Cędmon's Hymn: a Modern English Translation of the Old English
"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!