Caedmon’s Hymn


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 . . .


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.

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:

‘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.’



Caedmon’s Story: PartsVI, VII



After my examination
Which, I was told,
My divine gift,
In humility
I accepted this new role
No longer a toiler in God’s farmyard
But now become a monk novitiate
Tutored in biblical tradition
In the classic stories
God had bestowed
In His scriptures
Encouraged to
Make music with words
And voice,
To reflect the stories
From Genesis
To The Last Judgement.

My chief desire
Through all my words
Was to redirect my fellow man
From love of sin
To love of good deeds,
To altruism
To tolerance
And righteousness.

The new found confidence
Granted to me by God’s
Gave me the will
To sing
To follow the harp,
My trembling words
Colouring the air
Gripping my listeners,
Binding them to the message
Within the spell of my songs.


In Old English
In the vernacular of my calling
And under the tutelage
In matters of the scriptures
Of Hild’s scholars
I continued to compose
To recite
To sing to the harp.

In time
I took my vows
And became a monk
Enriched by recognition
Of my gifts by my fellows
I led a devout life
Given to God
And to his servants on earth
Expressing my joy
In my heart-felt words
All coloured
Through my imagination
With images of the life
And landscape
Which I knew
From my own surroundings
These, transcribed by my brothers,
And spread through them
To other foundations across the land.


As I now know
My end approaches
I have fallen ill
And during my fever
Unusual as it was
I had a premonition of my death
This allows me
I am told
As a revered follower of God
To receive my last Eucharist.

This I now
My pillowed head
In full knowledge of
Promised Peace
Hoping I have been true
Throughout my life
To my calling
As Herdsman
And Poet.
And that
In due time
This will deliver me
Into God’s presence.


Whitby Abbey Ruins in Silhouette . . . Watercolour Wash … WHB – 1991

Tomorrow . . . ‘ Caedmon’s Hymn’ – the only extant poem known to be by Caedmon