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Michael R Burch Apr 2020
Caedmon’s Face
by Michael R. Burch

At the monastery of Whitby,
on a day when the sun sank through the sea,
and the gulls shrieked wildly, jubilant, free,

while the wind and Time blew all around,
I paced that dusk-enamored ground
and thought I heard the steps resound

of Carroll, Stoker and good Bede
who walked here too, their spirits freed
—perhaps by God, perhaps by need—

to write, and with each line, remember
the glorious light of Caedmon’s ember:
scorched tongues of flame words still engender.



He wrote here in an English tongue,
a language so unlike our own,
unlike—as father unto son.

But when at last a child is grown.
his heritage is made well-known;
his father’s face becomes his own.



He wrote here of the Middle-Earth,
the Maker’s might, man’s lowly birth,
of every thing that God gave worth

suspended under heaven’s roof.
He forged with simple words His truth
and nine lines left remain the proof:

his face was Poetry’s, from youth.

“Cædmon’s Hymn,” composed at the Monastery of Whitby (a North Yorkshire fishing village), is one of the oldest known poems written in the English language, dating back to around 680 A.D. According to legend, Cædmon, an illiterate Anglo-Saxon cowherd, received the gift of poetic composition from an angel; he subsequently founded a school of Christian poets. Unfortunately, only nine lines of Cædmon’s verse survive, in the writings of the Venerable Bede. Whitby, tiny as it is, reappears later in the history of English literature, having been visited, in diametric contrast, by Lewis Carroll and Bram Stoker’s ghoulish yet evocative Dracula. Keywords/Tags: Caedmon, hymn, Old English, Anglo-Saxon, oldest English poem, Whitby, Bede, Carroll, Stoker
Michael R Burch Apr 2020
At Caedmon’s Grave
by Michael R. Burch

At the monastery of Whitby,
on a day when the sun sank through the sea,
and the gulls shrieked wildly, jubilant, free,

while the wind and time blew all around,
I paced those dusk-enamored grounds
and thought I heard the steps resound

of Carroll, Stoker and good Bede
who walked there, too, their spirits freed
—perhaps by God, perhaps by need—

to write, and with each line, remember
the glorious light of Cædmon’s ember,
scorched tongues of flame words still engender.

Here, as darkness falls, at last we meet.
I lay this pale garland of words at his feet.

Originally published by The Lyric. “Cædmon’s Hymn,” composed at the Monastery of Whitby (a North Yorkshire fishing village), is one of the oldest known poems written in the English language, dating back to around 680 A.D. According to legend, Cædmon, an illiterate Anglo-Saxon cowherd, received the gift of poetic composition from an angel; he subsequently founded a school of Christian poets. Unfortunately, only nine lines of Cædmon’s verse survive, in the writings of the Venerable Bede. Whitby, tiny as it is, reappears later in the history of English literature, having been visited, in diametric contrast, by Lewis Carroll and Bram Stoker’s ghoulish yet evocative Dracula. Keywords/Tags: Caedmon, hymn, first English poem, Anglo-Saxon, Bede, cowherd, monk

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