A quiet man who loved tending his cows at Whitby in North Yorkshire, Caedmon couldn’t recite poetry because he thought he had no stories to tell. Then after one especially upsetting public event, Caedmon stormed home, fell asleep in the barn, and everything changed for him. A man appeared in a dream saying ‘Sing about the creation of all things’ and Caedmon immediately sang verses in praise of God the Creator that had never been heard before.
Caedmon (living about the year 680) was an insignificant voice, a cowsherd. Now he is known as the first named poet in the English literary tradition, and an encourager to people who hate speaking in public.
Jesus Christ, God’s word, speaks from the margins of society. Caedmon (feast day February 11th) is a great exemplar of this great tradition. The Venerable Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History’ is full of the names of the elite of the time, and yet, thankfully, in book 4 he finds space to tell of someone who did not walk the corridors of power – Caedmon.
The song of Caedmon
Caedmon’s song could be easily remembered. It was a powerful aid to speaking and preaching. It also transcended classes within the society of his day. He adapted the ancient themes and formulas for his new way of telling the Christian faith.
So often the church has been enriched and challenged by a voice from the margins, the unexpected poet, singer or prophet. Thank God for them. Not least today, the people of God need poetic voices like those of Caedmon.