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Poetry Pleases: Caedmon

...A frozen midnight and a dream that did not pass.
He lay in great peace in the straw, and heard,
still sounding on, the all-creating word;
Above the doorway marched the circling stars,

Turning on the unseen point, on the unheard cry;
As his own life had rested all along
On that which he now knew as awakening song;
Beneath his time he had felt it timelessly lie...

Caroline Glyn writes of the illuminating light that burst upon Caedmon.

It was below the darkness and behind the night,
More ancient than either; and a sudden spark
Burnt like a meteor through the flawless dark.
A single shiver ran from abyss to height.

And the dark tore, as though a blade went shearing,
For those pits of deathly blackness were so thin
They could rip to show the living darkness within;
They only veiled the shining dark of beginning.

And the joy broke, the vision came with power.
The frozen sky unfolded into arches,
where the trees of heaven sent their shimmering branches
he saw the angel of creation rise in fire;

And within him too the song-maker's passion mounted.
His voice was borne on the cry that both upheld it
And even into its own mighty utterance bound it;
he could not help but sing. This was commanded.
So tongue-tied Caedmon shared in that summoning,
The naming of the light before it broke
Through the waiting forest, and awoke
The worlds that lay asleep in God's foreknowing.

Surely he saw it, surely even now it was coming!
The brightness, the truth! All mysteries unfolded!
Even as he strained, the song, the forest faded.
The night was closing, and only the frost remaining.

Yet he knew he had sung, and knew another had stood here.
The oxen's sides were trembling, their nostrils dilated;
The very silence there had been visited;
The presence was not gone from the pricking air.

And next he knew that neither had the singing ceased.
The quiet night had become its antiphon,
Containing, echoing it; and for Caedmon
This was his part, the quiet and the beasts.

The song of power was cleaving through the terrors.
He saw the waters of the night divide,
The wars, the wolves, the sorcery, swept aside,
The ache of iron was healed from a thousand winters.

A frozen midnight and a dream that did not pass.
He lay in great peace in the straw, and heard,
still sounding on, the all-creating word;
Above the doorway marched the circling stars,

Turning on the unseen point, on the unheard cry;
As his own life had rested all along
On that which he now knew as awakening song;
Beneath his time he had felt it timelessly lie.

And the recognition, the knowing, were everything.
But then the dreaming cattle stamped and shivered
As though one passed outside; and he remembered,
Seeming to hear it again, "Caedmon, you must sing."

"And I can sing!" he heard his own glad voice.
And the words, the beauty came. He sang the creation
That had not ceased, and the stars' exultation
Moving for ever; and he watched them rejoice,

Flaring in answer; the harmony was whole.
But then, with a dream's power to turn about,
And with a dream's insistence, came the doubt;
The blessed harmony shattered from pole to pole.

"Surely this is also a dream! I am asleep!
I shall know I am awake when the music has gone."
Then like a child, grief-stricken, Caedmon
Fell on the ox's flank and began to weep.

In the first pale colour of the day,
Osgar the monk came to Caedmon for the milking.
Always they did this together without talking,
but Caedmon was full of pain, and heard himself say,

As though to ease it, "Brother, I have so strangely slept.
I thought I could sing, and woke to find it true;
But was I not even then dreaming? What think you?"
The other looked at him. And then the song leapt.

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