In this age of relativism it can be quite refreshing to come across a poem where one is left in no doubt about the poet’s moral opinion. Here the feyly idiosyncratic Stevie Smith gives both barrels to St Augustin and Pope Gregory.
Was It Not Curious?
Stevie Smith … Upon seeing English children in the slave market, Aúgustin asked who they were. Being told they were ‘Angli’, that is, English, he said ‘Non Angli sed angeli’, that is, Not English but angels, and Pope Gregory I, hearing the story, promptly sent Aúgustin to England to convert the English.
Was it not curious of Aúgustin
Saint Aúgustin, Saint Aúgustin,
When he saw the beautiful British children
To say such a curious thing?
He said he must send the gospel, the gospel,
At once to them over the waves
He never said he thought it was wicked
To steal them away for slaves
To steal the children away
To buy and have slavery at all
Oh no, oh no, it was not a thing
That caused him any appal.
Was it not curious of Gregory
Rather more than of Aúgustin?
It was not curious so much
As it was wicked of them.