lrc wordmark

Bede's Account of the Poet Caedmon

Jonathan Slocum

This page contains a text in Old English with a modern English translation. This particular text and its translation are extracted from a lesson in the Early Indo-European Online series, where one may find detailed information about this text (see the Table of Contents page for Old English Online in EIEOL), and general information about the Old English language and its speakers' culture.

Bede's Account of the Poet Caedmon

Wæs hē se mon in weoruldhāde geseted oð ðā tīde þe hē wæs gelȳfedre yldo, and hē nǣfre ǣnig lēoð geleornade: and hē for þon oft in gebēorscipe, þonne þǣr wæs blisse intinga gedēmed — þæt hīe ealle sceolden þurh endebyrdnesse be hearpan singan — þonne hē geseah þā hearpan him nēalǣcan, þonne ārās hē for scome from þǣm symble, and hām ēode tō his hūse. Þā hē þæt þā sumre tīde dyde, þæt hē forlēt þæt hūs þæs gebēorscipes, and ūt wæs gongende tō nēata scypene, þāra heord him wæs þǣre nihte beboden, ðā hē þā þǣr in gelimplicre tīde his limo on reste gesette and onslǣpte, þā stōd him sum mon æt þurh swefn, and hine hālette and grētte, and hine be his naman nemde:

'Cædmon, sing mē hwæthwegu.'

Þā andswarode hē and cwæð: 'Ne con ic nōht singan, and ic for þon of þyssum gebēorscipe ūt ēode, and hider gewāt, for þon ic nōht cūðe.'

Eft hē cwæð sē þe mid him sprecende wæs: 'Hwæðere þū meaht mē singan.'

Cwæð hē: 'Hwæt sceal ic singan?'

Cwæð hē: 'Sing mē frumsceaft.'

Þā hē þā þās andsware onfēng, ðā ongan hē sōna singan, in herenesse Godes Scyppendes, þā fers and þā word þe hē nǣfre ne gehȳrde, þāra endebyrdnes þis is:

        Nū wē sculan herian         heofonrīces Weard,
        Metodes mihte         and his mōdgeþonc,
        weorc Wuldorfæder;         swā hē wundra gehwæs,
        ēce Dryhten,         ord onstealde.

        Hē ǣrest gesceōp         eorðan bearnum
        heofon tō hrōfe,         hālig Scyppend;
        ðā middangeard,         moncynnes Weard,
        ēce Dryhten,         æfter tēode
        fīrum foldan,         Frēa ælmihtig.


He was a man appointed to secular life, up to the time that he was of advanced age, and he never learned any poetry. For that reason, often at the feast, when there was deemed to be cause for merriment so that they all in succession should sing to the harp when he saw the harp draw near to him, he arose from the feast out of shame and went home to his abode. Then one time he did this, so that he left the house of the feast and was going out to the cattle shed (their care was entrusted to him for the night). When at a suitable time he arranged his arms and legs on a resting place there, and fell asleep, a man stood by him in a dream and hailed and greeted him and called him by name:
"Caedmon, sing something for me."
Then answered he and said, "I can not sing, and because of this I went out from the feast and went here because I could (sing) naught."
Again he said (he who was speaking with him): "But you can sing to me."
Said he, "What shall I sing?"
He said, "Sing to me about the creation."
When he received this answer, he then began immediately to sing, in praise of God the Creator, those verses and those words which he had never ever heard; the arrangement of them is this:
    "Now we must praise the Lord         of the kingdom of Heaven,
    God's power         and his purpose,
    the work of the Father of Glory;         thus he, of every wonder
    the eternal Lord,         established the beginning.
    He first created,         for the children of earth,
    heaven for a roof,         the holy Creator;
    then the earth,         mankind's Guardian,
    the eternal Lord;         afterwards settled
    with men the earth,         the Lord Almighty.

  •   Map
  • Linguistics Research Center

    University of Texas at Austin
    PCL 5.556
    Mailcode S5490
    Austin, Texas 78712