Caedmon’s Story: Parts I, II, III


whitbyabbey-sutcliffe

Cowherd at Whitby Abbey … Photograph by Frank Meadows Sutcliffe – c.1880

CAEDMON’S STORY

I.

While the wind whispers words to me
On the cold cliff-top meadow
I gaze out to the cold sea of the north
Its waves ceaselessly gnawing
Chewing on the feet
Of these towering cliffs
Atop which sits
Streonaeshalch monastery
My home
Raised skywards
Its beseeching arches
Piercing the clouds
Their pinnacles breaching
The gates of heaven
Forever seeking
Connection with
God’s presence

Amongst the buttercups
In the pasture
On my lips

The salt tang of the sea
With staff in hand
I pause
Musing on my masters
Cloistered inside the abbey precincts
Cultivating their chants
Tending their herbs
Brewing their healing potions
While I exist
To care for their cattle
Unbecoming
Uncultured
But wedded to my lowly calling
A lay brother
Dutiful
Humble
But a needed
Part of the whole

And my Abbess
Hild
Of such gentle demeanour
Finding the time to speak to me
Her lowly cowherd
Intent only on doing her bidding
On following her lead
Attempting to mirror her devotion
Her calling understood
And honoured
Even echoed
By her lowly servant.

II.

Evening came
And with it

Mists drifting from the sea
In the refectory

A feast of sorts was spread
As is usual
We were all there
From abbess to monk
Minstrels, mummers
Swineherds, sheep herds
Farm hands, helpmates
All
Expected to play a part

I edged myself closer
To the fire’s flames
As before
Wanting no part in their story-telling
Fearing their disdain
Content
To seek the ember’s warmth

The harp
Passed
From one to another
Each offering their words
To its accompaniment
Soon it would be
Handed to me
But I had no words to offer
No desire to demonstrate
My unschooled presence
No thoughts that I could
Or dare
Share.

As always
I sidled to the doorway
Stepped out
Into the cold evening air
Cowled
Against the biting wind
The sea mist

I hastened to my mattress
To the warmth
Of my animals
My uncritical companions.

III.

The weariness of work
Soon brought respite
To my tired limbs
And sleep came
Sound
Straw-cosseted sleep
Until
Without warning
A blaze of light and
Intrusive whispered words 

‘Caedmon …
Sing a Song’
‘Sing to me’
‘Sing now’

I felt myself shudder
A half-discerned image
A presence
Beyond my ken
On the edge of vision
I knew I could not do as asked

‘… But I cannot
I know of no songs’

 ‘… Yes, Caedmon
… You can.
Sing to me
Tell
Of the beginning of all things
Just open your mouth
And let out the sound’

Knowing how futile
Was what I was being asked
Fear made me open my mouth

And

Unbid by me
I uttered words,
Recognisable words
Not just words
But beautiful words
Even I knew that
Words I had not heard before
Words I had not thought before
Words of hope
Of strength
Of compassion
Words of Our Creation
In praise
And Blessing
Words of Heaven
And of the Creator Himself.

caedmon

…  Continues tomorrow with Parts 4 and 5 …

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