On Alcuin of York

From York long before,
A green and poorer time,
Cold the minds of Europe
Frozen in the rime,
Cold the river of letters,
A trickle in a glaze.
Cold the long horizon,
First light gloamed in haze,
From York, he came humbly,
To serve the Frankish king,
The monk of texts and learning,
The needed Alcuin.

He served the Holy Letters,
With service nobly done.
To man he passed the skills
Which he had hardly won.
For humble laid humanity
With texts so far between
That even learned people
Learned only needed things.
The Divine Word to preach,
The arts of Romans past,
The service of the king and realm,
The care for texts that last.

This Alcuin he flamed with care,
Laid on disciples’ souls
The burning embers of learning done,
Just as Isaiah ate the coals.

From Palace he received not rest,
Even at the Abbey Tours,
There the Monks with careless pens
Would lose a text’s right words.
Hardly could he read their hand,
Like Pagan women with a palm,
Upon the rack of writing he
Brought healing and a balm.

“Make distinct thy letters,
Between all words a space,
End each sentence with a dot.
Take care! It’s not a race.”

Upon his honored legacy
Mystery still does brood.
Did he foresee the value
Of this exactitude?
Did he see the longe duree
That as a morning lark,
He set the world upon the path
To form the question mark?


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