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Cędmon's Hymn: a Modern English Translation of the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) Poem

"Cędmon's Hymn" was composed sometime between 658 and 680 AD and may be the oldest extant poem in the English language. According to the Venerable Bede (673-735), Cędmon was an illiterate herdsman who was given the gift of poetic composition by an angel. In the original poem, hardly a word is recognizable as English because Cędmon was writing in a somewhat Anglicized form of ancient German. The word "England" harkens back to Angle-land; the Angles were a Germanic tribe. Nevertheless, by Cędmon's time the foundations of English poetry were being laid, particularly in the areas of accentual meter and alliteration. Poets were considered to be "Makers" (as in William Dunbar's "Lament for the Makaris"), and poetry was considered to have a divine origin, so the poem may express a sort of affinity between the poet and his God.

Cędmon's Hymn (circa 658-680 AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Now let us honour      heaven-kingdom's Guardian,
the might of the Architect      and his mind-plans,
the work of the Glory-Father.      First he, the Eternal Lord,
established      the foundation of wonders.
Then he, the First Poet,      created heaven as a roof
for the sons of men,      Holy Creator,
Maker of mankind.      Then he, the eternal Lord,
afterwards made men middle-earth:      Master almighty!

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