- in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People
I think I got this right. Cædmon was an English guy who would have spoken Old English (think Beowulf). He was supposedly a cowherd who didn't have any kind of musical skill and would leave the table whenever the post-dinner tradition of singing songs about how great God was would start. But one night he was visited by a divine being and told to sing a song in his sleep. The song he sings, the titular Hymn
would have been sung in his native tongue, and as such it is one of the earliest known Old English examples of poetry. It has a lot of the structure and form you'll see later on (in my next post, in fact!) and is kinda nice, but a bit on the simple side. We'll find as we go along here that poetry is not my strong suit. Anyways, Cædmon woke up to find his singing skill had remained and he became basically a star at the abbey he worked for.
When Bede wrote this story he did so in Latin because he was a monk and that's what all of his pals knew how to read. He, in fact, translated Cædmon's Hymn from Old English into Latin, so what we can read in the Norton Anthology is at least twice removed from the "original" source. Bede has our back, though, as he mentions that something is always lost, linguistically, when poetry is translated across languages. We'll be talking about that a bit more in the early goings here.
Also nice are the ideas about singing and beauty being something God would like. Though I'm not religious myself, it's always nice to have those that are talk about the more pleasant aspects of their Creator.
The book from which this is excerpted is apparently pretty darn important, as it served at once as a big history lesson and as a propaganda piece which went on to shape the way England looked at itself in the early goings. Bede was later Sainted (pretty sure that's not the right verb). Check out the wikipedia for more on these subjects.
, Cædmon's Hymn (check out the Modern English translation (and the Latin and the Old English) here
, Ecclesiastical History of the English People