Why are we here? Where are we going? Why are we reading this short old poem? If these are some of the questions we ask in our quest to discover the purpose of life, then Caedmon is here to answer exactly none of them. But isn't "Caedmon's Hymn" an expression of religious devotion engaged in praising God and his works? Yes, but notice how little head-scratching it offers about the nature of life, God, or existence. Humans are mentioned three times—which is a lot in a poem only nine lines long—but there's nothing about when or why they were created, their purpose on earth, how they should live their lives, or where they'll go once they die. Instead, the poem is very straightforward, providing matter-of-fact observations about what God has created rather than whom or why.
Questions About Religion
- Is it possible to write a hymn that is NOT about God? How do you think Caedmon would answer that question?
- How would you describe Caedmon's religion based on this hymn? What does he believe in? What does he consider most important? What parts of the poem give you your ideas?
- What qualities of God does the speaker praise most? Why do you think that's the case?
Chew on This
Instead of giving us the nitty-gritty of Christian theology, Caedmon pulls back and goes for the big picture: the creation of the earth is the central event in this hymn.
For Caedmon, religion is less about ethics or sin and more about remembering the glorious actions of God. So take notes, y'all.