perverse to leave it out. I chose Hrægl min swigað (Drout 7) because of the beauty of its language and feeling. I decided to have one in English: this is it.

Possible solutions for Ic waes faemne geong (Drout 74) have included all kinds of fanciful things: John Donald Hosler in his 2001 thesis suggests the moon, which seems likelier than most. I wanted to include a riddle with no fixed solution, and have set this one macaronically – that is to say, in more than one language.

These pieces were written at the suggestion of Suzanne Fatta, and intended for her amazing contralto profundo voice. Hence the use of the bass clef. They are dedicated to her, and to Michael Drout, with grateful thanks.

F L Dunkin Wedd
Tonbridge, Kent
July 2013


First performance:
2 August 2013, Suzanne Fatta, Julie Cross, Katherine Ciesinski, Clinton, NY USA.