Poems for Bede

Today is the day when the Anglican Church remembers the great medieval historian Bede of Jarrow, or the Venerable Bede. I found myself inspired by my reading on him today to write two poems about him, one silly, one serious. Here, for good measure, are they both.

The Venerable Bede, we know,
Was ignorant, but no more so
Than other men of his dim day;
He was too quick inclined to say
That miracles or other such
Had taken place (we moderns blush),
And yet we, on the other hand,
Can say about this tricky man,
His history of the English peoples
Is still today without its equals,
And he was a learned man.
(Thus we find it hard to stand
The ignorance of miracles
And wish he was more skeptical!)
He did some work to make wide known
What the church preferred to own.
He put the Gospel of Saint John
Into the Anglo-Saxon tongue,
And though we moderns don’t much care
For Gospels we have to declare
(Changing the song we usually sing)
That this was probably a good thing,
If we, in our modern way,
Still reserve the right to say
That God should be accessible
(Though miracles improbable).
And so though his veneration
Is not without reservation,
We feel that we can truly say,
Happy Bede of Jarrow Day!
I will not have my pupils read what is untrue, nor labour on what is profitless after my death.
(Saint Bede the Venerable, in Christina Rossetti, Time Flies: A Reading Diary)
He told the stories of a land half-converted;
His tales brimmed with the rising dead,
Tongs for the taunting demons and conversions
Of many, and martyrdoms too.
Though careful, precise, he took as a given
That which our modern minds struggle to digest.
Was his mind clouded with delusion?
Did he not read his notes before he published them?
We now know much better; of that we are sure.
Yet he was faithful in the tales he passed on,
Whatever the contents. A reporter, he gave
Careful accounts while we buried the evidence.
Did bodies rise? Did demons haunt England?
Bede, in his calmness, considered what we
Would hurl to the furnace of empiricist cant.
But outside the presentist parlour of straw men
And medieval horror tales, Bede sits patiently,
Eyes open, history sitting on his lap.

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