Return to contents page
The story of Cædmon is
well-known from Book IV, Chapter 24 of the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History,
which should be consulted for the context of this poem. A convenient account
of the poem's genesis in context, with references, appears in S.A.J.Bradley,
Anglo-Saxon Poetry (London: Dent, 1982). Visitors to Westminster Abbey
in London will see the stone placed to the memory of Cædmon in "Poets'
Salient to a modern reader
will be the sustained use of alliteration, which is structural in OE verse,
just as rhyme is basic to much later verse. The basic metrical unit in
OE poetry was the half-line, linked together in pairs by alliterating syllables.
Although there were distinct licences allowed for the purposes of stylistic
foregrounding, nevertheless pairs of lines such as heofon toµ hroµfe
and haµlig Scieppend were commonplace. This poem indicates the basic
pattern; in the four stressed syllables of a prototypical pair of alliterative
half-lines, the first three should alliterate. The poem also illustrates,
amongst other things, the formulaic nature of OE verse, exemplified here by
the number of synonyms for GOD. On verse-form in OE, see Mitchell and
sculon herian heofonrices Weard,
Metodes mihte and his modgeþanc,
weorc Wuldorfæder, swa he wundra
ece Dryhten, or onstealde.
He ærest scop eorþan bearnum
heofon to hrofe halig Scieppend.
þa middangeard mancynnes Weard
ece Dryhten, æfter teode
firum foldan Frea ælmihtig.
[we] must praise [the] Guardian of [the] heavenly kingdom, [the power]
of God and his conception,
[the] work of [the] Father of Glory, in that He, eternal Lord, established
[the] beginning of every marvellous thing.
He, holy Creator, first created
heaven as a roof for children of men.
Then [the] Guardian of mankind,
eternal Lord, almighty Master, afterwards adorned [the] earth for living