Dream of the Rood

 

Caedmon’s Holy Rood: A Dream 

(the two evangelists, and john the baptist with the angus dei)

What I wish to say of the best of dreams,

what came to me in the middle of the night

after the speech-bearers abode at rest! (1-3)

It seemed to me that I saw the greatest tree

conducted to the sky, bewound in light,

the brightest of beams.

That beacon was entirely adorned with gold.

Gemstones stood fairly at the corners of the earth—

likewise there were five upon the span of its shoulders.

All the angels of the Lord

held it there, beautifully through its creation.

( the archer, and the visitation)

 

Indeed, nor was it the gallows of the wicked there,

yet there they held it there, the holy spirits

for men across the earth, and all this noted creation. (4-12)

Excellent was this tree of victory, and I was splattered with sins—

wounded throughout with faults. I saw this tree of glory,

well-worthied in its dressing, shining in delights,

geared with gold. The gemstones had

clothed honorably the Sovereign’s tree.

Nevertheless I could perceive through all that gold

the wretched and ancient struggle, so that it first began

to sweat blood on its right side. I was entirely disturbed with my sorrows—

I was fearful for that lovely sight. Then I saw that eager beacon

alter its appearance and hue: at times it was steamy with bloody wet,

stained with the course of gore; at other times it was sparkling with treasure. (13-23)

(the annunciation and the crucifixion)

 

Yet I, lying there for a long while,

beheld sorrow-caring the tree of the Savior

until I heard it speak.

Then the best of wood said in words: (24-27)

 

“It happened long ago—I remember it still—

I was hewn down at the holt’s end

stirred from my dreaming.

Strong foes seized me there,

worked me into spectacular form,

ordered me to heave up their criminals.

Those warriors bore me on the shoulders,

until they set me down upon a mountain.

Enemies enough fastened me there.

I saw then the Lord of Mankind

hasten with much courage,

willing to mount up upon me. (28-34)

 

 

(tendril, birds and vines)

 

“There I did not dare beyond the Lord’s word

to bow or burst apart—then I saw the corners of the earth

tremor—I could have felled all those foemen,

nevertheless I stood fast. (35-38)

“The young warrior stripped himself then—

that was God Almighty—strong and resolute—

he climbed up onto the high gallows,

mindful in the sight of many,

when he wished to redeem mankind.

I quaked when the warrior embraced me—

yet I dared not bow down to the ground,

fall down to earthly regions,

but I must stand there firm.

The rood was reared. I heaved the mighty king,

the Lord of Heaven—I did not dare to lean. (39-45)

(scriptorial motifs)

 

“They pierced me with dark nails.

On me the wounds were easy to see,

treacherous strokes gaping wide.

I dared injure none of them.

They shamed us both together.

I was besplattered with blood,

sprayed out from the man’s side,

after he had sent forth his soul. (46-49)

 

(breaking bread in the desert with st anthony)

 

“Many vicious events have I experienced on that hill—

I saw the God of Hosts severely stretched out.

Darkness had covered over with clouds

the corpse of the Sovereign, shadows oppressed

the brightest splendor, black under stormclouds.

All of creation wept, mourning the king’s fall—

Christ was upon the cross. (50-56)

“However people came hurrying from afar

there to that noble man.

I saw it all.

I was sorely pained with sorrows—

yet I bowed down

to the hands of those men,

humble-minded with much courage.

They took up there Almighty God,

lifting up him up

from that ponderous torment.

Those war-men left me

to stand, dripping with blood—

I was entirely wounded with arrows.

They laid down the limb-weary there,

standing at the head of his corpse,

beholding there the Lord of Heaven,

and he rested there awhile,

exhausted after those mighty tortures. (57-65a)

 

(Christ glorified)

 

“Then they wrought him an earthen hall,

the warriors within sight of his killer.

They carved it from the brightest stone,

setting therein the Wielder of Victories.

Then they began to sing a mournful song,

miserable in the eventide,

when they wished to venture forth,

weary, from the famous Prince.

He rested there with a meager host. (65b-69)

“However, we, weeping there,

stood a good while in that place,

after the voices of war-men had departed.

The corpse cooled,

the fair hall of the spirit.

Then someone felled us both,

entirely to the earth.

That was a terrifying event!

Someone buried us in a deep pit.

Nevertheless, allies,

thanes of the Lord, found me there

and wrapped me up in gold and in silver. (70-77)

(parables)

 

“Now you could hear, my dear man,

that I have experienced the deeds of the bale-dwelling,

of painful sorrows. Now the time has come

that men across the earth, broad and wide,

and all this famous creation worthy me,

praying to this beacon. On me, the Child of God

suffered awhile. Therefore I, triumphant

now tower under the heavens, able to heal

any one of them, those who stand in terror of me.

Long ago I was made into the hardest of torments,

most hateful to men, until I made roomy

the righteous way of life for them,

for those bearing speech. Listen—

the Lord of Glory honored me then

over all forested trees, the Warden of Heaven’s Realm!

Likewise Almighty God exalted his own mother,

Mary herself, before all humanity,

over all the kindred of women. (78-94)

“Now I bid you, my dear man,

to speak of this vision to all men

unwrap it word fully, that it is the Tree of Glory,

that the Almighty God suffered upon

for the sake of the manifold sins of mankind,

and the ancient deeds of Adam.

Death he tasted there, yet the Lord arose

amid his mighty power, as a help to men.

Then he mounted up into heaven. Hither he will come again,

into this middle-earth, seeking mankind

on the Day of Doom, the Lord himself,

Almighty God, and his angels with him,

wishing to judge them then—he that owns the right to judge

every one of them—upon these deserts

as they have earned previously here in this life. (95-109)

( decorative motifs)

 

“Nor can any remain unafraid there

before that word that the Wielder will speak.

He will ask before the multitude where that man may be,

who for the name of the Lord wished to taste

the bitterness of death, as he did before on the Cross.

Yet they will fear him then, and few will think

what they should begin to say unto Christ.

There will be no need to be afraid there at that moment

for those who already bear in their breast the best of signs,

yet every soul ought to seek through the Rood

the holy realm from the ways of earth—

those who intend to dwell with their Sovereign.” (110-21)

I prayed to that tree with a blissful heart,

great courage, where I was alone,

with a meager host. My heart’s close was

eager for the forth-way, suffering many

moments of longing. Now my hope for life

is that I am allowed to seek that victorious tree,

more often lonely than all other men,

to worthy it well. The desire to do so

is strong in my heart, and my guardian

is righteous in the Rood. I am not wealthy

with many friends on this earth,

yet they departed from here from the joys of the world,

seeking the King of Glory—now they live

in heaven with the High-Father, dwelling in magnificence,

and I hope for myself upon each and every day

for that moment when the Rood of the Lord,

that I espied here upon the earth,

shall ferry me from this loaned life

and bring me then where there is great bliss,

joys in heaven, where there are the people of the Lord,

seated at the feast, where there is everlasting happiness

and seat me where I will be allowed afterwards

to dwell in glory, brooking joys well amid the sainted.

May the Lord be my friend, who suffered before

here on earth, on the gallows-tree for the sins of man. (122-46)

He redeemed us and gave us life,

a heavenly home. Hope was renewed

with buds and with bliss for those suffered the burning.

The Son was victory-fast upon his journey,

powerful and able, when he came with his multitudes,

the army of souls, into the realm of God,

the Almighty Ruler, as a bliss for the angels

and all of the holy, those who dwelt in glory

before in heaven, when their Sovereign came home,

Almighty God, where his homeland was. (147-56)

 

…………………………..

The Ruthwell Cross

An 8th century Northumbrian runic cross is now embraced within a small chapel in Ruthwell parish, Dumfries. This marvellous structure is a testament to resilience and enduring appreciation for all things antiquarian. Decimated in the 17th century, it was beautifully restored in the 19th century.  A visual masterpiece raised almost to its former glory, it stands over 7 metres tall. Bas-reliefs, sculpt its four sides, interspaced with Latin and Runic inscriptions, the latter bears a section of the above poem ‘The Dream of the Rood.’ [The Lay of the Rood’] lines 35-77, highlighted in the above text in charcoal grey.

An alternative translation renders the runes as follows:

 

GIRDED HIM THEN, GOD ALMIGHTY

WHEN HE WOULD STEP ON THE GALLOWS

FORE ALL MANKIND, MINDFAST, FEARLESS,

BOW ME DURST I NOT.

ROOD WAS I REARED NOW, RICH KING HEAVING

THE LORD OF LIGHT REALMS: LEAN ME I DURST NOT.

US BOTH THEY BASELY MOCKED AND HANDLED,

WAS I THERE WITH BLOOD BEDABBLED,

GUSHING GRIEVOUS FROM HIS DEAR SIDE,

WHEN HIS GHOST HE HAD UPRENDERED.

CHRIST WAS ON ROOD TREE, BUT FAST FROM AFAR,

HIS FRIENDS HURRIED AID THEIR ATHELING (PRINCE).

EVERYTHING I SAW.

SORELY WAS I WITH SORROWS HARROWED.

With shafts was I all wounded

How on that hill have I throwed dole the direst,

For days, viewed I hanging the god of Hosts,

Gloomy and swarthy clouds had covered

Had covered the corse of the Waldend,

O’er the sheer shine-path, shadows fell heavy,

Wan neath the welkin. Wept all creation,

Wail’d the fall of their king!

Yet humbly I inclined

To the hands of his servants,

Striving with might to aid him.

With streals was I all wounded.

Down they laid him limb-weary,

O’er his life-less head then stood they

Heavily gazing at heaven’s chieftain.

 

It has long been hailed as a monument of defiance, a Columban symbol of a pre-catholic Christianity. Designed as a preaching cross, it illustrates the narratives of exile (the flight into Egypt), nativity, baptism, annunciation, humility, eucharist, healing the blind and the crucifixion. It bears the eagle motif of John the Evangelist, an archer,  newts, foxes, squirrels, leaves and tendrils that frame the sermons visually narrated here of miracles and parables.

Mary receives her Annunciation from an angelic being:

‘And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.’

ET INGRESSUS ANGELUS AD EAM DIXIT; AVE GRATIA PLENA; DOMINUS TE-CUM; BENEDICTA TU IN MULIERIBUS

 

Magdalene washes Christ’s feet:

‘She brought an alabaster cruse of ointment, and standing behind at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head.’

ATTULIT ALABASTRUM UNGUENTI ET STANS RETROSECUS PEDED EJUS LACRIMIS COPEIT RIGARE PEDES EJUS ET CAPILLIS CAPITIS SUI TERGEBAT

 

 

All photographs are copyright of Shani Oates 2017

Text of Caedmon, is courtesy of:

https://anglosaxonpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/dream-of-the-rood/

 

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~ by meanderingsofthemuse on July 24, 2017.

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