Review – King Alfred The Great – A History in Blank Verse by Brian Hodgkinson
Do not tell a book by its cover, nor think blank verse is a dull song. This history in blank verse of King Alfred The Great by Brian Hodgkinson is a treasure chest of golden words; a weaving of words into intricate tapestries of many bloody battles fought against the Danes and spoken with as much compassion and love for the fallen as for those who saw another day; of when battles ceased and peace reigned, telling of how Alfred brought his own God-like rule of law to the land, and of learning borrowed from afar, to unite a people in a commonwealth of culture and a prosperity of spirit.
This is more than a story of a great and courageous King of England. It speaks of temperance, justice, mercy and wisdom. It speaks of Alfred’s lack of education in his youth but tells of how the poetry that was read to him sowed the seeds of learning in his later life; of how he gathered together learned men from afar who were versed in the classics from another age and under his command brought to the English works from Bede, Gregory, Orosius, Boethius and Augustine, and who taught him Latin. It speaks of his translation into English of Gregory’s Pastoral Care and takes you into the heart of the work of how under God Rulers should rule with absence of self-passion and with great care for all; of how Teachers should teach the wisdom that all should know; of his translation of Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy which tells us of the goddess of Wisdom coming to pacify the troubled mind of Boethius in his lonely cell after being sentenced to death to show him of God’s unfailing goodness amidst the ever-changing wheel of fortune; of free-will given by God to men to use their power of reason to return to the one goal, and of God’s law that:
“each deed brings its reward in this world or the next, for good or bad.”
This short book should be treasured in every school as it shows how historical fact may be condensed into terse sentences that are an inspiration to the mind, that will pierce the hardest of hearts and enter the deepest depths of memory. If for nothing else, this is a remarkable account of a remarkable life as it omits dates for all events, as though it speaks of a timeless present into which it takes the reader.
As it says in St Matthew’s Gospel:
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify the father which is in heaven.”
If ever a King so glorified the Father by his own light, then surely it was King Alfred; if ever a book so illuminated the light of that Great King, then surely it is this one! Read it and be enlightened by the majesty of language.
(Leader of the Wessex School of Philosophy)
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