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Caedmon, the Anglo-Saxon poet

Posted in English Literature, History, Literature on Thursday, 10 February 2011

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Caedmon is a slight but important figure in English literature. He is one of the first named English poets, and of those probably the first to write in the vernacular. He was writing in Yorkshire sometime between 657 and 684 AD. An Anglo-Saxon herdsman at Whitby Abbey, he had neither monastic calling nor learning, but after listening to the monks singing one night, he went to bed and dreamed that he was asked to sing about God’s creation.

Caedmon, picture, image, illustration

“Caedmon, sing some song to me”

At first he refused, but then he sang a short hymn of praise, which he remembered on waking; after adding a few more lines he was taken to recite the finished poem to the Abbess Hilda. It was she who gave him another subject for a test poem, to be certain that his poetic talent was a true gift from God. He passed her test, and was thereafter taught religious doctrine and other subjects by the monks. He lived a long and devoted life, and his piety was rewarded with a peaceful death of which he had a premonition. Everything we know of him comes from Bede, who tells us in Historia Ecclesiastica that Caedmon wrote a large corpus of poems. Sadly the only work that survives is the radiant Caedmon’s Hymn.

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