Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Dream of the Rood

CHRIST THE WARRIOR is the theme of the early Anglo-Saxon poem “The Dream of the Rood,” told from the point of view of the Holy Rood — or Cross — itself.

In a dream, a man beholds a vision of the Cross in glory, bejeweled and gilded, yet stained with blood and sweat; this Rood tells its tale of its part in the Crucifixion:
...Ongan þā word sprecan wudu sēlesta:
‘Þæt wæs gēara_iū, (ic þæt gyta geman),
þæt ic wæs āhēawen holtes on ende,
āstyred of stefne mīnum. Genāman mē ðær strange fēondas,
geworhton him þær tō wæfersyne, hēton mē heora wergas hebban.
Bæron mē þær beornas on eaxlum, oððæt hīe mē on beorg āsetton,
gefæstnodon mē þær fēondas genōge. Geseah ic þā frean mancynnes
efstan elne micle, þæt hē mē wolde on gestīgan....

...The most excellent tree then began to speak the words:
It was years ago (that, I still remember),
that I was cut down from the edge of the forest,
removed from my foundation. Strong enemies seized me there,
they made me into a spectacle for themselves, commanded me to lift up their criminals.
Men carried me there on their shoulders, until they set me on a hill,
many enemies secured me there. Then I saw mankind’s Lord
hasten with great zeal, that he wished to climb upon me.
Christ, in some catechesis, is portrayed weak — but not so, especially here! He is heroic, embracing the suffering of the Cross in fulfillment of His Father’s will. Christ is Lord, and here is appropriately portrayed as a noble warrior lord and king, while the Rood is His loyal subject, making its last stand against Christ's enemies.
There, I did not dare break to pieces or bow down
against the Lord’s words, when I saw the surface
of the earth tremble. I was able to destroy
all the enemies, nevertheless, I stood firmly.

The young hero stripped himself then (that was God Almighty),
strong and resolute. He ascended onto the high gallows,
brave in the sight of many, there, since he wished to release mankind.

I trembled when the man embraced me. However, I dared not bow down to the earth,
fall to the surface of the earth, but I had to stand fast.

I was raised as a cross. I lifted up the mighty king,
the lord of the heavens; I dared not bend down.

They pierced me with dark nails. On me, the scars are visible,
open malicious wounds. I did not dare injure any of them.

They mocked both of us, together. I was all drenched with blood,
covered from the man’s side, after he had sent forth his spirit....
An odd thing of this poem — at least to modern ears — is the personification of the Rood:
...The time is now come
that men over the earth and all this illustrious creation
far and wide honour me,
they pray to this sign. On me, God’s son
suffered a time. Therefore, now I rise up
glorious under the heavens, and I am able to heal
each one of those who hold me in awe.

Formerly, I was the most fierce of torments,
most hateful to people, before I opened the right
path of life to them, the speech-bearers.

Lo, the prince of glory, the guardian of the kingdom of the heavens,
honoured me over all the trees of the forest!

Just as he, Almighty God, before all men,
honoured his mother also, Mary herself,
over all womankind...
However, even in sacred Scripture we find trees and other inanimate objects praising the Lord: see Psalm 148, Isaiah 44:23, Isaiah 55:12, and the Canticle of the Three Children in Daniel.

This, indeed, is a good poem for the Church Militant:
...Now I command you, my beloved warrior,
that you tell this vision to men,
reveal in words that it is the tree of glory,
on which Almighty God suffered
for mankind’s many sins
and Adam’s deeds of old,
He tasted death there. However, the Lord arose again
to help men with his great power....
The full text of the poem, along with a scholarly analysis, can be found at this website:

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