Friday, June 10, 2011

The scribe in the woods

Codex Sangallensis no: 904, f.203

An Irish poem Dom-Farcai fidbaide fál, ("A hedge of trees overlooks me") was added by an Irish scribe in the margins of the Latin grammar manuscript he was writing sometime in the early ninth century. Copying a Latin grammar book was tedious but important work. Manuscripts like these allowed Irish Christians to learn and improve their Latin, which opened up for them the Scriptures and Patristic studies. The Irish church was unique in Western Europe as she had to learn Latin as a foreign language without ever having been part of the Roman Empire. It was a daunting struggle, but tackled with remarkable tenacity and excitement by Irish scholars, who saw the value of Biblical literacy. The little poem Dom-Farcai fidbaide fál records how the Irish scribe could enjoy God’s presence through the beauty of nature, even while working hard copying out a Latin grammatical work.

A hedge of trees overlooks me
A blackbird's lay sings to me
It is an announcement I won't conceal!
Above my lined book the bird's chanting sings to me.

A clear voiced cuckoo sings to me (godly speech!)
In a grey cloak from bramble fortresses
The Lord is indeed good to me
Well do I write beneath a forest of woodland

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