In the monastery of this abbess [Hilda of Whitby] — there was a certain brother who was specially marked out by the grace of God, so that he used to compose godly and religious songs; thus, whatever he learned from the holy Scriptures by means of interpreters, he quickly turned into extremely delightful and moving poetry m English, which was his own tongue. . . . He had lived in the secular habit until he was well advanced in years and had never learned any songs. Hence sometimes at a feast, when for the sake of providing entertainment it had been decided that they should all sing in turn, when he saw the harp approaching him, he would rise up in the middle of the feasting, go out, and return home.
On one such occasion when he did so, he left the place of feasting and went to the cattle byre, as it was his turn to take charge of them that night. In due time he stretched himself out and went to sleep, whereupon he dreamt that someone stood by him, saluted him, and called him by name: `Caedmon,' he said, `sing me something.' Caedmon answered, `I cannot sing; that is why I left the feast and came here because I could not sing.' Once again the speaker said, `Nevertheless you must sing to me.! 'What must I sing?' said Caedmon. `Sing,' he said, `about the beginning of created things.' Thereupon Caedmon began to sing verses which he had never heard before in praise of God the Creator, of which this is the general sense:
Now we must praise the Maker of the heavenly kingdom, the power of the Creator and His counsel, the deeds of the Father of glory, and how He, since He is the eternal God, was the Author of all marvels and first created the heavens as a roof for the children of men, and then, the Almighty Guardian of the human race, created the earth.
This is the sense but not the order of the words which he sang as he slept. For it is not possible to translate verse, however well composed, literally from one language to another without some loss of beauty and dignity. When he awoke, he remembered all that he had sung while asleep and soon added more verses in the same manner, praising God in fitting style.
In the morning he went to the reeve who was his master, telling him of the gift he had received, and the reeve took him to the abbess. He was then bidden to describe his dream in the presence of a number of the more learned men, and also to recite his song so that they might all examine him and decide upon the nature and origin of the gift of which he spoke; and it seemed clear to all of them that the Lord had granted him heavenly grace. They then read to him a passage of sacred history or doctrine, bidding him make a song out of it, if he could, in metrical form. He undertook the task and went away; on returning next morning he repeated the passage he had been given, which he had put into excellent verse. The abbess, who recognized the grace of God which the man had received, instructed him to renounce his secular habit and to take monastic vows. She and all her people received him into the community of the brothers, and ordered that he should be instructed in the whole course of sacred history. He learned all he could by listening to them, and then, memorizing it and ruminating over it, like some clean animal chewing the cud, he turned it into the most melodious verse: and it sounded so sweet as he recited it that his teachers became in turn his audience.
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