Beowulf & Beyond

Dan Veach


Copyright 2012 by Daniel Veach

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The Story of Caedmon

Caedmon, sing for me.

This story is reported by the Venerable Bede as a true event. It took place in the 7th century
at the monastery of Whitby in England. This monastery was founded by a remarkable Anglo-Saxon woman, Saint Hilda, who became its first abbess and a counselor of kings.  

Caedmon was a humble cowherd at a monastery. He had never learned how to sing. And so, when
the harp was being passed around at a beer party, and his turn was approaching, Caedmon quietly slipped away, going back to sleep in the stable.

In a dream that night, a man greeted him by name, saying, “Caedmon, sing for me.”

Caedmon replied, “I don’t know how to sing—that’s why I had to leave the party.”

“But you can sing,” the man said.

“What shall I sing?” Caedmon asked.

“Sing to me of the Creation.”

Immediately, Caedmon began to sing:

Now let us praise the Ruler of Heaven’s realm,

the Creator’s power and his wisdom,

the work of the glorious Father.

For in the beginning the eternal Lord
established each and every wonder.

The holy Maker first shaped Heaven’s roof

for the children of men. Then God Almighty,

the eternal Master, Guardian of humankind,

made this middle earth, this land for man.

“Caedmon’s Hymn” is the first recorded Anglo-Saxon poem, and the first to translate Christianity into German heroic verse. Lest there be any doubt about the source of his inspiration, eight different names of God are included in these brief nine lines!

Caedmon remembered his song the next morning, and it was greeted as a gift from God by Hilda, the abbess of the monastery. Caedmon became a monk, and spent the rest of his days turning stories from the Bible into English poetry.