Writing at the Chronicles Magazine blog, Aaron Wolf writes that J.R.R. Tolkien’s idea of Middle Earth came from a poem in Anglo-Saxon(the earliest form of English) by Cynewulf called either “Christ” or “The Ascension.” Wolf provides a translation by Charles Kennedy:
Hail Day-Star! Brightest angel sent to man *throughout the earth* [in Middle Earth], and Thou steadfast splendour of the sun, bright above stars! Ever Thou dost illumine with Thy light the time of every season. As Thou, begotten God of God, Son of the True Father, without beginning abodest ever in the splendour of heaven, so now for need Thy handiwork bessecheth boldly that Thou send the bright sun unto us; that Thou come and shed Thy light on those who long ere this, compassed about with mist and in the darkness, clothed in sin, sit here in the long night, and must needs endure the dark shadow of Death.
The reference to Christ as the “brightest angel” is a bit jarring at first, but you can see that any potential confusion is clarified in the middle of the poem: “begotten God of God, Son of the True Father, without beginning abodest ever in the splendour of heaven.” Perhaps Cynewulf was using “angel” in the sense of “messenger.”
Hat tip: Joel via Google Reader