Saturday, April 02, 2005

Bede's Death Song

Fore there neidfaerae naenig uuiurthit
thoncsnotturra than him tharf sie
to ymbhycggannae aer his hiniongae
huaet his gastae godaes aeththa yflaes
aefter deothdaege doemid uueorthae.

Before the unavoidable journey there, no one becomes
wiser in thought than him who, by need,
ponders, before his going hence,
what good and evil within his soul,
after his day of death, will be judged.

-the Venerable Bede


In my own meditations and prayers for the pope, I got to thinking about Bede, a monastic scholar who provided us with some of the best documentation of Anglo Saxon history, a new edition of the Bible, and a translation into vernacular of the Gospel of St John. He also had his share of controversy, and I'm willing to bet did not fear it so much, though, back then the stakes were pretty high for those who opposed the Church. I see parallels to John Paul II who, as a young man, understood the importance of language and culture in his participation in underground theater devoted to banned Polish works under first the Nazis and then the Soviets. I also note his "speaking truth to power" in his returning to Communist Poland to say mass, as well as his longtime stance of inclusion/respect/embrasure of all members of society that embodies the "culture of life."

I had asked Pablo last night if he thought that the Pope may fear death. He answered that he thought that John Paul II had powerful faith, which gives many people great strength, both in living and dying. In that he's human, though, it would be natural to have some fear of the transition to the unknown.

Cuthbert, a student of Bede and reknowned wordsmith himself, recounted Bedes description of death: a very straightforward combination of worry about the unknown and hope in the unseen. A last accounting of one's good deeds vs one's sins, and the hope that they do balance out in the end.

I guess I find the matter of factness of Bede's account and the fashion in which Pope is choosing to die to be comforting somehow. Perhaps it is the humanity of their transcendency that is resonating with me so right now.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Andrew starts off this Poetry Month with a work by John Donne that ties together two polar events (one of which could also be considered a Purim of sorts; that also fell on March 25th this year.):

Thanks for the posting!  In reply, I'm sending along the following, which was sent to me by a friend last week.  Donne wrote this poem in 1608 when the Feast of the Annunciation and Good Friday fell on the same day...March 25th, as they did this year.  March 25 was also the traditional beginning of the new year in early modern England, so happy 2005!

by John Donne

TAMELY, frail body, abstain to-day ; to-day
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur ; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came, and went away ;
She sees Him nothing, twice at once, who's all ;
She sees a cedar plant itself, and fall ;
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive, yet dead ;
She sees at once the Virgin Mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha ;
Sad and rejoiced she's seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty, and at scarce fifteen ;
At once a son is promised her, and gone ;
Gabriell gives Christ to her, He her to John ;
Not fully a mother, she's in orbity ;
At once receiver and the legacy.
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
Th' abridgement of Christ's story, which makes one-
As in plain maps, the furthest west is east-
Of th' angels Ave, and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God's Court of Faculties,
Deals, in sometimes, and seldom joining these.
As by the self-fix'd Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where th'other is, and which we say
-Because it strays not far-doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to him, we know,
And stand firm, if we by her motion go.
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar, doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud ; to one end both.
This Church by letting those days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one ;
Or 'twas in Him the same humility,
That He would be a man, and leave to be ;
Or as creation He hath made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating spouse would join in one
Manhood's extremes ; He shall come, He is gone ;
Or as though one blood drop, which thence did fall,
Accepted, would have served, He yet shed all,
So though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords.
This treasure then, in gross, my soul, uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.


Donne, John. Poems of John Donne. vol I.
E. K. Chambers, ed.
London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. 170-171.


I took this one home with me tonight to read aloud; the language really needs to be heard in order to be fully appreciated.

Happy start to Poetry Month and a Happy New Year to my English friends...Andrew, a thanks and a bon voyage to you. When you return, perhaps we could discuss terms under which you might favor us with a recitation.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Funny how time flies-

It looks as though April's just about here again, bringing with it springtime (hopefully for keeps) and National Poetry Month.

Although I'm just posting what moves me at the time, I do take requests and would love to hear about what moves you. If there is a poem that is particularly near and dear to your heart, why not talk about it? Send me a link to your website if you post your thoughts there, or just email me your submission and I'll post it on my site. (I'll keep things anonymous, too, if that is an incitement to write.)

I look forward to hearing from you!