aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Today's poem

Nu we sculon herigean heofonrices Weard,
Meotodes meahte ond his modgeþanc,
weorc Wuldorfæder, swa he wundra gehwæs,
ece Drihten, or onstealde.
He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe, halig Scyppend;
þa middangeard moncynnes Weard,
ece Drihten, æfter teode
firum foldan, Frea ælmihtig.
-- Cædmon of Whitby, A.D. 680

TR: Praise we the Fashioner now of Heaven's fabric,
The majesty of his might and his mind's wisdom,
Work of the world-warden, worker of all wonders,
How he the Lord of Glory everlasting,
Wrought first for the race of men Heaven as a rooftree,
Then made he Middle Earth to be their mansion.

Tom Shippey in his study of J.R.R. Tolkien's writings, The Road to Middle-Earth, refers at the end to Cædmon's poetry, which was well known to Tolkien.
His story begins near Whitby, near the year 680, when Cædmon, a North of England cowherd, went out to his byre to avoid having to sing at some festivity. There an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him what to sing. Fifty years later, his story was written down by the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Bede wrote in Latin, and gave only a translation of a part of Cædmon's first English poem. But at a very early subsequent stage someone else, not content with this, added to Bede's Latin nine lines of Old English verse, in Old Northumbrian -- either remembering Cædmon's lines because they were famous, or else able to translate from Bede's Latin prose to poetry in his own dialect. The lines wandered all over Europe, as far as Russia . . . They were translated also into West Saxon . . . But then his translation too was forgotten for hundreds of years. . . . Cædmon's work itself has been totally lost, all but the nine lines written in by an early devotee, and maybe not even that. . . . At the end of it all, the [last] translator wrote, ac nænig hwæðre him þæt gelice don meahte: 'But just the same, none of them could do it like him.'

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