Caedmon’s Hymn

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Caedmon remained, throughout his life, unable to record his own verse in writing.  This many others did for him and these were collected and published for others to read, sing and recite. However, it is not possible to be certain of how authentic many of these are, chiefly because Caedmon’s original poems may well have suffered in their many translations, some being from the Latin, which were themselves translations of Caedmon’s Old English.

In fact only one short nine-line verse remains which, because it is given to us by Bede, we can be certain was Caedmon’s creation.  This is the hymn which he first wrote, and which came to him in his inspirational dream.  I give this below, both in its original Old English and in its translation into modern English . . .

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Caedmon’s Hymn in Old English and its modern translation (excerpt from The Earliest English Poems, Third Edition, Penguin Books, 1991):

Nu sculon herigean heofonrices Weard,
Meotodes meahte ond his modgeþanc,
weorc Wuldorfæder; swa he wundra gehwæs
ece Drihten, or onstealde.
He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe, halig Scyppend:
þa middangeard moncynnes Weard,
ece Drihten, æfter teode
firum foldan, Frea ælmihtig.

Praise now to the keeper of the kingdom of heaven,

the power of the Creator, the profound mind

of the glorious Father, who fashioned the beginning

of every wonder, the eternal Lord.

For the children of men he made first

heaven as a roof, the holy Creator.

Then the Lord of mankind, the everlasting Shepherd,

ordained in the midst as a dwelling place,

Almighty Lord, the earth for men.

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Caedmon’s Hymn is the oldest recorded poem in Old English, and illustrates, though so not clearly in translation, an example of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse.  Seventeen manuscripts still exist with copies of this hymn, with minor variations, some in a variety of different Old English dialects, others in Caedmon’s own Northumbrian dialect.   These verses in fact established the methodology for most poets who followed him and powerfully exemplify the whole art of Anglo-Saxon poetry.bar152

This final passage I quote from:  http://www.encyclopedia.com/

‘All of his poetry was on sacred themes, and its unvarying aim was to turn men from sin to righteousness. In spite of all the poetic renderings that Caedmon supposedly made, however, it is only the original dream hymn of nine historically precious, but poetically uninspired, lines that can be attributed to him with confidence.’

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7 thoughts on “Caedmon’s Hymn

  1. Another very interesting post and chapter to your Caedmon series Roland. I saw, recently, a book in Waterstones about the origins of Anglo Saxon poetry. I can’t bring the name of it to mind but maybe you have read one similar or have any recommendations in this area?

    Like

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