“The Riddler in the Labyrinth” tells the tale of a strange man with the head of a crow who is chained to a wall at the top of a mountain in the center of a spiraling labyrinth. One day, a woman, a weary traveler, reaches the mountain peak, and the strange man asks her three riddles.
The style is like that of an old fairy tale, and the rhyme scheme is abab.
There once was a man with the head of a crow
He had the feet of an ostrich and a lion’s torso
He had snakes for his arms that ended in fangs
He wore a torturous yoke like the Medieval cangues
In which a chain ran from an eyebolt to a brick wall
And kept the man from moving too far at all.
He was chained like a dragon or a king to his throne
In the heart of a labyrinth made of wood and of stone.
The labyrinth was a spiral; it was weathered, antique—
It began at the foot of a mountain and wound to its peak.
And there at the top, amidst the ice and the snow
Was this man with the snake arms and the head of a crow.
And to the weary traveler who reaches this labyrinthine lair
This man gives a riddle, at once puzzling yet fair:
What is fairly yellow but can be fairly black—
It shows its face with artful grace and then it turns its back?
The wily traveler laughs and says, I can answer this one soon,
The answer that you seek, strange friend, is the orbiting moon.
So the man with the crow’s head puts another question forth
To test the mettle of the one who is establishing her worth.
What is hard to swallow but impossible to choke—
It makes us, dear, each lend an ear with the feelings it evokes?
It can feel as captivating as the heaviest chain may be,
Yet it is at once so liberating that it can set us free!
The clever traveler laughs and says, I can answer this one too!
The thing you see, that we all seek, is everything that’s true.
The Truth! It is the answer, nods the strange and riddling man,
Now listen again to what I say and answer if you can.
What seems fairly simple, yet is always so complex
That no one’s yet succeeded in predicting its effects?
It’s not glowing like a rainbow, nor shining like the stars,
And yet it lights our lives and makes humanity be ours?
There’s just one peerless answer to this mystery thereof,
Says the savvy traveler, What you’re talking of is Love!
And at that very moment, the strange and patchwork man,
Turned into a handsome prince at the top of that mountain.
And the weary traveler, she cried out with delight,
At the quick reshaping, at the splendid sight.
For this, at last, was her prince, whom she long had sought to see
And traveled over many land leagues, and across stormy seas.
For a witch had cast her spell upon this handsome prince
And chained him in the labyrinth where he’s been waiting ever since.
And it took his true love who had journeyed all this time,
To free him with her courage, and her answers to each rhyme.