Monday, 14 February 2011

Poem of the Week

I have a Poem of the Week in my classroom and normally I put pretty accessible stuff on display. However I also try to widen my students' poetic range, so this week I've gone for one of the earliest poems in the English language and the first by a poet whose name we know. You can read more about Caedmon and his poem here and you can hear the poem (in Old English) by clicking here.

Poems like this remind us that, as G.K. Chesterton put it, "English literature was English a long time before it was Protestant" but they also give us a useful way into discussions about so-called regional literature, rhythm and structure. Caedmon's poem also reminds us that, far from inventing Middle-earth, Tolkien tapped into a rich and largely forgotten tradition of (Catholic) English literature.

Caedmon's Hymn: Northumbrian Version
Verse Early Anglian
Nu scylun hergan         hefaenricaes uard,
metudæs maecti         end his modgidanc,
uerc uuldurfadur,         sue he uundra gihuaes,
eci dryctin,         or astelidæ.

He aerist scop         aelda barnum
heben til hrofe,         haleg scepen;
tha middungeard         moncynnæs uard,
eci dryctin,         æfter tiadæ
firum foldu,         frea allmectig.

Caedmon's Hymn: West Saxon Version
Verse Early Saxon
Nu sculon herigean         heofonrices weard,
meotodes meahte         and 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's Hymn

Now let me praise the keeper of Heaven's kingdom,
the might of the Creator, and his thought,
the work of the Father of glory, how each of wonders
the Eternal Lord established in the beginning.
He first created for the sons of men
Heaven as a roof, the holy Creator,
then Middle-earth the keeper of mankind,
the Eternal Lord, afterwards made,
the earth for men, the Almighty Lord.

          In the beginning Cædmon sang this poem.

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