Caedmon, the Farmer Who Started to Sing

The story of Caedmon is intriguing.

Living in the seventh century, A.D., Caedmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. He lived at Whitby in northern England, 100 miles from the Scottish border.

We can think of him as a minstrel or bard who composed poems and tunes in his head and recited or sang them from memory. The story of Caedmon is handed down to us by the Venerable Bede, a well-known scholar just one generation younger than Caedmon himself.

Caedmon was a herdsman-laborer who worked at Whitby monastery, founded by St. Hilda in 657. One night the laborers gathered for dinner, and afterwards the harp was passed from hand to hand, as it often was, for singing and poetry. Since Caedmon knew nothing of poetry and had no skill in music, he stepped out and retired to the stable, where he was assigned to care for the cattle.

As he slept, he had a vision. A heavenly being stood by him and called him by name.
“Sing to me.”
“I cannot sing,” said Caedmon, “and therefore I left the feast.”
“Sing to me, however. Sing of Creation.”
Immediately Caedmon began to sing praises to God, with words and tunes he had never heard before.

In the morning Caedmon recited his story and verses to Hilda and the learned men of the monastery. They all agreed that he had received a gift from God.

At Hilda’s encouragement, Caedmon became a brother, a monk. He was taught from the Scriptures and turned much of what he heard into poems and songs.

When I think of Caedmon, I am reminded that any musical skill I have is a gift from God.

And the best hymns and songs are written from hearts that are full of praise.

(April 2010)