Caedmon has been described as 'the first English poet' and 'the father of English song'. He was gifted in paraphrasing the Latin scriptures into the ordinary language of the day through poetic verse and song and he is considered to have been the first to write this particular type and form of religious poetry in the English language.
Caedmon's story is told by Bede in ‘An Ecclesiastical History of the English People'. He was a herdsman who lived in the area of Whitby in the seventh century, during the time when Hilda was the Abbess. His inability to sing or to improvise verse caused him distress, and at feasts, whenever it was decided that everyone present should take turns at singing, he would leave even if the meal was not over.
On one occasion when the harp was being passed round the table, he went to the barn where he was to guard the cattle that night. When he fell asleep he was inspired in a dream to compose a song in praise of God the Creator. The next day he was able to recall the whole song and to add further lines to it.
The Abbess Hilda and many learned men agreed that Caedmon had received a divine gift, and the Abbess urged him to enter the monastery. He did so, remaining there for the rest of his life, and according to Bede he composed many other songs based on the scriptures.
Caedmon died in 680AD and was buried at Whitby Abbey where his shrine became an important centre of pilgrimage in the North. Unfortunately, apart from the nine lines recorded by Bede none of Caedmon's poems seem to have survived, despite the fact that their influence in teaching the Christian faith was equal to that of the wall-paintings and stained-glass windows in the early churches.