Friday, April 20, 2018

A Riddle on the Letter H - Catherine Maria Fanshawe

'Twas in heaven pronounced - it was mutter'd in hell,
And echo caught faintly the sound as it fell;
On the confines of earth 'twas permitted to rest,
And the depths of the ocean its presence confess'd.
'Twill be found in the sphere when 'tis riven asunder,
Be seen in the lightning and heard in the thunder.
'Twas allotted to man with his earliest breath,
Attends at his birth and awaits him in death:
Presides o'er his happiness, honour, and health,
Is the prop of his house and the end of his wealth.
In the heaps of the miser 'tis hoarded with care,
But is sure to be lost on his prodigal heir.
It begins every hope, every wish it must bound,
With the husbandman toils, and with monarchs is crown'd.
Without it the soldier, the seaman may roam,
But woe to the wretch who expels it from home!
In the whispers of conscience its voice will be found,
Nor e'en in the whirlwind of passion is drown'd.
'Twill not soften the heart; and tho' deaf be the ear,
It will make it acutely and instantly hear.
Yet in shade let it rest like a delicate flower,
Ah, breathe on it softly - it dies in an hour.

It's not often that I post two poems by the same poet in the span of a week, but this riddle on the letter H from Catherine Fanshawe is so delightful that I couldn't not share it.  Simply, it's a poetic explication of the oftentimes mystifying way the letter H works in the English language.  "'Twill be found in the sphere when riven asunder[?]"  Sure enough, if you crack sphere in half, there's the H!  "Attends at...birth, awaits in...death."  Yup, we've got an H there, too.

Any references to it dying or being permitted to rest are words wherein the H is silent, like "hour" or  how it is "seen in lightning" only yet "heard in thunder."  I imagine if you presented this to a friend, but omitted the title, they'd have a great time piecing together just what this riddle is about.  In fact, I fully plan to do that to some of my friends, and see how they do!


  1. Yours is a delightful and playful mind! as well as the rest.
    I would not have discovered the connections as you have here. Thanks, Christopher.

    1. Thank you, Constance! It was fun finding all the clever little puns in this poem. Glad you enjoyed it! - C