A Literary Linguistic Analysis of The Very Hungry Caterpillar—Papili O’Noidea SpecGram Vol CXCII, No 4 Contents SpecGram Dictionary of the Linguistics of Mythological Beasts—Volume 2: The Wyvern—Miss Ickle, B. Easts

Caedmon’s Hum

Kid & Mann
Co-Professors of i-mutation

Among the contenders for the title of oldest piece of extant English poetry is Caedmon’s Hymn, a seven-line chartbuster from the mid- to late seventh century. Much scholarship has been dedicated to elucidating the social literary ambience that allowed Caedmon to be such a successful one-hit wonder with merely seven lines. Not until Twiggy’s Saturday Night would such a feat be repeated. There is now a broad consensus among historians that neither Netflix nor Amazon Prime was available in Anglo-Saxon England, almost certainly not in the north, and therefore not only was there a lot of time to craft that perfect piece of poetry, but the audiences at open mics and live poetry slams were so much larger, simply through boredom and the desire to get out of the house hovel, that once you’d hit gold, there really was no need to compose a second Hymn to the Glory of God the Creator: word spread like wildfire and you were made for life (i.e., until you died at 37).

However, these historical pre-occupations are but half the first syllable of an Anglo-Saxon epic when one considers the depth and breadth of Caedmology. Because almost nothing is known about the individual’s life and what we do have is borderline myth and legend, Caedmologists have felt the need to engage in lengthy historical reconstructionist activity which, at the last look, both amounted to and accounted for 7.8% of all output among the world’s 15 Anglo-Saxon Poetry and Prose departments: What was Caedmon’s favourite food? Did he prefer James Bond or Jason Bourne? How did he like his steak? And what were his top 10 sheep keeping tips?

However, in an unlooked-for new step in the study of Caedmon’s profound significance for all subsequent literature, Anglo-Saxonists have recently unearthed a new work, only the second of course, by Caedmon. In a nondescript field south of Alnwick in the north-east of England, a manuscript has been unearthed of 9 alliterative lines, each of two syllables, each one hummed. The first two lines are illustrative:

Hmmmmm hm-hmmm
Hmmm hmm hm-hmmmm
Hmmmm hmm-hmm
Hm-hmm hmm hum-hum

Forensic linguistic analysis of the manuscript indicates beyond any doubt whatsoever, that this ‘poe-humm’ is the work of the composer of Caedmon’s Hymn. Although the manuscript is untitled, with simply a Google-doc-esque empty box at the head of the parchment, scholars have been quick to christen it Caedmon’s Hum (although some feel the form ‘Caedmon’s Hmmmm’ more accurately reflects the state of English orthography at the turn of the 8th century).

Many view Anglo-Saxonism as a somewhat dry and dusty discipline that can, on occasion, risk veering into esoteric inapplicability and borderline utter inanity. This discovery shatters these false perceptions of this critical subject, demonstrating once again that poring over nigh-on millennium-and-a-half-old manuscripts is as much a sensible career choice as becoming an actuary, nurse or plumber.

Tantalizingly, it raises the possibility that a third, even a fourth Caedmonian manuscript might be located protruding from a bank of the river Wear or two feet beneath some Northumberland farmer’s barn. Archeologists and historians have already been flocking to the north-east from as far afield as other parts of the north-east to hack at river banks and pull down rural infrastructure on the off-chance that such a valuable manuscript may be discovered.

For now, the field of Anglo-Saxon studies can rest on its reed beds for a while: this profound and powerful discovery will not only shape illustrious careers for many decades to come and serve to re-establish Anglo-Saxon studies as a key primary school subject, it has also put the field back on the centre of the map, right where Mercia used to be. And for those of us in drab everyday jobs that don’t involve conjecturing whether line X of ancient Y is or is not a back-translation from Latin, whenever we find ourselves humming to get through the pain and loneliness of our pointless job as a prison officer, fire-fighter or small business person, we can think of Caedmon, old Old English Shepherd, whose hymn to God’s glory and whose humming of whatever tune he was humming when he hummed the hymn now known as Caedmon’s Hum stand proud as two great cornerstones of early English poetry.

A Literary Linguistic Analysis of The Very Hungry CaterpillarPapili O’Noidea
SpecGram Dictionary of the Linguistics of Mythological BeastsVolume 2: The WyvernMiss Ickle, B. Easts
SpecGram Vol CXCII, No 4 Contents