- Caedmon (650?-680?), considered the earliest of the Anglo-Saxon Christian poets. The first English poet of whom we have any knowledge. Originally employed as cowherd at the Abbey of Whitby, he became a singer when somewhat advanced in life.The only information concerning Caedmon is in the Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation (731), by the English theologian Saint Bede the Venerable.
- According to Bede, Caedmon was an illiterate herdsmen who had a vision one night and heard a voice commanding him to sing of “the beginning of created things.”The story of how the gift of song came to him is given by Bede, how having fallen asleep in the stable he dreamed that one came to him desiring a song, and on his asking "What shall I sing?" replied "Sing to me of the beginning of created things." Therefore he began to sing and, on awaking, remembered his song and added to it. Thereafter he told what had befallen him to the bailiff who was over him, who repeated the tale to the Abbess Hilda. She having called together certain learned and pious persons, C. was brought before them, told his story, and recited his verses. A part of Scripture was read to him, which he was asked to turn into verse; and this being done he was received into the Abbey where, for the rest of his life, he lived as a monk, and continued to make his holy songs. Later Caedmon supposedly wrote the poem about the creation known as Caedmon's Hymn, which Bede recorded in prose. Bede further states that Saint Hilda, the abbess of a nearby monastery (now called Whitby), recognized Caedmon's poetic ability and invited him to enter the monastery as a lay brother.
|Cædmon, St Mary's Churchyard,|
- Caedmon spent the rest of his life at the monastery writing poetry on biblical themes. In the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford is a manuscript containing the so-called Caedmon poems. It is now agreed that many of the poems in the Bodleian collection were probably written later than Caedmon's poetry. The only work that can be attributed to Caedmon is “Hymn of Creation,” which Saint Bede quoted. It survives in several manuscripts of Bede's Ecclesiastical History and contains several dialects.