On 12th October 633, King Edwin died. To commemorate this, the Clerk of Oxford has recorded this famous passage from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. It is the story of the sparrow. St Paulinus has been preaching the gospel to King Edwin of Northumbria. After listening to the missionary, Edwin asks his leading men what they think of this new doctrine. One of them replies,
“The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he. is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.” The other elders and king’s councillors, by Divine inspiration, spoke to the same effect.
(Source: Fordham University)
If you would like to read more about Edwin’s conversion, the Clerk wrote a blog post on it here. It contains a longer extract from Bede, including the above passage.
As for the video, I defy anyone to say that Old English is not a beautiful language to listen to! Thanks to the abundance of thorns (Þ, þ – see Wikipedia for more) I certainly found it so. There are some lovely words that just roll off the tongue as naturally as if I had always known them – ealdormannum is one example. I could easily see myself listening to the scop (poet or bard) read Bede’s text while sipping my beer next to the hearth.