Caedmon was a shepherd in the seventh century and seems to have been somewhat shy by nature. Until well into his adult life he was not a writer nor a poet; in fact the venerable Bede says that when others were sitting around sharing songs in the evening he would go off to sit with his flock because he knew no songs.
Then one night he had a dream. A person approached him and told him to sing of the Creation, or the beginning. In his dream he refused because he did not know how. However, after refusing, he did in fact compose a poem in praise of the Creator. When he woke from his dream he remembered the poem and seemingly within days his sole duty was to compose poems on sacred topics and biblical texts.
According to Bede, Caedmon would be assigned a topic; he would go to bed and wake with "poetical expressions of much sweetness and humility in English which was his native language. By his verse the minds of many were often excited to despise the world, and to aspire to heaven."
What follows is a translation of the very earliest example of English poetry that exists in the world today. Written about 670 AD.
Now we must praise the ruler of heaven,
The might of the Lord and His purpose of mind,
The work of the Glorious Father; for He
God Eternal, established each wonder,
He Holy Creator, first fashioned the heavens
As a roof for the children of earth.
And then our Guardian, the everlasting Lord,
Adorned this middle-earth for men.
Praise the almighty King of Heaven.