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The Dream of the Rood is a poem that celebrates the Crucifixion and the Annunciation, both of which occurred on 25 March in early Christian belief. Fragments of the Dream are found on Northumbrian stone crosses at Ruthwell and Bewcastle (8th century), and on the wood-and-silver Brussels Cross (11th century). An expanded version is found in the Vercelli Book (10th century). The Vercelli poem translated here, according to Eamonn O'Carragain, should be understood as "the richness of a fully assimilated tradition which has moved beyond polemic," not as "a conscious contribution to a theological debate."1
The Dream's portrayal of Christ and the cross is original to Old English literature, a communal drama with catharsis in devotion. Peggy Samuels describes it as a form "on the threshold of drama and ritual" because the it encourages audience participation like a dramatic prayer. It creates "a role for its audience" because the poem itself has audiences.2 The cross's speech ends with a command to repeat the story for others and thereby spread the message of salvation.
Considering the poem's placement in the Vercelli Book, O'Carragain refutes the idea that the Dream served a theological or intellectual purpose. He classifies the other Vercelli texts as "devotional, ascetic, and eschatological."3 The Dream poet wove all three genres into his masterpiece. The poem's many themes include comparing Mary and the cross, the tree's separation from being wrought into a cross, and a description of the final judgement. On the Dream tradition's fundamental theme, H. Conrad-O'Braian summarizes, "These works were born in the struggle for a definition of the incarnation that placed the western sensibility on the road to the exultation of free will and individuality."4
O'Carragain writes persuasively that the piecemeal Vercelli Book was "intended for personal use," because the texts are neither arranged by the liturgical calendar nor contain "systematic rubrics" associated with homiletic use. To support this claim, he introduces the concept of a "Vercelli collector," not a "Vercelli scribe." This collector's interests were "primarily ascetic," perhaps a monk who compiled over time the scraps of verse he held most dear.5
|G. F. Browne, "Bewcastle Cross inscription," Alcuin of York (1908). Image from Google Books.|
|Lo! I will relate a most valuable dream,||Hwæt! Ic swefna cyst secgan wylle,|
|what appeared to me6 at midnight7||hwæt me gemætte to midre nihte,|
|3||when the voice-bearers8 remained at rest!||syðþan reordberend reste wunedon!|
|It seemed I had seen a most wondrous tree||Þuhte me þæt ic gesawe syllicre treow|
|held on high, wrapped with light||on lyft lædan, leohte bewunden,|
|6||of brightest beams.9 That beacon was all||beama beorhtost. Eall þæt beacen wæs|
|decked with gold. Gems stood||begoten mid golde. Gimmas stodon|
|beautiful at the earth's corners, so there were five||fægere æt foldan sceatum, swylce þær fife wæron|
|9||[arranged] in an axle-span above.10 All judged fair by eternal decree||uppe on þam eaxlegespanne. Beheoldon þær engel dryhtnes ealle,|
|beheld there the Lord's angel.11 That was no criminal's gallows||fægere þurh forðgesceaft. Ne wæs ðær huru fracodes gealga,|
|but holy ghosts beheld it there, [and]||ac hine þær beheoldon halige gastas,|
|12||men over earth, and all its glorious creation.||men ofer moldan, ond eall þeos mære gesceaft.|
|Wondrous was the victory-tree,12 and I [was] stained with sin,13||Syllic wæs se sigebeam, ond ic synnum fah,|
|badly wounded with faults. I saw glory's tree,||forwunded mid wommum. Geseah ic wuldres treow,|
|15||ennobled by its garments,14 with shining joys,||wædum geweorðode, wynnum scinan,|
|adorned with gold; gems had||gegyred mid golde; gimmas hæfdon|
|covered the ruler's tree splendidly.||bewrigene weorðlice wealdendes treow.|
|18||Yet through that gold I could perceive||Hwæðre ic þurh þæt gold ongytan meahte|
|the wretched ones' ancient struggle,15 what first began||earmra ærgewin, þæt hit ærest ongan|
|to bleed on the right side. I was afflicted with all sorrows,||swætan on þa swiðran healfe. Eall ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed,|
|21||frightened was I before that aberrant sight.16 I saw that eager beacon||forht ic wæs for þære fægran gesyhðe. Geseah ic þæt fuse beacen|
|change with garments and blood. At times it was drenched with water,||wendan wædum ond bleom; hwilum hit wæs mid wætan bestemed,|
|soaked with flowing blood; other times it was treasure-decked.||beswyled mid swates gange, hwilum mid since gegyrwed.|
|24||I was lying there a long while,||Hwæðre ic þær licgende lange hwile|
|beholding the distressed Saviour's tree,||beheold hreowcearig hælendes treow,|
|until I heard what it proclaimed.||oððæt ic gehyrde þæt hit hleoðrode.|
|27||Then the best wood began to speak words:||Ongan þa word sprecan wudu selesta:|
|"It was once long ago (I still remember it),17||"Þæt wæs geara iu, (ic þæt gyta geman),|
|that I was hewn down from the forest's edge,||þæt ic wæs aheawen holtes on ende,|
|30||ripped from my roots. Strong enemies seized me there,||astyred of stefne minum. Genaman me ðær strange feondas,|
|they made a spectacle for themselves,18 [and] commanded me to raise up criminals here.19||geworhton him þær to wæfersyne, heton me heora wergas hebban.|
|I carried men on my shoulders there, until they set me on a hill,||Bæron me ðær beornas on eaxlum, oððæt hie me on beorg asetton,|
|33||enemies fixed me there enough. I saw there the Lord of mankind||gefæstnodon me þær feondas genoge. Geseah ic þa frean mancynnes|
|hurrying with great valor because he willed to climb upon me.||efstan elne mycle þæt he me wolde on gestigan.|
|I didn't dare bend or break,||þær ic þa ne dorste ofer dryhtnes word|
|36||or defy the Lord's word when I saw||bugan oððe berstan, þa ic bifian geseah|
|earth's creation tremble. All the enemies||eorðan sceatas. Ealle ic mihte|
|I could've felled20 while I stood fast—||feondas gefyllan, hwæðre ic fæste stod.|
|39||Then the young hero stripped himself (that was God almighty),||Ongyrede hine þa geong hæleð, (þæt wæs god ælmihtig),|
|strong and steadfast. He ascended onto the high gallows,||strang ond stiðmod. Gestah he on gealgan heanne,|
|a brave sight to many, he who would redeem mankind.||modig on manigra gesyhðe, þa he wolde mancyn lysan.|
|42||I shook when that man embraced me. I didn't dare bow down to the earth, however,||Bifode ic þa me se beorn ymbclypte. Ne dorste ic hwæðre bugan to eorðan,|
|fall to the land's surface, rather, I had to stand fast.||feallan to foldan sceatum, ac ic sceolde fæste standan.|
|I was a raised cross.21 I lifted the mighty king,||Rod wæs ic aræred. Ahof ic ricne cyning,|
|45||heaven's Lord, [but] I dared not bend.||heofona hlaford, hyldan me ne dorste.|
|He was driven through me with dark nails. On me there were visible scars,||þurhdrifan hi me mid deorcan næglum. On me syndon þa dolg gesiene,|
|wicked wounds open.22 I didn't dare disturb any of them.||opene inwidhlemmas. Ne dorste ic hira nænigum sceððan.|
|48||We were besmirched, both of us together. I was all drenched in blood,||Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere. Eall ic wæs mid blode bestemed,|
|soaked from that man's side when he released his spirit.||begoten of þæs guman sidan, siððan he hæfde his gast onsended.|
|On that hill I suffered many||Feala ic on þam beorge gebiden hæbbe|
|51||cruel events. I saw the God of hosts||wraðra wyrda. Geseah ic weruda god|
|wracked wretched. Darkness had||þearle þenian. Þystro hæfdon|
|hidden with clouds the forest's corpse,||bewrigen mid wolcnum wealdendes hræw,|
|54||shining splendor. 'Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land,'23||scirne sciman, sceadu forðeode,|
|sallow under shroud. All creation wept,||wann under wolcnum. Weop eal gesceaft,|
|lamented the king's death. Christ was on cross.||cwiðdon cyninges fyll. Crist wæs on rode.|
|57||They eagerly came from afar, however,||Hwæðere þær fuse feorran cwoman|
|to the prince. I witnessed all that.||to þam æðelinge. Ic þæt eall beheold.|
|I was bitterly distressed with sorrows, still I bowed to the warriors' power24||Sare ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed, hnag ic hwæðre þam secgum to handa,|
|60||obediently, and with great zeal. They took almighty God,||eaðmod elne mycle. Genamon hie þær ælmihtigne god,|
|lifting him out of grave torment. The warriors abandoned me there||ahofon hine of ðam hefian wite. Forleton me þa hilderincas|
|to stand in simmering blood;25 I was all wounded with arrows.26||standan steame bedrifenne; eall ic wæs mid strælum forwundod.|
|63||They laid the weary-limbed one there, they placed themselves at his body's head,27||Aledon hie ðær limwerigne, gestodon him æt his lices heafdum,|
|they beheld there heaven's Lord, and they rested there awhile,||beheoldon hie ðær heofenes dryhten, ond he hine ðær hwile reste,|
|worn out after great agony. The men began to make a sepulchre for him||meðe æfter ðam miclan gewinne. Ongunnon him þa moldern wyrcan|
|66||in the murderer's presence; they carved it from brilliant stone,||beornas on banan gesyhðe; curfon hie ðæt of beorhtan stane,|
|they set the Lord of triumph there. They began a sorrow-song,||gesetton hie ðæron sigora wealdend. Ongunnon him þa sorhleoðgalan|
|wretched in the evening, then they wanted to move on,||earme on þa æfentide, þa hie woldon eft siðian,|
|69||exhausted of the exalted Lord. He rested there with small company.28||meðe fram þam mæran þeodne. Reste he ðær mæte weorode.|
|We29 stood there at station, however,||Hwæðere we ðær greotende gode hwile|
|weeping a long while, till the warriors' voices||stodon on staðole, syððan stefn up gewat|
|72||passed away. The corpse cooled,||hilderinca. Hræw colode,|
|the soul's gentle dwelling. Then men struck us all||fæger feorgbold. Þa us man fyllan ongan|
|down to the earth. That was a terrible fate30||ealle to eorðan. þæt wæs egeslic wyrd!|
|75||They buried us in a deep pit. The Lord's thanes, however,||Bedealf us man on deopan seaþe. Hwæðre me þær dryhtnes þegnas,|
|friends had found [me there],31(#f32)||freondas gefrunon,|
|and adorned me with gold and silver.||ond gyredon me golde ond seolfre.|
|78||Now you can hear, beloved hero of mine,32||Nu ðu miht gehyran, hæleðmin se leofa,|
|the evildoers' travail that I've endured,||þæt ic bealuwara weorc gebiden hæbbe,|
|sorrowful suffering.33 The time is now come||sarra sorga. Is nu sæl cumen|
|81||that I'm worshipped far and wide;||þæt me weorðiað wide ond side|
|men over earth, and all its glorious creation,34||menn ofer moldan, ond eall þeos mære gesceaft,|
|they pray to this sign. On me God's son||gebiddaþhim to þyssum beacne. On me bearn godes|
|84||suffered long. Therefore I now tower||þrowode hwile. Forþan ic þrymfæst nu|
|glorious under the heavens, and I may heal||hlifige under heofenum, ond ic hælan mæg|
|each and everyone who's fearful before me.||æghwylcne anra, þara þe him biðegesa to me.|
|87||Formerly I was become the hardest torments,||Iu ic wæs geworden wita heardost,|
|most hateful to people before I revealed to them,||leodum laðost, ærþan ic him lifes weg|
|the voice-bearers, the right path.||rihtne gerymde, reordberendum.|
|90||So I was exalted as glory's prince||Hwæt, me þa geweorðode wuldres ealdor|
|over the hill-trees,35 the kingdom of heaven's guardian!||ofer holmwudu, heofonrices weard!|
|Just like he his mother too, Mary herself||Swylce swa he his modor eac, Marian sylfe,|
|93||[is] honored over all womankind,||ælmihtig god for ealle menn|
|like almighty God for all men.36||geweorðode ofer eall wifa cynn.|
|Now I command you, my dear hero,37||Nu ic þe hate, hæleðmin se leofa,|
|96||that you tell this story to people,||þæt ðu þas gesyhðe secge mannum,|
|reveal in words that it's glory's tree||onwreoh wordum þæt hit is wuldres beam,|
|on which the almighty God suffered||se ðe ælmihtig god on þrowode|
|99||for mankind's many sins||for mancynnes manegum synnum|
|and Adam's deeds of old.||ond Adomes ealdgewyrhtum.|
|He tasted death there.38 The Lord rose again, however,||Deaðhe þær byrigde, hwæðere eft dryhten aras|
|102||to help men with his great power.||mid his miclan mihte mannum to helpe.|
|He then ascended to the heavens. He will come again||He ða on heofenas astag. Hider eft fundaþ|
|to seek mankind on Midgard,||on þysne middangeard mancynn secan|
|105||the Lord himself on doomsday,||on domdæge dryhten sylfa,|
|almighty God and his angels too,||ælmihtig god, ond his englas mid,|
|to judge those who have doom's power,||þæt he þonne wile deman, se ah domes geweald,|
|108||each one as he's earned||anra gehwylcum swa he him ærur her|
|for himself in this fleeting life.||on þyssum lænum life geearnaþ.|
|None may be afraid||Ne mæg þær ænig unforht wesan|
|111||before the Word the ruler shall speak.||for þam worde þe se wealdend cwyð.|
|He will ask of the multitude where the man is,||Frineðhe for þære mænige hwær se man sie,|
|who for the Lord's name would taste||se ðe for dryhtnes naman deaðes wolde|
|114||bitter death, as He did before on the cross.||biteres onbyrigan, swa he ær on ðam beame dyde.|
|But they will be afraid, and few [would] imagine||Ac hie þonne forhtiað, ond fea þencaþ|
|what they will start to say to Christ.||hwæt hie to Criste cweðan onginnen.|
|117||None need be afraid39||Ne þearf ðær þonne ænig anforht wesan|
|who bears in his breast the superior beacon,||þe him ær in breostum bereð beacna selest,|
|but through the cross [they] shall seek the kingdom,||ac ðurh ða rode sceal rice gesecan|
|120||each soul away from the earthly path,||of eorðwege æghwylc sawl,|
|they desired to dwell with the ruler."||seo þe mid wealdende wunian þenceð."|
|I prayed to the tree in a blithe mood40||Gebæd ic me þa to þan beame bliðe mode,|
|123||with much zeal, I was alone there||elne mycle, þær ic ana wæs|
|with small company.41 My spirit was||mæte werede. Wæs modsefa|
|urged on the journey ahead, [it] experienced very many||afysed on forðwege, feala ealra gebad|
|126||periods of longing. It's now my life's hope||langunghwila. Is me nu lifes hyht|
|that I might seek the victory-tree||þæt ic þone sigebeam secan mote|
|alone more often than all men,||ana oftor þonne ealle men,|
|129||to worship well. For me, that desire||well weorþian. Me is willa to ðam|
|weighs great on my heart, and my protection42 is||mycel on mode, ond min mundbyrd is|
|entrusted to the cross. I don't have many powerful||geriht to þære rode. Nah ic ricra feala|
|132||friends on earth, as they departed||freonda on foldan, ac hie forðheonon|
|henceforth from this world's joys and sought him, glory's king;||gewiton of worulde dreamum, sohton him wuldres cyning,|
|they live now in heaven with God the father,||lifiaþnu on heofenum mid heahfædere,|
|135||dwelling in glory, and I hope for||wuniaþon wuldre, ond ic wene me|
|whatever day the Lord's cross||daga gehwylce hwænne me dryhtnes rod,|
|(that I saw on earth before)||þe ic her on eorðan ær sceawode,|
|138||takes me from this frail life,||on þysson lænan life gefetige|
|and brings me to where there's great bliss,||ond me þonne gebringe þær is blis mycel,|
|rapture in heaven where the Lord's folk is||dream on heofonum, þær is dryhtnes folc|
|141||at table, to feast where there's eternal bliss,||geseted to symle, þær is singal blis,|
|and seat me where I may||ond me þonne asette þær ic syþþan mot|
|dwell in glory, to share the joy||wunian on wuldre, well mid þam halgum|
|144||well with the saints. The Lord be my friend||dreames brucan. Si me dryhten freond,|
|who is here on earth before suffering||se ðe her on eorþan ær þrowode|
|on the gallows-tree for the sins of man.||on þam gealgtreowe for guman synnum.|
|147||He set us free and gave us life,||He us onlysde ond us lif forgeaf,|
|a heavenly home. Hope was renewed||heofonlicne ham. Hiht wæs geniwad|
|with blessings and with bliss for those who suffered fire there.||mid bledum ond mid blisse þam þe þær bryne þolodan.|
|150||The son was victorious on his expedition,||Se sunu wæs sigorfæst on þam siðfate,|
|mighty and successful when he came with the multitude,||mihtig ond spedig, þa he mid manigeo com,|
|the heavenly host, to God's kingdom,||gasta weorode, on godes rice,|
|153||ruler almighty, a joy to the angels||anwealda ælmihtig, englum to blisse|
|and all the saints in heaven before,||ond eallum ðam halgum þam þe on heofonum ær|
|who dwelled in glory when the ruler came here,||wunedon on wuldre, þa heora wealdend cwom,|
|156||almighty God, where his homeland was.||ælmihtig god, þær his eðel wæs.|
|The Ruthwell Cross, July 2010. Image from Biking Birder 2010.|
Bible Hub: Online Bible Study Suite. Modified 2014, accessed Sept 2014. biblehub.com
Conrad-O'Braian, H. "Review of Ritual and the Rood, by Eamonn O'Carragain." Hermathena 185 (Winter 2008).
Esser, Carolin. Apocalyptic Ideas in Old English Literature. Modified 2000, accessed Sept 2014. www.apocalyptic-theories.com
Faulkner, Mark et al. "Dream of the Rood." Old English Literature: A Hypertext Course Pack. Modified Summer 2009, accessed Sept 2014. www.english.ox.ac.uk
Flood, John. "Aræred in The Dream of the Rood, and the Gospel of St. John." English Language Notes 36/4 (June 1999).
Godden, Malcom R. "Literary Language." The Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol. 1: The Beginnings to 1066. Edited by Richard M. Hogg. Cambridge: University Press, 1992: pp. 490–535.
Hermann, John P. "The Dream of the Rood, 19a: Earmra ærgewin." English Language Notes 15/4 (June 1978).
Hough, Carole. "The Dream of the Rood Line 31." American Notes and Queries 12/2 (1999).
Irvine, Susan. "Adam or Christ? A pronominal pun in The Dream of the Rood." Review of English Studies 48/192 (1997).
Jennings, Margaret. "Rood and Ruthwell: The power of paradox." English Language Notes (Mar 1994).
Maring, Heather. "Two Ships Crossing: Hybrid Poetics in The Dream of the Rood." English Studies 91/3 (May 2010).
Marsden, Richard. The Cambridge Old English Reader. Cambridge: University Press, 2004.
Mize, Britt. "The Mental Container and the Cross of Christ: Revelation and Community in The Dream of the Rood." Studies in Philology 107/2 (Spring 2010).
O'Carragain, Eamonn. "Crucifixion as annunciation: The relation of 'The Dream of the Rood' to the liturgy reconsidered." English Studies 63/6 (Dec 1982).
———. Ritual and the Rood: Liturgical Images and the Old English Poems of the Dream of the Rood Tradition. British Library Studies in Medieval Culture. Edited by Michelle P. Brown and Scot McKendrick. London: The British Library, 2005.
Rambaran-Olm, Mary. The Dream of the Rood: An Electronic Edition. Modified 16 Sept 2012, accessed Sept 2013. www.dreamofrood.co.uk
Samuels, Peggy. "The audience written into the script of The Dream of the Rood." Modern Language Quarterly 49/4 (1988).
Stanton, Robert. "Review of Ritual and the Rood, by Eamonn O'Carragain." Religion and the Arts 12 (2008).
Tichy, Ondrej et al. Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Modified 11 Nov 2013, accessed Sept 2014. www.bosworthtoller.com
Timmer, B. J. "Wyrd in Anglo-Saxon Prose and Poetry." Neophilologus 26 (1941).
Wheelock, Jeremy I. "The word made flesh: 'Engel dryhtnes' in the Dream of the Rood." English Language Notes 37/3 (Mar 2000).
Eamonn O'Carragain, "Crucifixion as annunciation: The relation of 'The Dream of the Rood' to the liturgy reconsidered." English Studies 63/6 (Dec 1982), p. 488. ↩︎
Peggy Samuels, "The audience written into the script of The Dream of the Rood." Modern Language Quarterly 49/4 (1988), p. 312. ↩︎
O'Carragain, "Crucifixion as annunciation," pp. 488–90. ↩︎
H. Conrad-O'Braian, review of Ritual and the Rood, by Eamonn O'Carragain. Hermathena 185 (Winter 2008), p. 168. ↩︎
O'Carragain, "Crucifixion as annunciation," pp. 488–90. ↩︎
Britt Mize wrote a 2010 study in which he reads the Dream as "a complex of ideas centering on the representation of the mind as a secure enclosure." Old English poetry often compares the mind to "a treasure chamber or strongbox holding valuables," therefore knowledge, understanding, and wisdom (in a word, sapientia) as valuables. Britt Mize, "The Mental Container and the Cross of Christ: Revelation and Community in The Dream of the Rood." Studies in Philology 107/2 (Spring 2010), pp. 136–7. While it was "morally permissible" to "obtain and hold" material or intellectual wealth, hoarding it to oneself was looked down on as rendering it "effectively useless." Poetic evidence shows that "both literal and sapiential treasure is most meaningful in its communal utility." Ibid., p. 147.
Mize offers the insight that Anglo-Saxon poets often portray dreams as "a metaphysical object ... that enters the individual mind and leaves some image or simulacrum" behind. This is "the memory of the dream," intended to be shared in this poem by the cross's command in line 95. Ibid., p. 139.
Hwæt me gemætte is commonly translated as "I dreamed." The more accurate "it dreamed to me" that Richard Marsden offers is awkward in practice. I translated it as "to appear" to preserve the impersonal dative construction and the flow. Richard Marsden, The Cambridge Old English Reader (Cambridge: University Press, 2004), p. 194. ↩︎
The vision's midnight arrival introduces an apocalyptic theme. Mary Rambaran-Olm notes that Insular Christians at this time believed the Judgement would start at midnight. Mary Rambaran-Olm, The Dream of the Rood: An Electronic Edition, modified 16 Sept 2012, accessed Sept 2014. www.dreamofrood.co.uk
For more information on apocalyptic themes in Old English literature more generally, please see Carolin Esser, Apocalyptic Ideas in Old English Literature, modified 2000, accessed Sept 2014. www.apocalyptic-theories.com ↩︎
Mark Faulkner and coauthors document the noun reordberend elsewhere in the Vercelli Book, always in a Christian context. They don't miss the symbolic significance of calling humans "voice-bearers" in a poem about a speaking cross. Mark Faulkner et al., "Dream of the Rood," Old English Literature: A Hypertext Course Pack, modified Summer 2009, accessed Sept 2014. www.english.ox.ac.uk
Jeremy Wheelock interprets the kenning a step further in his 2000 article on engel dryhtnes (line 9). He considers the mentioned phrase from a theological standpoint, to be addressed later. On reordberend, Wheelock suggests that the poet "prepar[es] us for the image of the Cross as reordberend" because the tree speaks soon. Furthermore, the cross carries Christ, also called the Word, and so literally bears a voice. This means the tree is capable of (the divine faculty) reason; it's identified with humans now, and later with Christ himself. Wheelock's consistent analysis is supported by a notable body of work that looks at how the poem's roles interact. Jeremy I. Wheelock, "The word made flesh: 'Engel dryhtnes' in The Dream of the Rood," English Language Notes 37/3 (Mar 2000), pp. 6–7. Please see Peggy Samuels, "The audience written into the script." ↩︎
One of Eamonn O'Carragain's accomplishments in Ritual and the Rood is his discovery that the Ruthwell Cross was meant to be read clockwise according to the sun. Robert Stanton praises O'Carragain's analysis of "the position and ordering of the runic vernacular" in this regard. Robert Stanton, review of Ritual and the Rood, by Eamonn O'Carragain, Religion and the Arts 12 (2008), p. 621.
This evidence depicts the conversion of Anglo-Saxons from the Celtic and Norse traditions to Christianity. H. Conrad-O'Braian describes solar feasts that "were subsumed into Christianity just as the wood of the cross ... subsumed something of the numen of the world tree." Early Roman missionaries had to use relatable symbols to entice Anglo-Saxons to convert, and as a result the two belief systems merged in a complex way. Conrad-O'Braian, review of Ritual and the Rood, p. 169. ↩︎
Mary Rambaran-Olm writes in her annotations that the gems over earth may symbolize "Constantine's vision of the cross extending to all four corners of the earth." The five gems may also symbolize Christ's wounds. Rambaran-Olm, An Electronic Edition, accessed Sept 2014. ↩︎
This is a paraphrase of Richard Marsden's translation, "All (those) fair by eternal decree beheld there the angel of the Lord." He explains that those deemed "fair by eternal decree" might refer to saints and angels that appear later in the poem, and that the "Lord's angel" could mean either Christ or the cross. Marsden, The Cambridge OER, p. 195.
Jeremy Wheelock devotes an article to the ecclesiastical meaning of this phrase to discover the identity of the angel. He builds on George Krapp's and Willem Helder's earlier work on the possibility that Christ is "Lord's angel." The matter in dispute is whether to emend to engel-dryhta and hinder some later discovery in the original. Emending is justified by the meter's aesthetics and another theological interpretation.
Wheelock identifies "at least nine" Old Testament angels that were actually an appearance of Christ. The references are in Genesis (3), Exodus (1), Joshua (1), Judges (3), and Daniel (1). Portrayals of Christ as an angel predate the Nicene Creed, which was adopted in 325. Identifying Christ variously with angels, lambs, shepherds, the Word, the Word made flesh, light, etc., is truly an ancient practice. Wheelock, "The word made flesh," pp. 2–3.
This knowledge bolsters Wheelock's assertion that Christ is dryhtnes engel. That motif was known to the Anglo-Saxons because it also appears in the popular Psalms. Presumably Bede knew the image as well from translating Genesis. Wheelock found that "at least six in [his] judgment" of the forty-eight illustrations of Genesis (Junius manuscript) invoke Christ's figure. Ibid., pp. 4–5. ↩︎
Margaret Jennings, writing on the Dream's inherent paradoxes, notes that "the instrument of defeat had become the instrument of victory." The essential paradox makes it unclear who was defeated and who was victorious. On the surface, it seems that Christ "lost" and the executioners "won." In a faithful understanding, God "won" and the sinners "lost." This is consistent with the poet's allusions to original sin and the final judgement, particularly in line 107 when God returns "to judge those who have doom's power." Sigebeam's meaning is not a matter of "winning" or "losing."
The paradox compares well with original sin. In each case, the players sought power they shouldn't have. Adam and Eve sought the knowledge of good and evil, introducing humanity to notions such as guilt, deceit, and compromise. The executioners presumably sought power over death, contradicting the Sixth Commandment; killing another is one of humanity's most persistent taboos. Both cases imply unwelcome attempts at higher power, with complex consequences. With a whiff of Norse cynicism, the poet invokes "the seemingly fundamental absurdity of divinity in humanity." Margaret Jennings, "Rood and Ruthwell: The power of paradox," English Language Notes (Mar 1994), pp. 7–8.
The mind was exalted in the Garden of Eden, the killing machine at Golgotha. Describing the shifting relationships among the Dream's characters relative to human history, John Hermann links "psychic warfare outside human time" with a struggle that "continues through history as well, taking place primarily in the soul of man." This dichotomy provides an analytic base for understanding paradoxes in the characters' relationships also. John P. Hermann, "The Dream of the Rood, 19a: Earmra ærgewin," English Language Notes 15/4 (June 1978), p. 243. ↩︎
Richard Marsden notes that fah means both "stained" and "decorated." Marsden, The Cambridge OER, p. 195. Peggy Samuels takes fah as evidence for an intensified contrast between the sinners and the tree because it also connotes "outlaw." Samuels, "The audience written into the script," p. 314. ↩︎
This half-line is from Marsden, who suggests that the "garments" are the gold and gems that adorn the cross. The comma placement is somewhat important in line 15. Removing the caesura's comma confirms Marsden's assertion that the gems are the garment. Removing the comma at the end suggests that the garment is golden. Keeping both commas introduces ambiguity. This also applies in translation. Marsden, The Cambridge OER, p. 195. ↩︎
The noun gewin has a fantastic range of meanings. Bosworth-Toller lists agony, battle, conflict, contention, contest, dispute, (mental) distress, gain, labor, painful/strenuous effort, profit, sorrow, struggle, toil, trouble, tumult, and war (among others) as possible translations in two separate entries. Please see Bosworth-Toller, www.bosworthtoller.com and www.bosworthtoller.com. ↩︎
Bosworth-Toller defines fæger as "fair, beautiful ... sweet," offering the translation, "I was terrified at the beautiful sight." This is more appropriate for the poem's earlier description of jewels over the earth. In the context of the Crucifixion, fæger seems to convey not beauty, but rather macabre attraction to public execution. Please see Bosworth-Toller, www.bosworthtoller.com. ↩︎
It's reasonable to assume that the cross speaks of many events at once. Writing on lines 28–34, Eamonn O'Carragain identifies Christ with the cross because "both suffer without guilt: both stand in contrast to humankind, who deserved their exile from Paradise." He compares the "despised and abject" cross to Christ in Isaiah 53. Christ is in turn compared to a seedling in Isaiah. Eamonn O'Carragain, Ritual and the Rood: Liturgical Images and the Old English Poems of the Dream of the Rood Tradition (London: The British Library, 2005), p. 314. Please see Bible Hub, biblehub.com.
It's useful to focus on human actions to interpret lines 28–34. This passage describes making the cross from a tree, to be discussed later. If we accept O'Carragain's biblical placement as appropriate, the Monday–Wednesday of Holy Week are an excellent time to reflect on evil intentions. These days are associated in the Gospel with the events around the Last Supper. John 13:21–38 foretells Judas's betrayal and Peter's denials, and Matthew 26:14–25 describes how Judas worked out payment with the high priests. Please see Bible Hub, biblehub.com and biblehub.com. ↩︎
Carol Hough wrote a short piece on line 31. Interpretations are split among Michael Swanton's opinion that wæfersyne refers to the spectacle of the erected cross, Alvin Lee's that it refers to the felled tree, and Bruce Dickins and Alan Ross's opinion that it's spectacular "when it was used for crucifying." Hough herself finds the spectacle in the "cruelly fashioned Cross."
Hough's interpretation is certainly well placed. The images in lines 30b–31 proceeds like tableaux: (1)"strong enemies" cutting down the tree; (2) the debated passage, when they must actually make the cross; and (3a) executing the accused or simply (3b) erecting the cross in preparation. Carole Hough, "The Dream of the Rood Line 31," American Notes and Queries 12/2 (1999), pp. 3–4.
Her analysis is supported by Peggy Samuels, who suggests that wæfersyne is when the tree becomes a cross. Samuels, "The audience written into the script," p. 314. This is a paraphrase of Richard Marsden's translation, "They made me there into a spectacle for themselves." Marsden, The Cambridge OER, p. 195. ↩︎
Hough states that line 31b allows for two interpretations, and she offers two possible translations: (1) "they commanded me to raise up their criminals," or (2) "they command ed their criminals to raise me up." My preference tends toward the first interpretation. This preserves the ambiguity of the third "tableau" above (erecting cross or crucifying).
Also, it's worth noting that the verbs in this section are exceptionally violent and forceful, for example "they seized me" and "they commanded me." Hough writes that line 31 is "structured around the violence and constraint" the cross withstands as a "surrogate for the suffering body of Christ." Hough, "Line 31," pp. 3–4.
Malcom Godden substantiates Hough's reading. He characterizes the poet as one who rejects Old English conventions about the "low status of verbs" and instead writes a poem where "verbs of intense action dominate." This is also relevant to the dreamer's prayer in line 122. Praying for fortitude to emulate Christ, he conflates God and the cross. Malcom R. Godden, "Literary Language," The Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol. 1: The Beginnings to 1066, edited by Richard M. Hogg (Cambridge: University Press, 1992), p. 501. ↩︎
Susan Irvine examined the Dream poet's wordplay and how he identified Christ with Adam in a 1997 essay. She identifies a series of puns on the verb "to fall" running through the poem's subtext in reference to original sin. In lines 37–8, the tree speaks of its desire to slay it enemies; lines 42–3 use it literally; at the poem's apex in lines 55–6, it's used to describe Christ's death; and lines 73–4 describe taking down the crosses after the Crucifixion. Susan Irvine, "Adam or Christ? A pronominal pun in The Dream of the Rood," Review of English Studies 48/192 (1997), pp. 443–4. ↩︎
John Flood has a short piece on aræred, the argument of which rests on its meaning as "to raise, advance, promote to a higher rank/position, exalt in dignity and power." In this reading, the cross foretells its status after the Crucifixion here. John Flood, "Aræred in The Dream of the Rood, and the Gospel of St. John," English Language Notes 36/4 (June 1999), p. 1.
Irvine notes that the Rood isn't named until line 44 and Christ until line 56. She suggests that first-person riddles in Old English influenced the Dream poet, who was a master at using "riddling ambiguity." Irvine, "Adam or Christ?," pp. 446–7. ↩︎
Bosworth-Toller defines inwid as "fraud, guile, deceit, evil, wickedness." This suggests psychological wounds in addition to the obvious physical ones, as acts of inwid require a conscience. Please see Bosworth-Toller, www.bosworthtoller.com. ↩︎
Mark Faulkner and colleagues discuss standan steame bedrifenne at length and note the ambiguity between air and moisture in steame. This cognate is an excellent word to consider how the Anglo-Saxons expressed intangible substances in word and thought. What is steam? It usually refers to hot vapor such as breath, but this line clearly refers to the Crucifixion blood, elsewhere described with words like "soaked" and "drenched." The authors discern a magnificent image of the cross that "stands surrounded by the vapour rising from the hot blood with which it is soaked." My translation aims to convey that image. Faulkner et al., "Dream of the Rood," accessed Sept 2014. ↩︎
This translation is from Marsden, The Cambridge OER, p. 198. ↩︎
Marsden considers three scenarios for this phrase: either it is a litotes and Christ is alone, or it refers to the three Marys, or to the guards. The phrase repeats in line 124, "where the solitariness of the dreamer does seem to be implied." Marsden finds evidence for a "litotes" interpretation, where "the individual Christian [is] alone 'except' for God."
Taking the "guards" interpretation figuratively as well, the tomb may be guarded by "those of little faith." This is not likely for the "three Marys" interpretation, in which case the phrase makes sense literally. I've omitted an indefinite article to not commit to a single interpretation. Ibid., p. 198. ↩︎
This refers to the three crosses on Golgotha. ↩︎
Wyrd has many meanings such as "fate, fortune," or simply "an event." Its less mundane meanings carry connotations of transformation. Compare with the German verb werden, meaning "to become." B. J. Timmer, "Wyrd in Anglo-Saxon Prose and Poetry," Neophilologus 26 (1941), pp. 213–28. ↩︎
Richard Marsden notes the allusion to Constantine's mother St. Helena, who "invented" or "discovered" the true cross and has a story in the Vercelli Book, Elene. There are probably also a couple words missing from the manuscript as many scholars have already noted. In any case, the ambiguity between "invention" and "discovery" is well worth further study for understanding early English civilization. Marsden, The Cambridge OER, p. 199. ↩︎
Eamonn O'Carragain compares lines 78–89 with Mary's song of praise in Luke 1:46–55. He claims that the Dream poet offers an original version of the Magnificat. The poem and the canticle both celebrate history "as a series of paradoxes, each of which subverts the expected." John Hermann's words on the historical struggle outside time reinforce this reading. The explicit connection between Mary and the cross invokes a medieval belief that the Annunciation and the Crucifixion both happened on 25 March. This is also the spring equinox in the Julian calendar (Christmas Day is the winter solstice). This has implications for reading the poem's Norse sun-worship in an early Christian setting, addressed elsewhere.
The two speeches are certainly similar. Both start with their sorrow as the reason for their exaltation, then describe the divine power to shift fortunes. Comparing Mary and the cross might do better to highlight the two characters' differences. Mary's words place little emphasis on her own suffering and focus on the power of God instead: "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed... His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the power from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly." Please see Bible Hub, biblehub.com.
The cross speaks more directly of its own suffering and its own power. Mary sings of "the lowly" and "the hungry," but the cross talks of its shared experience with Christ during the Crucifixion. It also speaks bolder of its own reverence; the cross now "towers glorious under the heavens," whereas Mary is simply self-assured. The unresolvable paradox behind this passage and Margaret Jennings's paradoxes is that we must suffer before paradise. O'Carragain, Ritual and the Rood, pp. 309–10. ↩︎
O'Carragain offers two translations for lines 79–80a: (1) "I have endured the work of evil creatures, bitter sorrows"; and (2) I, the work of evil creatures, have endured bi tter sorrows." The difference is important because both are plausible. The first translation is more general, and the "work of evil creatures" could be any number of sins, but it obviously refers to the Crucifixion. The second translation would support Carole Hough's reading of line 31, that crafting the cross from a tree is in itself a significant action. Ibid., p. 309. Also, it's unclear whether sar refers to suffering of mind or body. Please see Bosworth-Toller, www.bosworthtoller.com. ↩︎
Line 82 repeats in line 12. In the earlier instance, the cross is about to describe how it was hewn, one of the poem's most violent passages. This instance occurs right before the cross describes how it became exalted as it recalls the earlier violence.
Line 82 also precedes a transformation in the dreamer when the cross issues its command to spread the story. Like ripples, the Dream's characters change from listener to storyteller over the normal course of the poem. O'Carragain describes the poem's base dynamic as a "series of transformations from passivity to activity, from fear to heroic action." Storytelling is an essential function to complete the Dream's many transformations. O'Carragain, "Crucifixion as annunciation," p. 501. ↩︎
Mark Faulkner and colleagues discuss the unique word holmwudu, commonly emended to holtwudu, in great detail. They consider Michael J. Swanton's idea that holm carries its Old Saxon meaning of "hill." This implies that "the 'risen' Cross is exalted above its earlier existence as the gallows," which makes sense at the apex of iconography. In line 86, either the tree's voice becomes divine or the other way around. Faulkner et al., "Dream of the Rood," accessed Sept 2014.
Some take holm to mean "water," suggesting that it refers to a ship. Heather Maring argues against emendation because holmwudu represents an "ongoing characterization of the Holy Cross as a sea vessel" earlier and later in the poem. She cites Carl Berkhout on the navis crucis topos, who wrote about the metaphor of the cross "as a ship or the mast of a ship that guides Christian believers to salvation." Heather Maring, "Two Ships Crossing: Hybrid Poetics in The Dream of the Rood," English Studies 91/3 (May 2010), pp. 241–2. Faulkner and coauthors note that the next lines exalting Mary "above all women" and decide that their comparison suggests "a less specific meaning." Faulkner et al., "Dream of the Rood," accessed Sept 2014. ↩︎
Eamonn O'Carragain states that the poem "clearly identifies the Cross with Mary." He reads Christ's courage as a renunciation of divine nature. O'Carragain compares the Dream's tone with that of Philippians 2:5–11, a Lenten epistle: "Though he was in the form of God, [Christ] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness." This is consistent with both the judgement of "those who have doom's power" in line 107 and the reference to original sin in line 100. O'Carragain, Ritual and the Rood, p. 308. Please see Bible Hub, biblehub.com.
Faulkner et al. substantiate an earlier interpretation comparing Mary and the cross. It's "very appropriate" because the poem stresses "the function of the cross as intercessor and intermediary." Faulkner et al., "Dream of the Rood," accessed Sept 2014. ↩︎
The cross addresses the audience directly in lines 78 and 95. The first time, it sums up what it endured to become an exalted thing. The second time, it beseeches the audience to spread the story wide before describing the Judgement. Eamonn O'Carragain identifies a common theme in the transformation of the cross: "no longer a threat, it has become a patron for mankind." This transformation is apparent in a different way each time. First the cross justifies its exalted status, then it asserts authority over a matter of divine importance (Revelations) to command and instruct. O'Carragain, Ritual and the Rood, p. 309. ↩︎
Susan Irvine writes about the pun on byrigde in a thorough analysis. It means "tasted" or "buried," and each meaning has its own wordplay. The conventional meaning "tasted" also refers to the feast described in line 141 that completes the image introduced in line 101. The alternate meaning "buried" refers to Christ's triumph over death. There's an established "typological link" between the Garden of Eden's trees and the cross to which the Dream poet alludes "in a subtle and allusive way." Irvine, "Adam or Christ?," pp. 438–40. ↩︎
Richard Marsden best expresses the ambiguity between unforht and anforht in a footnote. Both manuscript instances are the same, but the second is emended to make an "instructive pun." One can not be afraid of the Word, and anyone who heeds it doesn't need to worry over their future. Marsden, The Cambridge OER, p. 201. ↩︎
"With glad heart" is another, more colloquial translation. In this last section the dreamer describes his own interpretation of the events to the audience. ↩︎
Unlike in line 69, the dreamer is "actually" alone in prayer. The possibility still exists that the Anglo-Saxons saw prayer as a communal or "family" activity around the eighth century. ↩︎
Mundbyrd was an essential concept of Anglo-Saxon law. It describes a state of being when one can expect personal security under the protection of a guiding authority. These included "the king, the church, a lord, or even (if you were his employee) a simple freeman." It translates literally to protection- or guardian-burden, referring to the actual fine in money. Marsden, The Cambridge OER, p. 45.
Mark Faulkner and coauthors note that this legal language might "define the relationship of client and patron between dreamer and cross." This would exalt the cross as if the cross itself afforded divine protection. Faulkner et al., "Dream of the Rood," accessed Sept 2014. ↩︎