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The earliest dream-vision poem in the English language and one of the central documents of Anglo-Saxon literature, The Dream of the Rood was most likely composed during the 8th century. In this elegiac poem the Rood (or Cross) is more than merely personified. The object of the Cross becomes in the hands of the anonymous genius who composed the poem a subject in the drama of Redemption, a sympathetic character willing to assume the destiny of his tormented Burden. This is evident in the second of the three parts in which the poem is divided. Here the Rood recounts his experience as the 'tree' cut down in the forest and chosen to be the instrument on which Christ would be crucified. But it is in his monologue on the Passion - significantly Christ himself does not speak - that the Rood truly speaks and acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). In the same way that Christ was pierced with nails, mocked, tortured, killed and buried, so too was the Rood. And in the same likeness to Christ, the Rood soon rises to a new, glorious life, eventually bespangled with precious jewels. As he announces his victory to the dreamer - recall the words of the fourth century hymnodist, Venatius Fortunatus -
Faithful cross, thou sign of triumph,
now for us the noblest tree...
the Rood glories in the honour of being chosen above all other trees to suffer with his Lord. The Rood has in fact been transformed into a disciple who commands the new disciple, the dreamer, at the conclusion of the poem to tell others what he has seen and heard. The Dream of the Rood is an exposition, finally, of the Christian doctrine of connaturality wherein the believer becomes an alter Christus, another Christ in his life, death, and resurrection.
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