THE DREAM OF THE ROOD

[ The Dream of the Rood is the most beautiful of Old English religious poems. The radiant vision, the simple devout wonder of the dreamer, the pathos of the Crucifixion as told by the Cross are unmarred by the set lifeless phrases so common in Old English religious verse. The authorship of the poem has been much discussed. Before the poem was discovered in the Vercelli Book, some lines were found and deciphered on an old stone cross at Ruthwell, near Dumfries. These lines, which correspond to certain portions of the poem, were ascribed to Cædmon, but the arguments which supported this theory have been discredited. A good case has been made out for regarding Cynewulf as the author, though there is no certainty in the matter. In style and mood The Dream of the Rood offers many resemblances to the known poems of Cynewulf, and Elene shows his interest in the cross as a subject for poetry.]

Lo! I will declare the best of dreams which I dreamt in the middle of the night, when human creatures lay at rest. It seemed to me that I saw a wondrous tree rising aloft, encompassed with light, the brightest of crosses. All that sign was overlaid with gold; fair jewels were set at the surface of the earth; there were also five upon the cross-beam. All the angels of God, fair by creation, looked on there; verily that was no malefactor's cross, but holy spirits gazed on Him there, men upon earth and all this glorious universe.

Wondrous was the cross of victory, and I, stained with sins, stricken with foulness; I saw the glorious tree joyfully gleaming, adorned with garments, decked with gold; jewels had fitly covered the tree of the Lord. Yet through that gold I could perceive the former strife of wretched men, that it had once bled on the right side. I was all troubled with sorrows; I was full of fear at the fair sight. I saw the changeful sign alter in garments and colours; at times it was bedewed with moisture, stained with the flowing of blood, at times adorned with treasure.

Yet I, lying there a long space, beheld in sorrow the Saviour's cross, till I heard it speak. Then the most excellent tree began to utter words:

'Long ago was it -- I still remember it -- that I was cut down at the edge of the forest, moved from my trunk. Strong foes took me there, fashioned me to be a spectacle for them, bade me raise up their felons. Men bore me on their shoulders

-235-

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Anglo-Saxon Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Introduction v
  • Contents xiii
  • Beowulf 1
  • Finnesburh 63
  • Waldhere 65
  • Widsith 67
  • Deor 71
  • The Wanderer 73
  • The Seafarer 76
  • The Wife's Lament 79
  • The Husband's Message 81
  • Wulf and Eadwacer 83
  • The Ruin 84
  • Charms 85
  • Genesis 95
  • Exodus 112
  • Daniel 121
  • Christ and Satan 127
  • Juliana 165
  • The Fates of the Apostles 178
  • Andreas 181
  • Elene 211
  • The Dream of the Rood 235
  • The Phoenix 239
  • Physiologus 252
  • Guthlac 256
  • The Soul's Address to the Body 280
  • Doomsday 284
  • Riddles 289
  • Gnomic Poetry 309
  • The Arts of Men 316
  • The Fates of Men 318
  • Judith 320
  • The Battle of Brunanburh 327
  • The Battle of Maldon 329
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