Bede’s Cosmological Hymn

One of the gems in the new edition of Bede’s On the Nature of Things and On Time, is the first translation and publication of Bede’s cosmology hymn. It doesn’t appear to have a very set title. Wallis and Kendall refer to it as the ‘Hymn of the Six Ages’, but the edition actually titles it the ‘Hymn of the Work of the Six Days of Creation and Six Ages of the World’. Descriptive but not very catchy. Derek over at St Bede’s Breviary may be interested to know that Wallis and Kendall assert that this hymn is the only one of Bede’s hymns written for the daily office.

Bede’s hymns are poems that were sung. There his no indication of  a chorus. We know he modeled his poetry on the many forms of hymns found in psalms.

This poem has 28 stanzas that together wrap up Bede’s views of the “ages of fleeting time”. There are 6 pairs of stanzas that link a day of creation with an age of time with four stanzas for the sixth day/age. There are introductory stanzas and descriptions of two ages to come. Here are perhaps the critical four stanzas (13-16):

On the sixth day was created

Man, who, displaying

The image of his Creator

Would live blessed forever.

 

The most high Creator of all,

By whom man was created

In the Sixth Age was created

A man, the Son of God.

 

As he sleeps, the splendid

Wife of Adam is formed,

Obtaining bone from his bones,

Flesh from his flesh.

 

Now the splendid bride is born

To Christ from his very flesh

And by the mystery of his blood

as he sleeps on the cross.

 

The bride is of course the church, known from ancient times as the body of Christ. Its not very easy to see Bede’s poetic patterns here in part because it was written in Latin. Kendall and Wallis assure us that the pattern is also found in some of Bede’s other genuine poems and fits within classical iambic dimeters. Bede’s style fits within what he described in his The Art of Poetry.

Reference:

Kendall, Calvin B and Wallis, Faith. (2011). Bede: On the Nature of Things and On Times. Translated Texts for Historians Series. Liverpool University Press.

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2 thoughts on “Bede’s Cosmological Hymn

  1. Compared to the compline hyms which have come down to us, this is rubbish.
    What you said about Lerins was interesting indeed. A S Gaulish LIndisfarne! I saw a French TV film about Lerins while working on the P&O ferry European Pathway – whose crew were all French…
    And Lowe used to attribute Merovingian MSS to Lerins…
    Martin

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