“Caedmon, having lived in a secular habit until he was well advanced in years, had never learned anything of versifying; for which reason, being sometimes at entertainments, where it was agreed for the sake of mirth that all present should sing in their turns, when he saw the instrument come toward him, he rose from table and returned home.
“Having done so at a certain time, and gone out of the house where the entertainment was, to the stable, where he had to take care of the horses that night, he there composed himself to rest at the proper time; a person appeared to him in his sleep, and, saluting him by his name, said, ‘Caedmon, sing some song to me.’ He answered, ’I cannot sing; for that was the reason why I left the entertainment and retired to this place, because I could not sing.’ The other who talked to him replied, ‘However, you shall sing.’ ’What shall I sing?’ rejoined he. ‘Sing the beginning of created beings,’ said the other. Hereupon he presently began to sing verses to the praise of God.”
Caedmon remembered the poetry that he had composed in his dreams, and repeated it in the morning to the inmates of the monastery. They concluded that the gift of song was divinely given and invited him to enter the monastery and devote his time to poetry.
Of Caedmon’s work Bede says:—
“He sang the creation of the world, the origin of man, and all the history of Genesis: and made many verses on the departure of the children of Israel out of Egypt, and their entering into the land of promise, with many other histories from Holy Writ; the incarnation, passion, resurrection of our Lord, and his ascension into heaven; the coming of the Holy Ghost, and the preaching of the Apostles; also the terror of future judgment, the horror of the pains of hell, and the delights of heaven.”
The Authorship and Subject Matter of the Caedmonian Cycle.—The first edition of the Paraphrase was published in 1655 by Junius, an acquaintance of Milton. Junius attributed the entire Paraphrase to Caedmon, on the authority of the above quotations from Bede.
[Illustration: FACSIMILE OF BEGINNING OF JUNIAN MANUSCRIPT OF CAEDMON.]
For us it is mickle right that we should praise with words, love with our hearts, the Lord of the heavens, the glorious King of the people. He is the mighty power, the chief of all exalted creatures, Lord Almighty.
The Paraphrase is really composed of three separate poems: the Genesis, the Exodus, and the Daniel; and these are probably the works of different writers. Critics are not agreed whether any of these poems in their present form can be ascribed to Caedmon. The Genesis shows internal evidence of having been composed by several different writers, but some parts of this poem may