The Dream of the Rood

The Dream of the Rood
Do you recognize the language below? German?  Dutch?  Would you believe me if  I told you the text below is written in English? Old English to be precise, as differentiated from Middle English or Early Modern English.  If you're wondering, linguistically, we speak Late Modern English.

The lines below come from an Old English poem titled, "The Dream of the Rood" by an unknown author in the eighth century (circa 700-800 AD).  The poem tells the story of the crucifixion from the point of view of the cross itself.  The word Rood means crucifix or cross of Christ.

Hwæt, iċ swefna cyst     secgan wylle,
  hwæt mē ġemǣtte     tō midre nihte
  syðþan reordberend     reste wunedon.
  Þūhte mē þæt iċ ġesāwe     syllicre trēow
5 on lyft lǣdan,     lēohte bewunden,
  bēama beorhtost.     Eall þæt bēacen wæs
  begoten mid golde;     ġimmas stōdon
  fæġere æt foldan scēatum;     swylċe þǣr fīfe wǣron


Here are a few lines of the poem translated by Richard Hammer (1970). What is the attitude of the Rood or Cross?  What is the Cross's attitude toward Christ?

From “The Dream of the Rood”
The earliest Christian poem in English

The Rood (cross of Christ) speaks:

“It was long past – I still remember it –
That I was cut down at the copse’s end,
Moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me,
Told me to hold aloft their criminals,
Made me a spectacle. Men carried me
Upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
A host of enemies there fastened me.

“And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
Hasten with eager zeal that He might mount
Upon me. I durst not against God’s word
Bend down or break, when I saw tremble all
The surface of the earth. Although I might
Have struck down all the foes, yet stood I fast.

“Then the young hero (who was God almighty)
Got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
Bold in the sight of many watching men,
When He intended to redeem mankind.
I trembled as the warrior embraced me.
But still I dared not bend down to the earth,
Fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand.

“A rood I was raised up; and I held high
The noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails;
The scars can still be clearly seen on me,

The open wounds of malice. Yet might I
Not harm them. They reviled us both together.
I was made wet all over with the blood
Which poured out from his side, after He had
Sent forth His spirit. And I underwent
Full many a dire experience on that hill.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler’s corpse with clouds
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. All creation wept,
Bewailed the King’s death; Christ was on the cross….

“Now you may understand, dear warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
That far and wide on earth men honor me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offers prayers. On me
The Son of God once suffered; therefore now
I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
Most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.”




If you would like to hear the poem read in Old English, click the link below. 

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