The three early pieces, which were also the first written evidence of Old English, were Bede's Death Song (735), Cædmon's Hymn (737) and The Leiden Riddle (731).
The earliest piece of literature we still have is the so-called Cædmon's Hymn; it is a poem of only nine lines in which the Creator is praised, pointing out different aspects of his Deity. Cædmon was a layman at Whitby during the rule of Abbess Hild (614-680). He writes that in a dream he was inspired by an angel send from God to compose songs, then became a monk and composed many poems. The problem with Cædmon is that we learn about him only from a secondary source, namely Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica.
A second chance survival from the 8th century is the so-called Death Song of Bede which he is reported to have composed on his death-bed (735); it is a poem of only five lines. „[T]he prestige of one man alone (i.e. Bede) therefore accounts for almost half the manuscripts if OE poetry – but for a total of only fourteen lines“ [Shippey 1972:80]
The third poem which we can place in the early period is an OE version in 14 lines of a Latin riddle by Bishop Aldhelm who died c. 709/10; the earliest manuscript dates to the 9th century The Leiden Riddle.
These three poems were all written in the Northumbrian variety of OE; they are our only surviving testimonial for poetry before c. 930.
|Old English Period, Poetry, Literature|