Here’s one of the most beautiful riddles in the English language. It’s commonly attributed to Byron, but it was composed in 1814 by Catherine Maria Fanshawe, the daughter of a Surrey squire:
‘Twas whispered in heaven, ’twas muttered 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 confessed.
‘Twill be found in the sphere when ’tis riven asunder;
‘Tis seen in the lightning, and heard in the thunder.
‘Twas allotted to man from his earliest breath;
It assists at his birth, and attends him in death;
It presides o’er his happiness, honour, and health;
Is the prop of his house, and the end of his wealth.
In the heap of the miser ’tis hoarded with care,
But is sure to be lost in his prodigal heir.
It begins every hope, every wish it must bound,
It prays with the hermit, with monarchs is crowned.
Without it the soldier and seaman may roam,
But woe to the wretch who expels it from home.
In the whispers of conscience ’tis sure to be found;
Nor e’en in the whirlwind of passion is drowned.
‘Twill soften the heart, and though deaf to the ear,
‘Twill make it acutely and constantly hear.
But, in short, let it rest like a beautiful flower;
Oh, breathe on it softly, it dies in an hour.
What is it?