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Medieval Sourcebook:

The Dream of the Rood, 8th Century
from Vercelli Book 10th Century


[Introduction] The Dream of the Rood is one of the Christian poems in the corpus of Old English literature and an example of the genre of dream poetry. Like most Old English poetry, it is written in alliterative verse. Rood is from the Old English word rōd 'pole', or more specifically 'crucifix'. Preserved in the 10th-century Vercelli Book, the poem may be as old as the 8th-century Ruthwell Cross, and is considered one of the oldest works of Old English literature. [from Wikipedia]

Hark! of a matchless vision would I speak,
Which once I dreamed at midnight, when mankind
At rest were dwelling. Then methought I saw
A wondrous cross extending up on high,
With light encircled, tree of trees most bright.
That beacon all was overlaid with gold;
And near the earth stood precious stones ablaze,
While five more sparkled on the shoulder-beam.
Gazing on it were angels of the Lord,
From their first being's dawn all beautiful.
No cross was that of wickedness and shame,
But holy spirits, men on earth, and all
The glorious creation on it gazed.

Sublime the tree victorious; while I,
Stained with iniquity, was galled with sins.
There, clothed as with a garment, I beheld
That tree of glory shining joyfully,
Adorned with gold, enriched with precious stones,
Which covered worthily the Ruler's cross.
However, through the gold I could perceive
That wretched ones had battled there of old;
For on the right side once it had been bleeding.
Then all my spirit was with sorrow stirred;
Fearful was I before that radiant sight.
There I beheld that beacon, quick to change,
Alter in vesture and in coloring;
Now clewed with moisture, soiled with streaming blood,
And now with gold and glittering gems adorned.

A long time lying there I sadly looked
Upon the Savior's cross, until I heard
Resounding thence a voice. That wood divine
Then spake these words:
..... "It was long, long agoyet
I recall-when, at the forest's edge,
I was hewn down, and from my stem removed.
Resistless were the foes that seized me there,
They fashioned for themselves a spectacle,
Commanded me to bear their criminals;
And on men's shoulders carried me away
Until they set me down upon a hill,
And stayed me fast; mine enemies indeed!

"Then I beheld the Master of mankind
Approach with lordly courage as if he
Would mount upon me, and I dared not bow
Nor break, opposing the command of God,
Although I saw earth tremble; all my foes
I might have beaten down, yet I stood fast.

"Then the young Hero laid his garments by,
He that was God almighty, strong and brave;
And boldly in the sight of all he mounted
The lofty cross, for he would free mankind.
Then, as the Man divine clasped me, I shook;
Yet dared I not bow to the earth nor fall
Upon the ground, but I must needs stand fast.

"A cross upraised, I lifted a great King,
Lifted the Lord of heaven; and dared not bow.

"They pierced me with dark nails, and visible
Upon me still are scars, wide wounds of malice,
Yet might I injure none among them all.
They mocked us both together; then was I
All wet with blood, which streamed from this Man's side
When he at length had breathed his spirit out.

"Many a vile deed I suffered on that mount;
The God of hosts I saw harshly outstretched,
And darkness hid the body of the King,
With clouds enshrouded its effulgent light;
Forth went a shadow, black beneath the clouds;
And all creation wept, lamented long-
Their King had fallen, Christ was on the cross.

"Yet eagerly some hastened from afar
To him who was their Prince; all this I saw.
Ah, then with sorrow was I deeply stirred;
Yet to the hand of men I bowed me down,
Humbly, with ardent zeal. They took him then,
Lifted from his dire pain almighty God.
The warriors left me standing, swathed in blood,
And with sharp arrows wounded sore was I.
Him they laid gently down, weary of limb,
And stood beside his body at the head,
Gazing upon the Lord of heaven; while he
Rested a while, with his great labor spent.
Then in the slayers' sight men there began
To build a sepulcher, from marble hewn;
And laid therein the Lord of victories.
A song of sorrow then for him they sang,
The desolate at eventide, when they,
O'erwearied, would depart from their great King.
And so companionless he rested.
"We,
After the warriors' cry uprose, yet stood
A long while there, on our foundations dripping.
The corpse, fair dwelling of the soul, grew cold.

"Then one began to fell us to the earthA
fearful fate! and in the entombing mold
Deep buried us. Yet, undismayed, for me
The friends and followers of the Lord made searchAnd
when from out the earth they lifted me,
With silver they adorned me, and with gold.

"Now mayest thou know, 0 hero mine, beloved!
Unutterable sorrows I endured,
Base felons' work. But now hath come the time
When, far and wide, men on the earth, and all
The glorious universe doth honor me,
And to this beacon bow themselves in prayer.
On me a while suffered the Son of God;
Therefore now full of majesty I tower
High under heaven; and I have power to heal
All those who do me reverence.
"Of old
Was I a punishment, the cruelest,
The most abhorred by men, ere I for man
Had opened the true way of life. Lo, then
The Prince of glory, Guardian of heaven,
Above all other trees exalted me,
As he, almighty God, in sight of men
His mother honored, blessed among women,
Mary herself.
"Now, hero mine, beloved,
I bid thee tell this vision unto men,
Reveal with words that 'tis the glory-tree
On which almighty God suffered for sin,
The many sins of man, and Adam's deeds
Done long ago. There once he tasted death;
But afterwards the Lord from death arose
By his own mighty power, a help for men.
To heaven he then ascended, whence shall come
Once more upon the earth to seek mankind
At the last judgment day, the Lord himself,
Almighty God, surrounded by his angels.
And there shall he, who hath the power of doom,
Adjudge to everyone the just reward
Which he on earth, in this short life, hath earned.
Then unabashed and bold can no one be
Before the word which he, the Ruler, speaks:
'Where is the man,' he asks the multitude,
'Who for the Lord would taste of bitter death
As he himself once did upon the cross?'
Then are they fearful, little can devise
What they shall say to Christ. But need is none
That any at that time should be afraid
Who beareth in his heart this sacred sign;
For through the cross alone must every soul
Seek out the kingdom from the earthly way,
Who hopes hereafter with the King to dwell."

Happy in mind I prayed then to the rood
With great devotion, where I was alone
Without companionship; my soul within
Was quickened to depart, so many years
Of utter weariness had I delayed.
And now my life's great happiness is this,
That to the cross victorious I may come
Alone, above the wont of other men,
To worship worthily. Desire for this
Is great within my heart, and all my help
Must reach me from the rood. Of powerful friends
Not many do I own on earth, for hence
Have they departed, from the world's delights;
They followed after him, their glorious King,
And with the Father now in heaven they live,
Dwelling in bliss. Each day I longing ask:
"When will the cross of Christ, which formerly
I here on earth beheld, call me away
From this my transient life, and bring me hence
To all delight, the joyous harmonies
Of heaven, where sit at feast the folk of God,
And gladness knows no end-so placing me
Where with the saints in glory I may dwell,
Enjoying greatly their glad minstrelsy?"
Be gracious unto me, O Lord, who once
For sins of men suffered upon the cross.
He freed us, gave us life, and home in heaven.

Hope was restored with blessedness and joy
To those who had erewhile endured the fire.
Triumphant in this journey was the Son,
Mighty and prosperous, when he advanced
Into God's kingdom with a multitude,
A host of souls; when to his angels came
The almighty Master for their joy, to those
The holy ones in heaven, who from the first
Had dwelt in glory; when their Ruler came,
Almighty God, into his fatherland.

[Trans. LaMotte Iddings]


Source. Translation from from A. S. Cook and C. B. Tinker.Select Translations from Old' English Poetry. Boston: Ginn and Co. 1902, pp. 93-99.


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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