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In A. A. Milne's "Prince Rabbit," one of the challenges issued by the king is to solve a charades-style riddle that has been in the royal family for a long time. The riddle is:

My first I do for your delight,
Although 'tis neither black nor white.
My second looks the other way,
Yet always goes to bed by day.
My whole can fly and climb a tree,
And sometimes swims upon the sea.

I have assumed that this was just nonsense, with no plausible solution (like Lewis Carroll's "Why is a raven like a writing desk?"). Certainly neither of the answers that have been passed down through the royal family ("dormouse" and "raspberry") is plausible; "raspberry" doesn't even have the right number of syllables.

But I thought I would ask, did Milne ever comment further on this, or has anybody discerned a solution?

8

This appears to be a word-puzzle rather than a charade which would certainly explain why the characters are having such a hard time discerning a solution. With the help of Megha, I now strongly suspect that the answer is The Moon

My first I do for your delight, Although 'tis neither black nor white.

This is the waxing moon, growing delightfully larger each day

My second looks the other way, Yet always goes to bed by day.

This is the waning moon, now facing the other way.

enter image description here

The third portion appears to be the full moon (appearing to fly, seems to climb trees and swimming on the sea)

enter image description here

Over the centuries, the true meaning was presumably lost.

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  • The "owl" element had occurred to me as well.
    – Buzz
    Dec 9 '17 at 21:32
  • 2
    I'd thought just "the moon", the second perhaps being waxing and waning (the crescents facing opposite directions)... or perhaps being that we only see the one face, though context matters for that. The first perhaps being moonlight, which is not bright like the sun but enough to make it not-dark, middling illumination.
    – Megha
    Dec 10 '17 at 5:46
  • @Megha - Yes. Double yes, in fact.
    – Valorum
    Dec 10 '17 at 8:25

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