A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Cædmon

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CÆDMON (d. 1680). -- 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 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. Much that was formerly attributed to C. is now held to be of later date. All that is known to be his is a Northumbrian version of Bede's Latin paraphrases of C.'s first song: although by some the authorship of "The Dream of the Holy Rood," and of a fragment on "The Temptation and Fall of Man" is claimed for him.

English Literature from Beginning to Norman Conquest, Stopford Brooke (1898), and History of Early English Literature, by the same (1892).