Anonymous: Bede's Death Song (1271 words)


This five-line poem is one of the earliest texts in English. In the manner of a proverb, it sets out the need for everyone to consider before they die how their soul will be judged.

The poem is recorded within a Latin letter by Cuthbert, Epistola Cuthberti de obitu Bedae, which describes the death of Bede in AD 735. The letter sets out that the poem was recited by Bede on his death-bed, and set down by Cuthbert. There are 45 manuscripts of the poem (and some further fragments); just one (a late manuscript) states that the poem was composed by Bede, and it is this which has led to the editorial title and the widespread assertion that the poem was actually written by Bede. While the idea of a death-bed composition by Bede …

Citation: Davis, Graeme. "Bede's Death Song". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 18 October 2019 [, accessed 28 October 2020.]

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