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Wilberforce's Young Whale
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Wilberforce's Young Whale
My poem is an answer to a riddle written by Samuel Wilberforce,
Bishop of Oxford, in the 19th century. So that my poem makes
sense, Wilberforce's riddle appears immediately after my poem.
[527 words]
William John Velek
I am both a City Court Judge and a City Attorney (separate cities),
husband, and the father of eight chiildren. This is my first poem.
[March 2000]
[email protected]
Wilberforce's Young Whale
William John Velek

The following poem is an answer to a riddle written by Samuel Wilberforce,
Bishop of Oxford, in the 19th century; so that my poem makes sense, I'm
posting Wilberforce's riddle immediately after my poem, below.

Wilberforce's Young Whale

                  Bishop Sam Wilberforce gave man a riddle,
                  And for over a century many did fiddle,
                  But few could perceive that the key to it all
                  Was the loud "voice" in orchestra, non-musical.

                  The accents in or'-che'-stra are where I am heard,
                  But seen there in person? That would be absurd,
                  For I am an "orca" -- that's Latin for "whale",
                  As proclaimed by two syllables in a clue to this tale.

                  For "any young animal", Webster's slang is: "a bird",
                  But for me to have feathers would, again, be absurd.
                  Although, as a "young" whale, a "bird" I might be,
                  I would look strange roosting up in a tree.

                  And as for gay plumage, my feathers be one --
                  The plume from my blowhole, iridescent in sun.

                  In water I live, so in water I die,
                  Unless touching beach, I expire when dry.
                  I fly through the air in great leaps from the sea,
                  And swimming, of course, just comes natural to me.

                  An air breathing mammal, my breathing must cease,
                  Whenever I dive to find krill for my feast.
                  And into the depths of the earth I do dive,
                  In search of the food that I need to survive.

                  When breath I have lost, to the surface I swim,
                  To the world up above, though my future be dim,
                  For man in my hunter -- he kills me on sight,
                  And he uses my whale oil to brighten his night.

                  In that sense, 'tis true then that "light is my death",
                  And "darkness destroys me", so my epitaph --
                  I think it should say, quite appropriately,
                  "My death is light -- for the nineteenth century".

                  Though women have frequently mentioned my name,
                  Their meaning and I are not always the same,
                  For when they say "wale", they speak not of me,
                  But rather of fabric, or baskets they see.

                  So, what of the last clue? What were we to find?
                  That gender wasn't certain; what was, was mankind.

                                           by Bill Velek, December 1980

Riddle written by Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, as printed in Omni Magazine in a riddle contest in 1980.

                      I'm the loudest of voices in orchestra heard
                      But yet in an orchestra never was seen;
                      I'm a bird of gay plumage, but less like a bird
                      Nothing in Nature ever has been.
                      Touching earth I expire, in water I die,
                      In earth I lose breath, I can swim, I can fly.
                      Darkness destroys me and light is my death;
                      I can't keep alive without stopping my breath.
                      If my name can't be guessed by a boy or a man,
                      By a girl or a woman it certainly can.
                                                       Samuel Wilberforce,
                                                           Bishop of Oxford



"Your first poem? Are you sure? Your words and the flow reflect the skill and work of a craftsman! Your lines keep in perfect time! I have never read anything so great done by a first time poet. Please come back and post something else! I look forward to reading it. And get published! The above work is good enough! :)" -- Ashley Burdett.


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© 1980 William John Velek
March 2000

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