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Caedmon's <em>Hymn</em>

Caedmon's Hymn

by Caedmon

The Kingly: Ruling and Building

Symbol Analysis

In Anglo-Saxon England, communities were organized according to complex relationships between "ruler" and "ruled." Rulers could be a variety of people wielding power: chieftains leading tribes, abbots or abbesses leading monasteries, or local kings and queens with tiny kingdoms, maybe only a few counties big. Rulers were expected to provide order and law for their people, including military protection and basic infrastructure like houses and meeting halls. In return, the community was expected to obey the law, serve as soldiers, and give honor to their rulers.

Caedmon brings a little of this world into his hymn by portraying God as a kind of super-powerful earthly ruler, a leader who spends all of his resources and ideas protecting his people and creating beautiful, safe places for them to live. Let's check out this kingly use of metaphor:

  • Line 1: Here God is straight-up compared to a king. Like your typical Anglo-Saxon king guarding his kingdom from Viking invasions, God rules over Heaven as its "Guardian," responsible for keeping the bad guys out (sinners) and welcoming the good guys in (faithful Christians).
  • Line 5: Notice the simile here that compares heaven to a roof, as if the earth is a gigantic house. Without God to hammer on some shingles, we would be exposed to all the storms and heat and cold of the universe. God creates infrastructure, the same way a chieftain might build a hall for his advisors or an abbess might construct a monastery for her nuns.
  • Lines 7-8: Here's another example of God as guardian and builder. In order to protect mankind, he builds a warm, comfortable earth underneath his sky-roof. If this order strikes you as bizarre—only an insane builder would make the roof before the actual house—well, blame the faulty "mind-plans" (2).
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