How does the personification of the cross in "The Dream of the Rood" help convey the poem's hopeful theme?
In this very early English poem, the narrator has a dream in which he has a conversation with the rood, or cross, on which Christ was crucified. The rood tells the story of the crucifixion from his point of view. He tells it as if he were a person who had to bear the weight of the crucified Jesus.
The personification conveys hope in several ways. The rood is "everyman," a simple, humble piece of wood, just as most followers of Christ are simple people. He is not special, and yet God chose him for this important task. The rood's humbleness is driven home when he compares himself to the Virgin Mary, a simple handmaid of the Lord. The rood says:
Likewise Almighty God exalted his own mother,
Mary herself, before all humanity,
over all the kindred of women.
Like Mary, the rood bears a humiliating burden and, like Mary, he does not bend or break. This gives hope that the humblest person can find strength and favor by holding steadfast to his faith. The humble rood notes that
now tower under the heavens, able to heal
any one of them, those who stand in terror of me.
The rood conveys hope by describing to the narrator the story of how Christ's death and resurrection brings the possibility of eternal life to all of mankind. The narrator ends the poem full of hope that although he is not "wealthy," he too can attain the bliss of the afterlife with the help of rood who is "able to heal:"
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.
The personification of the cross in this medieval poem is important in conveying the poem's theme of hope because of the message that the cross itself brings. It talks of its own story, and how it was transformed from the ultimate image of destitution, misery and suffering, into something that was unbelievably precious and life-giving, as Christian doctrine dictates. As Christ's death, as terrible as that was, enabled God to give his free gift of grace to all people, the transformation that the cross undergoes and talks about it something that gives hope to the speaker in the poem and the way that he ends being full of hope, no matter what sufferings and difficulties mark his life in the present. Note the following quote that captures how the speaker feels having heard the story of the cross:
I look forward to the time when the cross of the Lord
that I previously saw here on the earth,
in this temporary life, will fetch me,
and will then bring me to where great bliss is,
joy in the heavens, where the Lord’s people are
seated at the feast, where perpetual joy is...
Hearing the cross's personal story that is narrated to the speaker enhances the tranformative message of the cross and the sacrifice that Jesus made. Just as the cross transformed from a method of death, tortune and profound suffering, so to can those who follow God be transformed themselves and look forward to an eternity in heaven. The cross, through its personification in this poem, points towards the ultimate transformation that awaits all those who are faithful to God.