Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bede's Day

Today is the Feast of St. Beda, more widely known as the Venerable Bede. Here is a bit of poetry attributed to him:

Bede's Death Song


Before the needful journey there, no one becomes
wiser of thought than him who necessarily
ponders, before his going-hence,
what good and evil within his soul
after his death-day may be judged.

I say 'attributed' because, while we know Bede recited a poem in Anglo-Saxon on his death-bed, Cuthbert only gives us a Latin paraphrase; starting from the ninth century we find Anglo-Saxon versions of the poem, but they could either be Bede's actual poem or someone's later attempt to recapture it.

The poem, in any case, shows Bede teaching even to his dying day. Bede, of course, is also the patron saint of historians. Bede's classic work, The Ecclesiastical History of England, is easily available online. Bede's historical practices are not completely consistent, but they still show an admirable grasp of the nature of historical evidence and the sort of conclusions that can be drawn from it; he really is an exemplary historian.

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