Listening to Simon Armitage in Ilkley, talking about his recent translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, made my mind flip back to my trip to Whitby and the memorial there to Caedmon, our first known English poet, who died in about 684 AD/CE. First known but, outside of Whitby and our universities' English departments, I imagine he is largely unknown.
According to Bede, Caedmon had a dream in which he was taught how to write poetry. In his life as a monk, nurtured by the abbess at Whitby (probably Saint Hilda) he translated his beliefs into verse. All that remains of his output are the nine lines of an alliterative poem in Anglo-Saxon known as Caedmon's Hymn. This exists in more than 20 manuscript copies.
This is Michael R. Burch's free translation:
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 Everlasting Lord, established the foundation of wonders. Then he, the Primeval Poet, created heaven as a roof for the sons of men: Holy Creator, Maker of mankind. Then he, the Eternal Entity, afterwards made men middle-earth: Master Almighty!
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