Caedmon, 1st Anglo-Saxon Christian Poet

Caedmon, 1st Anglo-Saxon Christian Poet

Have you ever felt you didn't fit? Everyone else had a bike but you didn't...everyone else seemed able to work the Rubik's cube but you couldn't...everyone else could pray out loud but you were too afraid...you were always the last chosen when team players were picked...

That is how it was for Caedmon. He was a stable-hand at the monastery of Whitby in the seventh century. The Anglo-Saxons loved singing. It was common for men to gather of an evening and share tales through song. Everyone was expected to contribute. Caedmon, however, slipped away because he was either too shy to sing or simply had nothing to share.

According to the church historian Bede, who was born about seven years before Caedmon died, Caedmon slipped out of the hall one night to tend the animals while the others sang. Afterward, he fell asleep. A man spoke to him in a vision, saying, "Caedmon, sing me something." Caedmon replied that he could not sing. That was why he was out here, not in the hall. "Yet you could sing," said the man, and suggested Caedmon sing "the beginning of all things." In his dream, Caedmon began to sing his great Hymn of Creation:

Now let us praise the guardian of the heavenly kingdom,
the power of the Creator
and the counsel of His mind,
the works of the Father of glory:
how He, the eternal Lord, originated every marvel...

When Caedmon awoke, he found he remembered the verses perfectly and was able to sing them. The monks were convinced he had been given a gift by God. Whitby's famous abbess, Hild (Hilda) convinced Caedmon to become a monk.

Although he never learned to read or write, Caedmon listened as the monks told the Bible stories and then he turned them into Anglo-Saxon poems that the common folk could understand. Many others imitated him in this, with the result that Bible teaching found its way to the people as it had never done before in England.

Caedmon was the first poet to produce vivid Christian verses in the Anglo-Saxon tongue. Unfortunately, only a few of his lines survive. He died around 680. The people of England remembered him as a saint. His feast is on this day, February 11.

Bibliography:

  1. Bede. A History of the English Church and People [Ecclesiastical History of England]. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1968; Book 4, Section 24.
  2. "Caedmon." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  3. "Caedmon." Encyclopedia Britannica. Britannica, 1967.
  4. "Caedmon." The Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
  5. Crowne, J. Vincent. "St. Caedmon." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  6. Gaskin, Robert Tate. Caedmon : the first English poet. London : Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge ; New York : E. & J. B. Young, 1902.
  7. Kunitz, Stanley L. British Authors Before 1800; a biographical dictionary. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1952.
  8. "Old English Poetry." Webster's New World Companion to English and American Literature. New York: Popular Library, 1976.
  9. Sampson, George. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961.
  10. Various encyclopedia and internet articles.

Last updated May, 2007.

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