The Dream of the Rood

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Stopford A. Brooke (essay date 1898)

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Stopford A. Brooke (essay date 1898)

SOURCE: "Poems Attributed to Cynewulf or His School," in English Literature: From the Beginning to the Norman Conquest, 1898. Reprint by Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1921, pp. 180-202.

[Brooke was an Anglo-Irish clergyman, poet, critic, and educator whose Primer of English Literature (1876) was popular with generations of students. In the excerpt below, he contends that Cynewulf, who is often credited as the author of The Dream of the Rood, wrote the epic poem as "his farewell to earth."]

TheDream of the Rood is in the Vercelli Book. There is great discussion concerning its authorship. A large number of critics allot it to Cynewulf, but they lessen the weight of their opinion by giving other poems to Cynewulf which have nothing in them of the artist. Ten Brink and Zupitza both maintained against Wülker the authorship of Cynewulf. No assertion can be made at present on the subject. It is a matter of probabilities.

I not only think it probable that Cynewulf wrote it, but I believe it to be his last poem, his farewell to earth. It seems indeed to be the dirge, as it were, of all Northumbrian poetry. But I do not believe that the whole of the poem was original, but worked up by Cynewulf from that early lay of the Rood, a portion of which we find in the runic verses on the Ruthwell Cross. That poem was written in the "long epic line" used by the Cædmonian school, and I think that when in our Dream of the Rood this long line occurs, it belongs to1 or isaltered from the original lay. The portions by Cynewulf are written in the short epic line, his use of which is almost invariable in the Elene.

What he did, then, was probably this. Having had a dream of the Cross in his early life which converted him and to which he refers in the Elene, he wished to record it fully before he died. But he found a poem already existing, and well known, which in his time was attributed by some to Cædmon, and which described the ascent of Christ upon the Cross, His death and burial. He took this poem and worked it up into a description of the vision in which the Cross appeared to him. Then he wrote to this a beginning and an end of his own, and in the short metre he now used.

This theory, whatever its worth may be, accounts for the double metre of the poem, does away with the strongest argument—that derived from metre—against Cynewulf's authorship, explains the difficulty of the want of unity of feeling which exists between the dream-part and the conclusion, and leaves to Cynewulf a number of passages which are steeped in his peculiar personality, which it would be hazardous to allot to any one but himself.

The introduction is quite in his manner, with the exception of two long lines. The personal cry—"I, stained with sins, wounded with my guilt," is almost a quotation from his phrases in the Juliana and Elene. The impersonation of the tree, the account of its life in the wood, is like the beginning and the manner of some of the Riddles. The subjective, personal element, so strong in his signed poems, is stronger in his parts of this poem. It would naturally be so if the poem were written, when he was very near to death, as his retrospect and his farewell. It isequally natural, if this view of the date of the poem be true, that...

(This entire section contains 2125 words.)

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he would enshrine at the last, by means of his art, the story of the most important hour of his life, and leave it as a legacy to the friends of whom he speaks so tenderly. "Lo," it begins—

Listen, of all dreams, I'll the dearest tell,
That at mid of night, met me (while I slept),
When word-speaking wights, resting, wonned in
To the sky up-soaring, then I saw, methought,
All enwreathed with light, wonderful, a Tree;
Brightest it of beams! All that beacon was
Over-gushed with gold; jewels were in it,
At its foot were fair; five were also there
High upon the shoulder-span, and beheld it
  there, all the angels of the Lord
Winsome for the world to come! Surely that was
 not, of a wicked man the gallows.

These two last lines may belong to the original poem, which Cynewulf was working on. Now he goes on himself:—

But the spirits of the saints saw it (shining) there,
And the men who walk the mould, and this
  mighty universe!
Strange that stem of Victory! Then I, spotted
  o'er with sins,
Wounded with my woeful guilt, saw the Wood
 of glory,
All with joys a-shining, all adorned with weeds,
Gyred with gold around! And the gems had gloriously
Wandered in a wreath round this woodland tree.

Nathless could I, through the gold, come to understand
How these sufferers strove of old—when it first
Blood to sweat on its right side. I was all with
  sorrows vexed,
Fearful, 'fore that vision fair, for I saw that fleet
Change in clothing and in colour! Now beclouded '  twas with wet,

Now with running blood 'twas moist, then again
 enriched with gems.
Long the time I lay, lying where I was,
Looking, heavy hearted, on the Healer's Tree—
Till at last I heard how it loudly cried!
These the words the best of woods now began to
"Long ago it was, yet I ever think of it,
How that I was hewèd down where the holt had
From my stock I was dissevered; strong the foes
  that seized me there;
Made of me a mocking-stage, bade me lift their
 men outlawed,
So the men on shoulders moved me, till upon a
  mount they set me."

These lines seem to me partly Cynewulf 's and partly of the old poem. He has introduced personal modifications to fit them into his dream. Now, he scarcely touches the old work: and the lines run on to a length which contrasts strangely with those of theconclusion to the dream itself:—

"Many were the foemen who did fix me there!
 Then I saw the Lord, Lord of folk-kin he,
Hastening, march with mickle power, since he
 would up-mount on me."

"But I—I dared not, against my Lord's word, bow myself or burst asunder, though I saw all regions of earth trembling; I might have felled His foes, but I stood fast:—

Then the Hero young, armed himself for war,—
 and Almighty God he was;
Strong and staid of mood stepped he on the gallows
Brave of soul in sight of many, for he would set
  free mankind.
Then I shivered there—when the Champion
  clipped me round;
But I dared not, then, cringe me to the earth.

A Rood was I upreared, rich was the King I lifted up; Lord of all the heavens was he, therefore I dared not fall. With dark nails they pierced me through and through; on me the dagger-strokes are seen; wounds are they of wickedness. Yet I dared not do them scathe; they reviled us both together. Drenched with blood was I, drenched from head to foot—blood poured from the Hero's side when he had given up the ghost. A host of wrathful weirds I bore upon that mount.I saw the Lord of peoples serve a cruel service; thick darkness had enwrapt in clouds the corse of the King. Shadow, wan under the welkin, pressed down the clear shining of the sun. All creation wept, mourned the fall of the King: Christ was on the Rood. I beheld it all, I, crushed with sorrow.… Then they took Almighty God: from that sore pain they lifted him; but the warriors left me there streaming with blood; all wounded with shafts was I:—

So they laid him down, limb-wearied; stood beside   the head of his lifeless corse.
Then they looked upon him, him the Lord of
  Heaven, and he rested there for a little time.
Sorely weary he, when the mickle strife was
  done! Then before his Banes, in the sight of
Did the men begin, here to make a grave for him.
  And they carved it there of a glittering stone,
Laid him low therein, him the Lord of victory.
  Over him the poor folk sang a lay of sorrow
On that eventide!

And there he rested with a little company." Here the old work ends, and Cynewulf, touching in what he had learnt from the Legend of Helena and the Cross, is told by the Rood to tell his dream to men, to warn them of judgment to come, and to bear, if they would be safe, the Cross in their hearts.

Now the Rood ceases to speak, and Cynewulf 's personal conclusion follows. Its first lines are retrospective. They tell how he felt in early manhood, immediately after the dream which was the cause of his conversion. He felt "blithe of mood," because he was forgiven, "passionate in prayer, eager for death"—a common mixture of feelings in the hearts of men in the first hours of their new life with God. "Then, pleased in my heart, I prayed to the Tree with great eagerness, there, where I was, with a small company, and my spirit was passionate for departure." But he did not die, forced to out-live many sorrows—"Far too much I endured in long and weary days." Then heturns from the past tothe present—"Now I have hope of life to come, since I have a will towards the Tree of Victory. There is my refuge." Then he remembers all the friends who have gone before him, and sings his death-song, waiting in joy and hope to meet those he loved at the evening meal in Heaven. "Few are left me now," he says, "of the men in power I knew":—

Few of friends on earth; they have fared from
Far away from worldly joys, wended to the Lord
  of Glory!
Now in Heaven they live, near to their High Father,
In their brightness now abiding! But I bide me
Living on from day to day, till my Lord His
Which I erst had looked upon, long ago on
From this fleeting life of ours fetch my soul
And shall bring me there, where the bliss is
Happiness in Heaven! There the High God's folk
At the evening meal are set; there is everlasting

At last, with a happy reversion to that earlier theme he loved—the deliverance of the Old Testament saints from Hades—he turns from himself, now going home, to the triumphant homecoming of Jesus; soaring, as his custom was, into exultant verse:

                Hope was then renewed,
With fresh blossoming and bliss, in the souls
 who'd borne the fire!
Strong the Son with conquest was, on that (soaring)
Mighty and majestical, when with multitudes he
With the host of holy spirits, to the Home of
And to all the Holy Ones, who in Heaven long
Glory had inhabited—So the Omnipotent came
Where his lawful heirship lay, God, the Lord of

This is the close of the Dream of the Rood and the closing song of the life and work of Cynewulf. We see him pass away, after all storms and sorrows, into peace.

The most vigorous part of the poem is the old work, but its reworking by Cynewulf has broken it up so much that its simplicity is hurt. The image of the towering Tree, now blazing like a Rood at Hexham or Ripon with jewels, now veiled in a crimson mist and streaming with blood, is conceived with power; but, as imaginative work, it is not to be compared with the image of the mighty Rood in the Crist which, soaring from Zion to the skies, illuminates with its crimson glow heaven and earth, the angels and the host of mankind summoned to judgment. The invention of the Tree bringing its soul from the far-off wood, alive and suffering with every pang of the great Sufferer, shivering when Christ, the young Hero, clasped it round, longing to crush His foes, weeping when He is taken from it, joining in the wail of burial, conscious that on it, as on a field of battle, death and hell were conquered, is full of that heroic strain with which Cynewulf sympathised, and the subject was his own. It was he, more than any other English poet, who conceived and celebrated Christ as the Saviour of men, as the Hero of the New Testament.

Howard R. Patch (essay date 1919)

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Howard R. Patch (essay date 1919)

SOURCE: "Liturgical Influence in The Dream of the Rood," in PMLA, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, 1919, pp. 233-57.

[In the following essay, Patch explores parallels between The Dream of the Rood and church liturgical texts "in order to gain a further knowledge of the poet's working method and to assist in reproducing a sense of the connotativeness of the poem."]

Scholars have long made an earnest search for analogues to The Dream of the Rood,but the very remoteness of the parallels thus afforded so far is a unique testimony to the high degree of originality in the poem. Closer in some ways than any of them, in that it gives us a dialogue with the cross, the "Disputation between Mary and the Cross" might have been cited; but here again comparison shows that the Dream is a poem standing apart in the unusually fine quality of its inspiration and in its genuine feeling. The poet seems to have had little to work on for a basis, either as a source or as a guide. Yet we know that he was deeply religious and we can be sure that he must have been thoroughly acquainted with those parts of the ecclesiastical service which were devoted to the celebration of the cross. In writing such a poem he could hardly rid his mind of all the echoes of the hymns and responsive utterances and the liturgical offices which he was accustomed to hear at various times during the church year.

No hymn or piece of liturgy seems to have furnished him a model, and nothing could be more different in spirit and manner than his work and the type of hymn probably accessible to him. The poet writes primarily as a narrator; subjective expression in the form of complaint or panegyric comes in only incidentally, although perhaps all the more spontaneously. But he naturally would express himself in the idiom of the church. And it is the purpose of this study to trace such resemblances as may be found and to detect allusions which seem to have been deliberate, in order to gain a further knowledge of the poet's working method and to assist in reproducing a sense of the connotativeness of the poem. Its meaning for contemporary readers or hearers will thus be shown deepened; we may arrive at some conclusions regarding its relation to certain other Anglo-Saxon treatments of parts of the theme; and our conclusions may have some bearing on the general problem of the attribution of the poem.

What were the liturgical forms familiar to the poet? We may safely conjecture the general outlines from those of a somewhat later period. In regard to the hymns the difficulty is greater because presumably the hymns follow no traditional scheme. Yet even here, beautiful as the hymns are, the phrases in speech and figure are often stereotyped formulae which were freely passed around; andby reviewing the common stock of a later time we can assume with fair safety that the figures were known in some earlier form. Wholesale borrowing from an early favorite is one of the most striking features in the growth of hymnology. And if the Dream of the Rood shows a use of the phrase or formula turning up generally elsewhere, it seems extremely likely that the Anglo-Saxon poet was the debtor. I shall attempt to point out all such borrowings, and in doing so I shall include many slighter reminiscences or casual parallels which I should not mention in a strict category. Since the chief point consists in the number of the parallels, so far as the hymns are concerned, I shall put them in the body of the discussion rather than in the footnotes.

Þuhte me þaet ic gesawe syllicre treow
  on lyft lædan leohte bewunden,
  beama beorhtost. Eall þæt beacen wæs
  begoten mid golde; gimmas stodon.
DR, ll . 4-6.

As scholars have noted before, these lines afford a tantalizing parallel to some similar lines in the Elene, which I shall quote, together with the Latin of the Acta Sanct., to see whether any conclusions may be reached in regard to the resemblance.

  Geseah he frætwum beorht
wlitig wuldres treo ofer wolcna hrof
golde geglenged: gimmas lixtan.
wæs se blaca beam bocstafum awriten
beorhte and leohte.
Elene, ll. 88-92.

Intendens in caelum vidit signum crucis Christi
ex lumine claro constitutum, et desuper litteris
aureis scriptum titulum.
Holth., Elene, p. 4,1. 85.

The parallel to the Elene at first seems remarkable and among the points of similarity may be noted the following: "ic gesawe" (geseah he); "syllicre treow" (wuldres treo); "beama beorhtost" (se blaca beam); "begoten mid golde" (golde geglenged); "gimmas" (gimmas). Yet there are certain points in which the Dream is closer to the Latin: "on lyft" (in caelum); "leohte bewunden" (ex lumine claro constitutum); the use of "beacen" in this connection (signum). And some of the ways in which it resembles the Elene fade in importance when more carefully examined. "Ic gesawe" is necessary in the Dream as part of the obvious schematism (see also 11. 21, 33, 51, pointed out by [Albert S.] Cook in his edition, p. 17, n. 14.) The use of "treow" is natural in either case as an epithet for the cross, since it is the usual gloss for lignum and arbor of the hymns.

The use of "beama" here may have more significance. But we may note that it is also to be found in a similar passage in the Riddles:

Ic seah on bearwe beam hlifian
tanum torhtne.
Rid., 54,ll. 1. ff.

One may add Rid., 56, 1. 7; and Crist (Part III), 1. 1089.

It may be objected that "beacen" of theDream cited as a parallel to signum in the Latin is also found in the Elene, 1. 100: "Swa he þæt beacen geseah." But there it is the equivalent of some form of "viso autem signo" and has nothing to do with the lines I have quoted. It is necessary to add that "beacen" is not much evidence either way, since as "signum" it is common enough in the hymns: Mone, i, p. 174,1. 7 (Crux insignis palmæ signum); Daniel, iv, p. 276,1. 9 (Crux est signum, quod est dignum); IV, p. 185 and Mone, I, p. 145 (signum salutis); Daniel v, p. 183 (triumphale signum); Dreves, IX, p. 26, No. 25, la (signum Christi triumphale); XXXIX, p. 21, No. 9, 4a (signum triumphale); XLVIII, p. 57, No. 58 (venerabile signum). Most striking of all is the appearance in the liturgical phrase: "Hoc signum crucis erit in caelo." This phrase is an almost sufficient explanation for the entire passage in the Dream and with this in mind there is hardly any need to call on Constantine's vision. The way it could be expanded may be suggested by the use of the same idea in the Irish Altus Prosator: "Xristo de celis domino descendente celissimo profulgebit clarissimum signum crucis et vexillum."

My conclusions regarding the similarity to the Elene, then, are these: the episode in the Dream may possibly be based on one having nothing to do with the story of the Inventio; the verbal parallels may be due to the general similarity in situation (we have already seen the parallels in the Riddles and I shall refer to Daniel, 11. 496 ff. later); in at least two expressions the Dream is closer to the Latin. The detail of gold and gems in both the Dream and the Elene is certainly of the highest importance, but I shall reserve that for special study. If anything can be deduced at present it is that if the Dream alludes to the episode in the Inventio, it went straight to some source approximating the Latin, while the Elene utilized both the Dream and the Inventio story. What version of the Inventio may have been known to the poet of the Dream it is, of course, impossible to say; but he may have found his source in some form used in the lectio for the feast of the Inventio. For instance, in the York Breviary (Surtees Soc., ii, col. 272, lectio ij) we have: "Et intuens in celum: vidit signum crucis Christi." In a different version the shining of the cross may have been added, which is a regular detail in Constantine's vision.

Begoten mid golde; gimmas stodon
fægere set foldan sceatum, swylce þær fife
uppe on þam eaxlgespanne.
DR, ll. 7-9.

On this passage Serrazin bases his argument for the intimate connection with the Elene: "Dass aber Constantinus, nach K's Darstellung das Kreuz schon in der kostbaren Verzierung gesehen haben soll, welche ihm erst nach der Auffindung zuteil wurde, ist ein offenbarer Anachronismus, der sich nur dadurch erklärt, dass dem Dichter das visionäre Kreuz Constantins so vor dem geistigen Auge schwebte, wie es dem Traumseher erschienen war." Ebert's comment in another connection but on the same general idea is applicable here—that such a conclusion assumes that the poet of the Dream or of the Elene could see no other passage on the subject and no example of such a cross other than the one first described.

The chief problem is whether there were such crosses in England at the time in question. Ebert cites two allusions, both of which are however somewhat inferential: the Ded. S. Crucis of the Pontificale of the Archbishop of York—here "in splendore cristalli" may well refer to the "crux de christallo," carried in the English Church in Eastertide until Ascension Day, which after all may not have been a jewelled cross; in Tatwine's Riddle the word "nitescere" may describe the shining beryl or merely thelight of a gold cross. Supporting evidence is derived from Ebert's examples of gemmed crosses of the time, but it must be said that the force of the total argument is slight compared with what we should have. If we are to believe that the poet actually saw such a cross, would he not have been so much impressed by such a rarity as to have devoted much more of his description, indeed the whole poem, to its details? Would not a crux gemmata have seemed a rarity in England in the eighth or ninth centuries, as we might infer from the material so far adduced?

It seems well worth while to collect the evidence to show that there were many such crosses in the British Isles and that the poet did not need to depend on a vision for the details. Precious stones, possibly jewels, were used in ornamenting the early churches; most interestingly for us in the Priory at Hexham:

Porro beatae memoriae, adhuc vivens gratia Dei, Acca episcopus, qui magnalia ornamenta hujus multiplicis domus de auro et argento, lapidibusque pretiosis et quomodo altaria purpura et serico induta decoravit, quis ad explanandum sufficere potest.

Pope Gregory sent the famous cross of Columcille to Iona as early as 590. We may note that the jewelled cross was common in Europe in the early period: still extant are those in the mosaics in Italy, dating from the fourth to the eighth century. They are plain Roman or slightly pattée, and both the crossbeam and the upright are jewelled. Some of them have specifically five jewels on the cross-beam: that in S. Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna; that in the catacomb of Pontianus; and that in S. Giov. Laterano in Rome. The number varies, however, in other crosses of this type: for example, that in the apse of S. Pudenziana; that in S. Paolo fuori le mura; and that in the apse of S. Teodoro. The evidence shows that this cross was widely popular. It came from a Byzantine source, apparently, and spread over Europe, not merely in the form of mosaics but in other decorative forms. And with the Oriental influence so powerful in Celtic and early English Christianity, it seems more than likely that it penetrated to the British Isles. The form appears in the plain English altar cross, and the jewelled type is reproduced in the well-known Cross of Cong.

But what evidence we have indicates that this particular form arrived later than the period with which we are concerned. And even if it were known earlier, one might well question why, if this was the cross the poet had in mind, he laid so much emphasis on the five jewels of the cross-beam and neglected the greater number on the upright. Furthermore, there is no reason for supposing that the number on the crossbeam was likely to have been just five.

But another type of cross was familiar in England at the very time when the poem was probably composed, and it affords a more satisfactory explanation of the passage. I refer to the Celtic cross, which may be most readily recalled in the forms in stone: the arms of equal length and pattée, usually placed in a circle. Sometimes in each angle is a dot or small cross, making—with the circle or boss at the center—five units of ornamentation. This last characteristic is extremely common in the Celtic cross of English and Scottish territory. In the stone representations it will be found that whatever the variation in the arrangement of the dots, crosses, or bosses, importance seems to be attached to the number five.

The significance of these crosses for us may now be clear, and their importance will be greater if we can find any replicas of the type using precious stones. Fortunately there is good evidence that the same type was used in the jewelled cross; and this too maintains the quincunx, some-times with the jewels in place of the dots or crosses and sometimes with a gem at the end of each beam. The form appears in the ornamentation of the box of St. Molaise; and in the pectoral cross formerly considered the property of St. Cuthbert. Here it is comprehensible what the poet means by the five jewels on the "eaxlgespan," since they would form the chief points of color and decoration. And here we have another link between a "Cynewulfian" poem and Celtic Christianity.

The general explanation of the use of the number five in the bosses has been the symbolism of the five wounds. Thus [W. O.] Stevens and J. R. Allen have held this view. Bayley, engaged in propounding another thesis however, glances at it with hostility: "The five knobs or bosses erroneously supposed to represent the 'five wounds of Christ,' are of frequent occurrence." For the jewels on the cross, Cook quotes another interpretation from the Legenda Aurea: "And in sign of these four virtues the four corners of the cross be adorned with precious gems and stones. And in the most apparent place is charity, and on the right side is obedience, and on the left side is patience, and beneath is humility, the root of all the virtues." This suggestion is supported by the use of the same virtues in the ladder figure of the cross in Alanus de Insulis. An Anglo-Saxon reading of the significance of such elements, although it does not touch on the number, gives a similar idea:

Þurh þæet gold we understandað geleafan and god in gehygd; þurh þæt seolfor riht lice spræce and getingnysse on Godes lare; ðurh þa deorwurðan gymstanes halige mihte.

The jewels, then, may have symbolized certain virtues.

On the other hand, Durandus tells us in the Rationale: "Crux in medio altar significat passiones quam Christus in medio tre subsit." We should expect the wounds to receivespecial attention since they are given so much emphasis in the hymns and the liturgy. The five crosses cut in the altar stones and the five signs of the cross are taken as similarly symbolical. With these may be associated the five grains of incense in the liturgy, and the five stones in David's bag. And if the symbolism was not a matter of some special study and opinion, but the laity in general was expected to know it and derive benefit from it, the evidence for a symbolism other than that of the five wounds would have to be pretty general. Five is not a steady number for the virtues, which are usually classified as four or seven. It seems fairly safe, therefore, to believe that in the Dream the poet mentions the five jewels not only because they were prominent in the actual cross that he knew, but because they represented the sacred wounds, an interpretation of some power.

At this point we may note that the Elene, though it mentions jewels, gives no specific number. Here again, then, if there is any relation between the two poems, the Dream is probably the earlier, or at least it is not indebted to the Elene. Some difficulties remain in the lines of the Dream: the meaning of "fægere aet foldan sceatum" is not quite clear. Perhaps a hint may be found in the passage of the Daniel (11. 500-501):

Ac he hlifode to heofontunglum,
swilce he oferfæðmde foldan sceatas.

The "foldan sceatas" are the corners of the earth, to which the cross reaches as it spreads over the sky. "Stodon" in the Dream, describing the position of the jewels, is fairly strong, possibly meaning something like "stood out." The whole passage I should then read as follows: "Gems stood out (on the cross) shining fair to the corners of the earth; five of these there were, above, on the shoulder-span." The five, as we have seen, were very likely those of the Celtic cross, grouped in a quincunx at the junction of the beams.

Fracoðes gealga.
DR, l. 10.

Cook notes this expression as "a comparatively infrequent designation of the cross." But see Crist and Satan, 11. 511, 550; Menologium, 1. 86; A. S. Hymns (Surtees Soc.), p. 78 (Vexilla regis), 1. 4, "patibulo" glossed "gealgan"; F. E. Warren, The Leofric Missal, Oxford 1883, p. 141 (crucis patibulum); Dreves, ix, p. 27, 5b (In ligno transverso sacri patibuli); Chevalier, Poéesie Lit. du Moy. Age, p. 176, LVI (152); Prudentius, p. 248, 1. 641; Benedictionale S.Æthelwold (X cent., MS., Archaeologia XXIV, p. 108, "per beatae crucis patibulum.")

"Ne wæs þæt …fracooes gealga" might be a reference to the cross of one of the thieves, which would naturally be in the mind of anyone in connection with the Inventio Crucis. But "fracoo" is not paralleled in the Elene; the two sinners are called "scaoena" in the A. S. prose (EETS, XLVI, p. 13), one of them "sceaþæ" in twelfth century prose (EETS, CIII, p. 32,1. 25); the gloss of latro in Wuelcker's Vocabularies is usually sceapa, sometimes þefe; and the whole sentence may be simply a case of Anglo-Saxon understatement.

Syllic wæs se sigebeam.
DR, l. 13.

"Sigebeam" occurs several times in the Elene, as Cook has noted, but the kenning is familiar in the hymns and the liturgy. "Beam" is usually the gloss of trabes; but the reference to the cross in this compound is so direct that we can hardly be arbitrary in considering it the equivalent of lignum. For the hymns we may note the following uses: Mone, I, p. 137 (Salve lignum triumphale); Daniel, v, 183, st. 3; Mone, I, p. 159, 11. 13 (triumphale lignum); Morel, Lat. Hymnen, p. 27, 1. 85; Dreves, XXXI, p. 94, No. 74, st. 7 (O crux, lignum triumphale). For the kindred expression, sigebeacen, sigorbeacen, or sigores tacen, found only in the Elene, note the following: Daniel, v, p. 183 (Ave, triumphale signum); Dreves, IX, p. 26, No. 25, la (Signum Christi triumphale); XXXIX, p. 21, No. 9, 4a (signum triumphale).Compare Prudentius, p. 38, 1. 83 (Dic tropeum passionis, dic triumphalem crucem); Mone, I, p. 142, 11. 35 (signum victoriæ); York Missal, Surtees Soc., II, p. 103 (signum triumphale). Cook,DR, p. 16 (also Crist, notes) takes the Anglo-Saxon expressions as referring to "the victorious sign seen by Constantine," but the use in the hymns shows that unnecessary.

             Geseah ic wuldres treow
wælum geweorðod     wynnum scinan.
DR, ll. 14-15.

Cook (p. 17) compares the Elene 11. 88-90, which I have already quoted. Here we may noteespecially the phrase "wlitig wuldres treo" ("geseach ic" in DRI have dealt with in the other connection). Both passages, however, may profitably be compared with one in the Vexilla regis with its Anglo-Saxon translation:

Arbor decora et fulgida
Ornata regis purpura.

treow wlitig ond scinende
gefrætewod cynges mid godewebbe.

Purpura is regularly glossed "godewebb" (see Napier, O. E. Glosses) which means a purple cloth or any rich material. "Wædum" may hold some reminiscence of this expression. Certainly it has nothing to do with the vexillum, which is glossed "guþfana," and which, it is interesting to note, did not appear in the Sarum and York use. The suggestion offered by Stevens that "wædum" "may be a recollection of the veiling of the rood on Good Friday," although it receives some support from line 22, is rendered doubtful by the context here, which has entirely to do with "wynnum," "golde," and "gimmas." On the other hand, line 22 may be read with the meaning "purpura" for "wædum" and it does not lose in clearness or significance thereby.

         Geseah ic þæt fuse beacen
wendan wædum and bleom:  hwilum hit wæs
  mid wætan bestemed,
besyled mid swates gange,    hwilum mid since   gegyrwed.
DR, ll. 21-23.

We have here what seems one of the clearest allusions to the liturgy, to the method of changing the style of the cross between Lent and Easter. Ebert has noted certain foreign cases of using the blood-red cross and asserts without evidence that the custom held among the Anglo-Saxons of the eighth century. He gives this point in another connection and does not deal with "wendan wædum and bleom." Rock, however, has shown the use of the red cross during Lent in England; in the north the use was apparently general, and this may be reflected in the Anglo-Saxon "mid wætan bestemed" and part of the reference in "bleom."

This should be supplemented further by the possibility that there is some borrowing from the hymns in the very vividness of the detail in the Dream: Mone, I, p. 143, No. 109 (O crux, arbor inclita, Cristi membris praedita et sacrata sanguine); Chevalier, Poésie Lit., p. 181, LXV, 174 (Beata crux cum gloria, Celso sacrata sanguine); Mone, I, p. 142, 43 (crux cruore consecrata); Dreves, XIV, p. 82, No. 72; XXXIX, No. 9, p. 21 (crucem tuo sanguine consecratam colimus); LI, p. 86, No. 81, st. 4; Daniel V, p. 184, st. 3; Merrill, Lat. Hymns, p. 67; Daniel, II, p. 101, No. 62; Merrill, p. 19, Pange lingua (Quem sacer cruor perunxit, fusas agni corpore); cf. Anselm, Pat. Lat. CLVIII, col. 937, Orat. XLII (Ave crux …ejus pretiosissimo sanguine cruentata); Mone, I, p. 140,1. 3 (fulgens Christi sanguine); I, p. 125, No. 99, 11. 25-26 (Per sanguinem sacerrimum, rigasti crucis postem); I, p. 186, 11. 30 (Vidit in ara sacram crucis ostiam, Sanguinis undam, laticem de latere, Sancto fluente); Daniel IV, p. 322 (Crux alma…torrente Christi sanguinis ebria); Mone I, p. 159, No. 122, 11. 31; Morel, Lat. Hymn., p. 28, No. 45, 1. 8; Dreves, IV, No. 46,  p. 34; IX, p. 27, 3a (O altitudo atque profundum crucis purpuratae in Christi sanguine); IX, p. 28, No. 29, la (Rubens agni sanguine); XV, p. 46, No. 24 (Agni rubens sanguine); cf. York Missal, Surtees Soc, II, p. 102 (Fuit haec salutis ara Rubens Agni sanguine); Dreves, XLIII, p. 23, No. 32, st. 2 (Tu decora sic consiste, Lota sacro sanguine); Prudentius, p. 86 (Hinc cruoris fluxit unda, lymfa parte ex altera: Lymfa nempe dat lavacrum, tum corona ex sanguine est).

While such expressions as the above account for "mid wætan bestemed," the change implied in the "hwilum … hwilum" clauses needs further explanation. As I have said, the plain red cross was carried during Lent, but on Palm Sunday a more ornamental cross appeared, as the Tracts of Maydeston tell us:

Post distributionem palmarum exeat processio cum cruce lignea … Deinde lectio euangelio feretum cum reliquijs preparatum. in quo corpus Christi in pixide dependat obuiam venientem cum cruce argentea.… Statim vero visa cruce argentea recedat crux lignea.

And on Easter day …, the "crux de christallo" was used, which was borne until Ascension-tide. With this progressive change in mind, we may better understand what the poet means when he says that he saw the cross change in garb and color, sometimes it was stained with the flowing of blood and sometimes adorned with treasure.

         Geseah ic pa Frean mancynnes
efstan elne mycle pæt he me wolde on gestigan.
þær ic pa ne dorste ofer Dryhtnes word
bugan oððe berstan, þa ic bifian geseah
eorðan sceatas.
(DR, ll. 33-37)

gestah he on gealgan heanne.
(1. 40)

Bifode ic ða me se Beorn ymbclypte; ne dorste
  ic hwæðre bugan to eorðan,
feallan to foldan sceatum, ac ic sceolde fæste
(11. 42-43)

It is hard to believe that these passages have not something to do with the striking lines in the Pange lingua of Fortunatus:

Flecte ramos, arbor alta, tensa laxa viscera
Et rigor lentescat ille, quem dedit nativitas,
Ut superni membra regis miti tendas stipite,
(11. 24 ff.)

The cross explains why it was unable to bend. And the last line of the Latin seems to be echoedin the Dream by "Geseah ic weruda God pearle penian" (11. 51-52). Another line from Fortunatus, "Sola digna tu fuisti ferre pretium saeculi," although it was a generally popular sentiment, seems to appear in the following:

  Me þa geweorðode wuldres Ealdor
ofer holtwudu, heofonrices Weard,
swylce he his modor eac Marian sylfe
ælmihtig God for ealle men
geweorðode ofer eall wifa cynn,
(DR, ll. 90-94)

The figure in 11. 34 and 40 is paralleled in Crist and Satan (11. 549 ff.) and in the hymns: Chevalier, Poés. Lit., p. 176, LVI, 152 (Cum ascendisset Dominus Super crucis patibulum); Prudentius, p. 248, 11. 641 (Crux illa nostra est, nos patibulum ascendimus); Liber Hymnorum, I, p. 85, 1.  22. The figure of 1. 42 is paralleled: Mone, I, p. 181, st. 7 (O virtus crucis mundus attrahis amplexando tuis hinc inde brachiis); Dreves, IX, p. 27, 5b:

transverso sacri patibuli
     expansis manibus
     dextros et sinistros

The most interesting parallel of all, however, is found in the third reading for the feast of St. Andrew in the York Breviary (Surtees Soc., vol. II, col. 88, lectio iij):

Cum pervenisset beatus andreas ad locum ubi crux parata erat: videns eam a longe exclamabat voce magna dicens: salve crux: que in corpore Christi dedicata es: et ex membris ejus tanquam margaritis ornata, ps̄. Omnes gentes, an̄. Antequam te ascenderet dominus noster o beata crux: timorem terrenum habuisti: modo vero amorem celestem obtinens pro voto susciperis. ps̄. Exaudi deus deprecationem. an̄. Amator tuus semper fui: et desideravi te amplecti. o bona crux. ps̄. Exaudi deus orationem.

The Italics are mine. The passage affords us another connection with the northern liturgy and also one with the story of St. Andrew.

Gyredon me golde and seolfre.
DR, l. 77

This line has been taken as a reference to the story of the Inventio. We may note, however, that "golde and seolfre" is not paralleled in the Elene (11. 1023 ff.), where we have "golde and gimcynnum." In the Latin (Acta Sanct., Holth., Elene) we have gold and jewels with a silver box, and also in Eusebius. But the Anglo-Saxon Prose, which may indicate the Irish original, tells us: "bewyrcan het mid golde … mid seolfre … mid deorwurpum gimmum." At this point, then, the Dream is again closer to a possible common original than to the Elene.

          Is me nu lifes hyht
þæt ic bone sigebeam secan mote.
DR, ll. 126-7

The Christian "hope" is common in hymns of the cross, although not exactly in these terms: Daniel, IV, p. 185 (Crux sancta … vera spes nostra), Mone, I, p. 145, A. S. Hymns, Surtees Soc., p. 156; Daniel I, p. 225, No. CXCVII, 2 (Spes et certa redemptio): Chevalier, Repert. Hymnolog., IV, p. 88, No. 36454 (Crux, ave, spes unica inventionis); No. 36462 (Crux sancta … spes nostra); Dreves, IX, p. 26, No. 25, la (spes et nostra gloria); No. 26, 2a (sanctae crucis, spes nostra); XV, p. 46, No. 24 (spes praeclara); XV,  p. 47, No. 25 (spes mihi viventi); XXI, p. 22, No. 15 (spes unica); XLVIII, p. 57, No. 58 (unica spes hominum). See also the liturgy: York Brev., col. 552 (crux, ave, spes unica), also col. 270; Hereford Brev., HBS, XL, II, p. 159. See a late hymn, Wackernagel, Das deutsche Kirchenlied, Leipzig, 1864, I, p. 252, No. 428 (magna spes credentium). See Anselm, Migne, Pat. Lat., CLVIII, col. 939 (Tu es enim spes mea).

Incidentally it may be worth noting in relation to these lines and to 1. 138 that the lignum vitae figure is extremely common: Mone, I, p. 181, st. 6 (Crux vitae lignum, Vitam mundi portans); I, 174, 1. 8; Dreves, IX, p. 26, No. 25, lb (lignum vitae); XV, p. 46, No. 24 (arbor vitae); XXI, p. 22, No. 15 (arbor vitae); XXXI, p. 94, No. 74, st. 6 (lignum vitae); XXXIV, p. 28, No. 24 (arbor ave vitae); XXXIX, No. 9, p. 21, 3b (vitale lignum); XL, p. 33, No. 14 (lignum vitae).

              And ic wene me
daga gehwylce hwænne me Dryhtnes rod,
þe ic her on eoroan ær sceawode,
of þpysson lænan life gefetige,
and me þonne gebringe þaer is blis micel.
DR, ll. 135 ff.

Stevens cites these lines as indicating that the poet deifies the cross: "In endowing the cross with personality, the poet of the Dream of the Rood outstrips any other writer." While we may agree with this comment in part (although we have noted how the poet borrows details and utilizes allusions), the opinion should be modified by observing the frequency of the figure in the hymns: compare Mone, I, p. 181, st. 7:

O excelsa crux,
ima perforans,
vinctos, quos absolvis,
ad summa erigis.

Also: Mone, I, p. 140, 11. 53; I, p. 142, 11. 43 (Per te nobis … sempiterna gaudia det superna gratia); Daniel, V, p. 183, st. 3 (Tu nos hinc per modum scalae Ducas ad coelestia); V, p. 304, No. 608, 11. 3 (Qui fidelis introducis Ad coelestem Patriam), 1. 8 (Nos transfer ad gloriam); Dreves, XV, p. 47, No. 25 (In te confisum me ducas ad paradisum—addressed to Christ). See Anselm, Pat. Lat., CLVIII, col. 942 (et vitam aeternam nobis attulisti); Greg. Sac., HBS, p. 275 (per crucis lignum ad paradisum gaudia redeamus). See also the "lignum vitae" figure discussed above, especially Mone, I, p. 145, also in A. S. Hymns, Surtees Soc., p. 156; and cf. DR, 1. 148 with A. S. Hymns, p. 83 (Redempta plebs captivata Reddita vitæ praemio).

Most of the conclusions given in the foregoing discussion need not be repeated. Many of them are extremely tentative, hardly more than shadowing as they do possible influence, and not attempting to arrive at the actual source. But to draw the matter together we may note the following points which seem to have received general support in the investigation: in the Dream of the Rood there are several clear allusions to the liturgy; even the phrases at times seem to be borrowed, especially from the hymn Pange lingua; we have observed several parallels in the Dream to Part Three of the Christ; if there is any connection between the Dream and the Inventio, it exists between the former and some document approximating the source of the Elene rather than the Elene itself. If the results of our search for liturgical influence are surprisingly small, the study has served to show all the more how little the poet of the Dream has relied on the conventional material accessible to him and yet with what effectiveness he has brought in reflections of the ecclesiastical services which he knew.

Margaret Schlauch (essay date 1940)

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Margaret Schlauch (essay date 1940)

SOURCE: "The Dream of the Rood as Prosopopoeia," in Essays and Studies in Honor of Carleton Brown, edited by Percy W. Long, New York University Press, 1940, pp. 23-34.

[Here, Schlauch praises the poet's unique use of prosopopoeia (discourse by inanimate objects), stating that he "was not following a literary tradition concerning the Rood; he was making an innovation with the originality of genius."]

As succeeding generations of scholars have studied the body of Old English lyric poetry and given tribute to its enduring literary qualities, an almost incredulous amazement has been expressed repeatedly concerning the originality of form and the extraordinary emotional intensity manifested in it. These qualities are particularly striking in the anonymous verse monologues which make up a considerable part of the whole lyrical offering. It is generally admitted that these poems show exceptional skill and mastery of technique; they are not the fumbling efforts of untaught beginners. For poems such as Wanderer, Seafarer, and Banished Wife's Lament, classical models have been suggested more than once. These lyrics represent persons as speakers. As partial explanation of their genesis, it has been pointed out [by Rudolf Imelmann, Forschungen zur altenglischen Elegie, 1920] that any cultivated Englishman of the time would have known and admired such declamatory passages as the speech of Æneas (most famous of exiles) to Dido and Dido's own lament at the involuntary perfidy of her guest in Vergil, and the more lachrymose epistolary monologues in Ovid's Heroides. Hilda Reuschel [in Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur LXII (1938)] has recently suggested that Ovid's personal expressions of an exile's woe in the Tristia and Epistolae ex Ponto may have contributed to the very wording of Old English lyrics. The originality of treatment by Anglo-Saxon writers is generally conceded, but it is undisputed that Latin models were near at hand and well loved.

As a literary type, The Dream of the Rood stands somewhat apart from the other elegiac monologues in Old English. Here for the major part of the poem the speaker is an inanimate object, not a person. The discourse of the Rood is enclosed in another one, that of the dreamer who heard it speak; but the inner monologue is the essence of the poem. To endow the Cross with power of locution was to use a device of unexampled effectiveness in making vivid an event about which, for all devout Christians, the entire history of the world revolved. The object most intimately associated with that breath-taking moment when 'the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks were rent' might well be given speech with profound literary effectiveness. Yet this was not commonly done at the time. The Old English poet was not following a literary tradition concerning the Rood; he was making an innovation with the originality of genius.

Concerning the independence of models manifested by this author, A. S. Cook remarks in his introduction to the poem:

The second part, the address of the cross, is unique in its composition. The notion of representing an inanimate object as speaking to him who stands in its presence, and communicating information or counsel, is as old as the Greek epigram. This was originally an inscription on a monument, a statue, or a votive offering preserved in a temple, and not seldom represented the work of art, or the dead who reposed beneath the monument, as addressing the passer-by.

As literary analogues Professor Cook cites some of the Greek epigrams from the Anthology and several in Latin in which a dead person, or the statue of a dead person, speaks briefly from the tomb. He also refers to an epigram which Ovid puts into the mouth of a parrot (Amores, II,  6) and another, perhaps spurious, at the beginning of Heroides, IX. Such simple statements in the first person singular were inscribed on bells, swords, and house fronts. Beyond these, however, he offers no literary parallels before the Old English period. If this were all, the originality shown by the author of the Dream of the Rood would indeed be all but unbelievable.

Now I have no desire to diminish the glory of the Old English poet, whose literary gifts remain beyond dispute no matter how many models he may have had. But I do wish to point out that Professor Cook has neglected to consider a number of poems in Latin which bridge the period from the GreekAnthology to eighth-century England and perceptibly diminish the appropriateness of the term 'unique' as applied to the speech of an inanimate object—even if it is to be the Rood—in the literature still extant in the eighth century. Moreover, I should like to point out that even without any models in Latin, a gifted writer might have found the suggestion for such a poem as the Dream of the Rood in Latin rhetorical texts of the time which discussed prosopopoeia, or discourse by inanimate objects. The poems suggested so far as direct sources or models for the Dream differ from it most conspicuously in being third person narratives instead of monologues. Thus [Adolf] Ebert proposed a fourth-century poem De Cruce by Cyprian, also called De Pascha, as a direct inspiration for the Old English poem; but this is allegorical exposition with but a slight modicum of narrative in the third person. Such texts are pertinent in a general way, since they exemplify interest in the Cross as a theme, but they leave out of account the interesting aesthetic problem of the innovation in Rood literature: the use of elegiac monologue.

In the golden age of Latin literature there was already a marked development of imaginary discourses by inanimate objects. This was a device particularly favored by the elegiac poets. Among the better known examples of this and later ages are: the discourse of the Tress of Berenice by Catullus; the apologia or exculpatio of a courtesan's doorpost in a dialogue also written by Catullus; a similar theme, Verba Januae conquerentis by Propertius; the discourse attributed to his book of Tristia by Ovid; a panegyric on the emperor composed by Ausonius and put into the mouth of the Danube River; a discourse delivered by a statue of Dido and another by the petrified Niobe, also by Ausonius. An anonymous writer of the days of decline and fall represents the City of Rome itself speaking in its desolation:

Vix scio quae fueram, vix Romae Roma recordor,
  Quae populo, regnis, moenibus alta fui.
Cesserunt arces, cecidere palatia Divum,
  Jam servit populus, degeneravit eques.
Quae fueram totum quondam celebrata per>br />  orbem,
 Vix sinor occasus vel miminisse mei.

Elizabeth Hazelton Haight [in her Romance in the Latin Elegiac Poets, 1932] has pointed out the popularity of this literary device among the Roman elegiac poets. Speaking of The Lock of Berenice by Catullus, she says:

The fact that the speaker in this elegy is a Talking Tress associates it with all those poems in which inanimate objects (tombstones, statues, doors) are given voice. The common device of the Speaking Door Catullus uses in another poem, which is not a monologue, but a dialogue, between House Door and Poet Catullus. … The House Door poem [of Propertius, she continues later] (I, 16) may have been suggested by Catullus LXVII. It is not specifically stated to be the door of Cynthia's house, but may be the door of any courtesan.… House Door speaks a monologue about its disgrace in having sunk from the portal of a consul whither triumphal cars drove, to the barred door of a Light o' Love where all night excluded lovers chant their lamentation.

Of such themes the speaking tree, or the wooden statue which recalls that it was once a tree, presents the closest classical parallel to the monologue passage in the Dream of the Rood A poem long attributed to Ovid, De Nuce, represents a nut tree as complaining about the hurts and indignities to which it is exposed because passers-by shake it and throw stones at it in order to obtain the ripened nuts. The tree protests its innocence, and laments the failure of the gods to act as husbandmen and protect the trees which were formerly in their charge.

1   Nux ego iuncta viae, cum sim sine
      crimine vitae,
      a populo saxis praetereunte petor.
    obruere ista solet manifesta poena nocentes,
      publica cum lentam non capit ira moram.
    nil ego peccavi: nisi si peccare vocetur
      annua cultori poma referre suo.

Fertility is a curse, not a blessing; if it were sterile it would be unmolested: 'Certe ego, sinumquam peperissem tutior essem.' It has suffered mutilation not because of hatred but because of desire for the booty:

37  at mihi saeva nocent mutilatis
       vulnera ramis,
       nudaque deiecto cortice ligna patent.
    non odium facit hoc, sed spes inducta
       sustineant aliae poma: querentur idem.

The tree also laments because it is suffering from thirst, because it is not permitted to bringits fruit to maturity, because winter, hated by most creatures, is necessarily welcome to it on account of the peace it brings, and because it cannot escape from threatened wounds ('nec vitare licet mihi moto vulnera trunco'). These manifold ills cause it to desire death:

159  o! ego, cum longae venerunt taedia vitae,
      optavi quotiens arida facta mori!
    optavi quotiens aut caeco turbine verti
      aut valido missi fulminis igni peti!
    atque utinam subitae raperent mea poma
      vel possem fructus excutere ipsa meos!

The poem ends with a direct exhortation to the traveler by the wayside: if I have deserved this punishment or been harmful in any way, burn me or cut me down at once; if not, leave me in peace and pass on!

The resemblances of this poem to the Dream of the Rood are largely generic, because both are laments and both are spoken by trees. The chief difference lies in the important circumstance that Nux complains of its own misfortunes, whereas the Rood solicits pity for the crucified Christ whom it bore. Certain verbal parallelisms result from the similarity of theme: 'ac ic sceolde fæste standan' and 'hyldan me ne dorste' (11. 43b and 45b) recall 'nec vitare licet mihi moto vulnera trunco, / quem sub humo radix vinclaque firma tenent?' (11. 169 f.). The general statements 'Feala ic on þam beorye yebiden hæbbe / wraoa wyrda'  (11. 50 f.) and 'Sare ic wæs mid soryum yedrefed' (1. 59a) seem to echo the equally general sentiments of Nux such as 'sic ego sola petor, soli quia causa petendi est: / frondibus intactis cetera turba viret' (11. 45 f.). There are specific references in both poems to the wounds suffered by the tree. Rood says: 'eall ic wæs mid strælum forwundod' (1. 62b), and Nux refers to its 'mutilatis vulnera ramis' (1. 37). Nux protests its innocence: 'nil ego peccavi: nisi si peccare vocetur / annua cultori poma referre suo' (11. 5 f.). There is at least an implied protestation of innocence in the Rood's repeated emphasis on its inability to do otherwise than carry out the Lord's will (11. 35 and 42) even though its part in the crucifixion made it seem for a time most loathsome to men ('leodum labost,'1. 88a).

In the Dream of the Rood a few lines are devoted to a description of the tree's life in the forest, and an account of the day when men came and bore it away on their shoulders (11. 28-33). In Latin literature too the wooden statue of a god sometimes refers to the time when it was transformed from a block of wood into an image. The most conspicuous examples are to be found in the group of poems giving speech to the god Priapus, of which Horace's satire (I, 8) Canidia is probably most famous:

1      Olim truncus eram ficulnus, inutile
     Cum faber, incertus scamnum faceretne
     Maluit esse deum. Deus inde ego, furum
     Maxima formido.…

Not all of the Latin Priapea are composed in the first person, but many which are contain a few lines on the transformation from tree to image, and many stress its tutelary function.

Familiarity with the Ovidian De Nuce on the part of the author of the Dream of the Rood is by no means improbable. The poem was commonly included among the authentic works of Ovid. The earliest English manuscripts known to contain it postdate the Norman Conquest, but this does not preclude knowledge of it in England at an earlier date, since collections of the Ovidian poems are extant in continental manuscripts from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The collection of Priapea was not lost in the Middle Ages; it was preserved partly, no doubt, because the poems were attributed to Vergil. A ninth-century manuscript of Murbach, Germany, contains these poems together with other short ones traditionally ascribed to Vergil. The text of Horace's Canidia was also known in Europe before the time of the Conquest, though there is no record of an 'Oratius totus' in England before 1170.

Besides these Latin discourses by trees or wooden images, there are, as Professor Cook has pointed out, a few riddles which bear a remote resemblance to the Dream of the Rood. Number 17 by Eusebius (eighth century) represents the Cross as speaking briefly in the first person, but the discourse is a form of enigmatic definition, entirely lacking in the narrative element so conspicuous in the Dream:

Per me mors adquiritur, et bona vita tenetur;
Me multi fugiunt, multique frequenter adorant;

Sumque timenda malis, non sum tamen horrida
Damnavique virum, sic multos carcere solvi.

It is because of their continuity with this distinctly classical tradition that some of the OldEnglish riddles composed in the first person singular show similarity of phraseology with the Dream of the Rood; for instance, number 72, which concerns a spear, begins 'I grew in the mead, and dwelt where earth and sky fed me, until those who were fierce against me overthrew me when advanced in years.' (Compare this with 'me vilem et e rude fuste / Manus sine arte rusticae dolaverunt' in number 63 of the Priapea.) The riddles are not, however, the sole or nearest source of inspiration available. Discourse by an inanimate object, making use of narrative, was a form known and practised according to the precepts of mediaeval rhetoric.

That form was known as prosopopoeia, and was usually discussed in conjunction with ethopoeia, or imaginary monologue attributed to a human but fictitious character. The two cannot be very well separated, since prosopopoeia assumes that an object feels and speaks like a person.

Priscian, following his source Hermogenes, gives the following brief description of the two germane forms under the heading of adlocutio, which is the ninth of his topics:

Adlocutio est imitatio sermonis ad mores et suppositas personas accommodata, ut quibus verbis uti potuisset Andromache Hectore mortuo: conformatio vero, quam Graeci προσωποποιíαν nominant, est, quando rei alicui contra naturam datur persona loquendi, ut Cicero patriae reique publicae in invectivis dat verba.

The example from Homer—the discourse of Andromache—had been used by Hermogenes; the Ciceronian instance of prosopopoeia—the discourse by the City of Rome to Cicero—was Priscian's substitute for a similar but less familiar instance from Greek oratory in which the sea is made to speak. After a brief definition of simulacri factio …, or the attribution of speech to the dead, Priscian makes some general remarks on the appropriateness of certain types of speeches to certain circumstances and individuals. He classifies all monologues into three groups according to their style or emotional tone: orationes morales, passionales, and mixtae.

Passionales sunt, in quibus passio, id est commiseratio perpetua inducitur, ut quibus verbis uti potuisset Andromache mortuo Hectore; morales vero, in quibus obtinent mores, ut quibus verbis uti potuisset rusticus, cum primum aspexerit navem; mixtae, quae utrumque habent, ut quibus verbis uti potuisset Achilles interfecto Patroclo; habet enim et passionem funeris amici et morem de bello cogitantis. Sed operatio procedit per tria tempora, et incipit a praesentibus, recurrit ad praeterita et transit ad futura: habeat autem stilum suppositis aptum personis.

As prosopopoeia the Dream of the Rood appears to be an oratio passionalis (a specific Cross speaks, not one of a class; moreover, the aim is certainly to evoke 'commiseratio perpetua'). Emporius used the term pathopoeia for such impassioned fictitious orations. The Dream observes the suggested time sequence of present-past-future by means of the introduction in which a dreamer recounts his vision of the Cross as an event in the present time, by the Rood's narrative account of the Crucifixion in the past, and by the closing references to a future life. The Rood says:

119 Ac ðurh ða rode sceal    rice yesecan
        of eorðweye    æyhwylc sawl,
    seo þe mid Wealdende    wunian þenceð.

The dreamer adds:

135          7 ic wene me
    daya yehwylce   hwænne me Dryhtnes
    þe ic her on eorðan    ær sceawode,
    on þyssum lænan     life yefetiye,
    7 me þonne yebrinye     þaer is blis mycel.
    dream on heofonum.…

In discussing imaginary monologues, some writers like Emporius limited themselves to ethopoeia, stressing the general advice that discourse must be made to harmonize with the characteristics … of the type of person being presented. Isidore of Seville echoes Priscian in his definition of prosopopoeia; he quotes the same example from Cicero's speeches: 'Etenim si mecum patria mea … loqueretur.…'

Another type of Latin discourse may be found represented in the Dream of the Rood, subordinate to the narrative embodied in prosopopoeia. Although not intended as an exculpation or speech of defense from an implied charge, the Rood's narrative contains certain phrases suggesting a desire to dissociate itself from the cruel tragedy to which it served as instrument. For a time it suffered reproach for this:

87  Iu ic wæs yeworden    wita heardost,
    leodum laðost,    ærþan ic him lifes wey
    rihtne yerymde,    reord berendum.

But throughout the narrative the Rood's helplessness has been emphasized. Just as the voluntary character of Christ's sacrifice is underscored in certain locutions, so the involuntary function of the Cross appears in such phrases as: 'þær ic þsa ne dorste ofer Dryhtnes word / buyan obbe berstan' (11. 35 f.); 'Bifode ic þa me se Beorn ymbclypte; ne dorste ic hwæbre buyan to eorban' (1. 42); 'Ac ic sceolde fæste standan' (1. 43b); '…hyldan me ne dorste'  (1. 45) and 'Ic þæt eall beheold. / Sare ic wæs mid soryum bedrefed' (11. 58 f.).

Literary defense from a charge, whether overt or implied, was known as purgatio. All of the longer mediaeval rhetorics discussed it. Cassiodorus, for instance, shows it graphically charted as a subdivision of a technique of defense known as concessio ('I admit that I did this, but …'), which in its turn is a subdivision of qualitas assumptiva in the class known as iuridicalis. His definition is:

Purgatio est, cum factum quidem conceditur, sed culpa removetur. Haec partes habet tres: inprudentiam, casum, necessitatem.

This definition of purgatio is to be found with but slight verbal changes in Martianus Capella and Isidore of Seville. Alcuin elaborates it by presenting hypothetical cases:

Purgatio est, per quam eius qui accusatur non factum ipsum, sed voluntas defenditur: ea habet partes tres, inprudentiam, casum, necessitudinem. Inprudentia est, cum scisse aliquid is, qui arguitur, negatur, ut … [an example follows taken from a typical controversia]. Casus autem infertur in concessionem, cum demonstratur aliqua fortunae vis voluntati obstitisse, ut…[example follows]. Necessitudo autem infertur, cum vi quadam reus id quod fecerit fecisse defenditur, hoc modo … [an example of shipwrecked persons who involuntarily violated the law of Rhodes about its harbor: 'vi et necessitate sumus in portum coacti'].

The Cross indicates repeatedly that it performed its dolorous function 'vi et necessitate'; it is for this reason that parts of its speech sound like a purgatio using the technical plea of necessitudo. The approximation to this particular form of concessio or defensive pleading also explains the resemblance to Middle English and other poems in which the Cross tells of its unwanted function as part of its defense in a disputation with Mary. Professor H. R. Patch has already called attention [in his "Liturgical Influence in The Dream of the Rood," PMLA, XXIV (1919)] to the slightly argumentative tone which anticipates the disputes between Mary and the Cross. Mary is mentioned in the Old English poem, but the defense, if such it may be called, is directed not to her but to the dreamer. The epithet reusis probably more appropriately applied to the Cross in the later disputation than in the Dream of the Rood, but a knowledge of rhetoric may have caused the author to bring out the element of concessio in its speech.

The Latin poems and rhetorical theory here presented are intended to illuminate the literary genesis of the Dream of the Rood rather than to supply specific sources for lines and phrases. Its relationship to the general body of literature of devotion to the Cross, as demonstrated by Ebert, Stevens, Patch, and Williams, is not to be doubted. But if Cyprian's allegorical exposition De Cruce, the hymns of Fortunatus and acrostic poems glorifying the Cross give important evidence for the prevalent appeal of the theme, its poignant effectiveness of form can be better accounted for by pagan theory and practice of prosopopoeia. The Ovidian De Nuce is not in any sense a source for the Dream of the Rood, but its existence helps us to understand the element of tradition which shapes the work of even a great innovator like the Old English author. After all, his greatest innovation was in the style and intensity which made of his poem an oratio passionalis (pathopoeia) in every sense of the word. Emporius had said that there were three levels of discourse possible in the composing of this (as any other) type of speech; 'vasta, humilis, temperata.' These three, as he was well aware, were but three variant terms for the ancient Greek schools of oratory: Asiatic, Attic, and Rhodian. The English poet chose and successfully handled an oratio vasta, the only appropriate one for a monologue by the Rood. That he did this is truly his chief literary glory. No amount of defining of rhetorical tradition, and no number of literary analogues on any level, can lessen that great distinction.

Charles W. Kennedy (essay date 1943)

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Charles W. Kennedy (essay date 1943)

SOURCE: "Poetry in the Cynewulfian Manner," in The Earliest English Poetry: A Critical Survey, Oxford University Press, Inc., 1943, pp. 235-66.

[In the following excerpt, Kennedy discusses glorification of the Cross in The Dream of the Rood, attributing to the poem 'pre-eminent distinction as a superb lyric presentation of a religious adoration which finds its symbol in the Cross. '  

In three Old English poems veneration of the Cross receives stressed and memorable expression: the Elene, Christ III, and Dream of the Rood. Of these, Christ III and the Dream have most in common both in spirit and detail. Cynewulf 's Elene … is a narrative of the Invention of the Cross, which attains its greatest poetic distinction in two incidental passages, the descriptions of Constantine's battle against the Huns, and Elene's sea-journey. In the lines which deal with the Cross itself, the Elene makes little display of that lyric emotion which is so continuously characteristic of the Dream of the Rood, and which colors at least two passages in Christ III. Of the three poems, it is the Dream of the Rood which, among all Old English religious poems, has pre-eminent distinction as a superb lyric presentation of a religious adoration which finds its symbol in the Cross.

The veneration with which Old English poets glorify the Cross as the greatest of all symbols cannot be considered in itself a derivative, solely or even chiefly, of the poetic imagination. Whether or not they were professional churchmen, the religious poets were obviously well versed in doctrine and patristic learning, and reflected in their poems much that was conventional in professional exegesis, and in mystical interpretation of ecclesiastical detail. Cynewulf, in the epilogue to Elene, refers to the care with which he had gathered, weighed, and sifted details of the Cross legend, until greater knowledge had brought him deeper understanding. It seems unlikely that this statement refers merely to the Crucifixion, or to the Invention of the Cross. His phrasing is suggestive, rather, of a pious concern with the corpus of mystical interpretations by which the medieval mind extended the symbolic significance of the Cross, linking its wood to the tree of life, and its shape to the shining sign of the Son of Man, which at the Judgment shall illumine and transcend the universe.

This adoration of the Cross is revealed both in patristic commentary, and in the hymnology of the medieval Church. It was illustrated in Alcuin's imitation of Fortunatus in the composition of cruciform acrostics and hymns to the Holy Cross. Even beyond the walls of the Church the cross became a frequently recurring symbol, and stone crosses, often skillfully adorned with carving and inscription, served not merely as mortuary monuments but as boundary marks, oratories, and places of public worship.

It is on one such cross, the Ruthwell Cross near Dumfries on the Scottish border, that we find inscribed, as a part of the decoration, brief passages from the Dream of the Rood. Through this inscription the Dream of the Rood, with little warrant, was for a time associated with the name of Caedmon.

The theory that Caedmon was author of the fragments of the Dream inscribed on the Ruthwell Cross rested on two postulates. Daniel Haigh in 1856 dated the Cross as of the seventh century, and suggested that the runic lines on the Cross are fragments of a lost poem of Caedmon of which the Dream of the Rood is a later version. Ten years later Stephens supported this theory of Caedmonian authorship by his assertion that an almost obliterated inscription on the upper runic panel included the words, 'Caedmon made me.' But repeated and careful examinations of the Cross have rendered these theories untenable. Critical studies of the beasts, flowers, and foliage in the ornamentation suggest a date definitely later than the seventh century, possibly as late as the year 1000. The language of the inscription is regarded by [Albert S.] Cook as of equally late date. Vietor, after thorough examination of the Cross, was unable in 1895 to find any convincing traces of the name of Caedmon.

It was Dietrich who first called attention to a number of reasons for attributing the poem to Cynewulf. He attempted to connect the Dream of the Rood with the Elene, since the theme of each was the Cross, and conjectured that the poet was inspired to write of the Invention of the Cross by the influence of the vision which he narrates in the Dream. He called attention to a similarity in tone between the personal passages of Cynewulf 's signed poems and certain lines of a personal nature which end the Dream of the Rood, and found additional support for his theory in correspondence of diction between the Dreamand the authentic Cynewulfian poems. He concluded that the Dream was written by Cynewulf toward the end of his life.

The question of the authorship of the Dream of the Rood must be determined in the light of the following facts: that the diction of the Dream is, on the whole, Cynewulfian; that Cynewulf had written and signed another poem on the Cross in which he handled the vision of Constantine with evident appreciation of its beauty; and that a somewhat extended passage at the end of the Dream is remarkably similar in substance and tone to the personal passages which conclude the Christ and Elene. These facts, taken in conjunction, tend to make probable the theory that Cynewulf wrote this lovely lyric of the Cross.

In its blending of lyric grace and religious adoration, the Dream of the Rood is one of the most beautiful of Old English poems. The poet employs the frame of the medieval dream-vision within which to set the glorious image which appeared to him in the midnight when mortal men lay wrapped in slumber. It seemed to him that he beheld the Cross upraised on high, enwreathed with light and adorned with gold and gems. Throughout Creation the angels of God beheld it; holy spirits gazed upon it, and men on earth. Stained as he was by sin, it was granted him to see the Tree shining in radiant splendor. In his dream the Cross flamed with changing color, now decked with gold and precious jewels, now wet with blood:

Lo! I will tell the dearest of dreams
That I dreamed in the midnight when mortal
Were sunk in slumber. Meseemed that I saw
A wondrous Tree towering in air,
Most shining of crosses encompassed with light.
Brightly that beacon was gilded with gold;
Jewels adorned it, fair at the foot,
Five on the shoulder-beam, blazing in splendor.
Through all creation the angels of God
Beheld it shining—no cross of shame!—
But holy spirits gazed on its gleaming,
Men upon earth, and all this great creation.
Wondrous the Tree, that token of triumph,
And I a transgressor, stained with my sins!
I gazed on the Rood arrayed in glory,
Fairly shining and graced with gold,
The Cross of the Savior beset with gems;
But through the gold-work outgleamed a token
Of the ancient evil of wretched souls,
Where the Cross on its right side once sweat
Saddened and rueful and smitten with terror
At the wondrous Vision, I saw the Rood
Swift to vary in vesture and hue,
Now wet and stained with the Blood outwelling,
Now fairly gilded and graced with gold.

The convention of the dream-vision provides the poet with a device whereby he is able to shape his material to superb advantage. It is characteristic of the convention that his vision should come vividly to life with endowment of human thought and feeling, and human speech. The Cross becomes the narrator of the Crucifixion and Passion of Christ, and the tragic description by this device takes on elements of dramatic emotion which could come in no other way. As the poet in dream gazes with rueful heart upon the Rood, it begins to speak, recalling its tragic history. Once, long years before, it grew as a forest tree on the edge of a wood. But impious hands hewed it from its stock and shaped it into an instrument for the punishment of malefactors. As it stood on a hilltop outlined against the sky, it became a spectacular symbol of the world's evil. Then fear and horror fell upon it. For it beheld the Lord of all the world hasting in heroic mood to ascend upon it for the redemption of Man. The terror of the Cross, as it foresaw its destiny to serveas the instrument of the Passion of Christ, is a superbly imaginative touch rendered in the simplest terms. Though struck with horror it could not in disobedience reject the fate appointed. When Almighty God clasped it with willing arms it trembled with terror, yet dared not bend or break. It must needs stand fast holding the Lord of all creation, and wet with His blood. A stark vigor of imagination fuses with lyric emotion to make the description notable:

Natheless, as I lay there long time I gazed
In rue and sadness on my Savior's Tree,
Till I heard in dream how the Cross addressed
Of all woods the worthiest, speaking these
'Long years ago—well yet I remember—
They hewed me down on the edge of the holt,
Severed my trunk; strong foemen took me,
To a spectacle shaped me—a felon's cross!
High on their shoulders they bore me to hilltop,
Fastened me firmly, foes enough, forsooth.
Then I saw the Ruler of all mankind

In brave mood hasting to mount upon me.
Refuse I dared not, nor bow nor break,
Though I saw earth's confines shudder in fear;
All foes I might fell, yet still I stood fast.
Then the Hero young—it was God Almighty—
Put off His raiment, steadfast and strong;
With lordly mood in the sight of many
He mounted the Cross to redeem mankind.
When the Hero clasped me I trembled in terror,
But I dared not bow me nor bend to earth;
I must needs stand fast. Upraised as the Rood
I held the High King, the Lord of heaven.
I dared not bow! With black nails driven
Those sinners pierced me; the prints are clear,
The open wounds. I dared injure none.
They mocked us both. I was wet with blood
From the Hero's side when He sent forth His
Many a bale I bore on that hill-side,
Seeing the Lord in agony outstretched.
Black darkness covered with clouds God's body,
That radiant splendor; shadow went forth
Wan under heaven; then wept all creation,
Bewailing the King's death; Christ was on the

The last few lines of this passage furnish superb illustration of the imaginative realism which underlies the simplicity of the poet's phrasing. The darkness which falls upon the earth at the consummation of the Passion he inherits from Biblical source. But he puts it to striking and reverent use in a contrast between the darkness of obscuring cloud and the radiant splendor of the body of Christ hanging on the Cross. The weeping of all Creation at the Savior's death may well have come into the poet's mind from Gregorian homily, or from memories of the Balder legend and its reference to the mourning of all nature at Balder's death. But the stroke which completes the passage is his own, a brief half-line of pregnant compression in which all the drama and density of mankind are gathered up in the symbol of eternal love transcendent over evil: 'Christ was on the Cross.'

There follows, in the speech of the Rood, a description of the Deposition and Burial. The Cross stained with Christ's blood, and wounded with the arrows of the war-wolves who had slain Him, was hewed down and covered over in a deep trench—'a fearful fate.' But later friends and thanes of God recovered it and decked it with silver and gold. The Rood which was once the bitterest of tortures was honored by the Prince of glory above all forest trees, even as He had honored His mother, Mary, over all the race of women. The dreamer is then commanded to reveal his vision to men. The speech of the Cross ends with rehearsal of the Ascension, and prophecy of the Day of Judgment to come.

This vision of the Cross and its narrative of the Crucifixion find closest parallel in mood and detail in Christ III, where the more extended description of the Crucifixion and the shining image of the Cross transcendent in the Day of Judgment produce a unique fusion of realism and symbolism. Wherein, then, lies the unique emotional appeal of the Dream of the Rood? It springs, in considerable degree, from the inherent value of the poetic device which the poet has adopted, the dream-vision, within the conventions of which the Crucifixion, as told by the Cross, receives uniquely personalized rehearsal. The resultant note of emotional fervor, in which the triumphant and the tragic are so closely blended, is a superlative derivative of the spirit of religious devotion effectively supplemented by elements of literary form.

The lines which follow, and which conclude the poem, unite highly personal reflection with a prophetic delineation of the joys of the blessed in the life to come. In mood and diction these lines are so suggestive of the personal passages of Cynewulf 's signed poems that, even though the runes are lacking, we are tempted to regard the poem as his. If the Dream of the Rood is not Cynewulf 's, it is the work of a poet who has imitated with singular faithfulness all the characteristics of the personal mood invariably associated with the Cynewulfian signature. Even in Elene and Christ II there is no more exquisitely sensitive and personalized revelation of religious faith and hope than that which graces the ending of the Dream:

Then in solitude I prayed to the Rood fervently and with joyful heart. My soul was eager to be gone; I had lived through many an hour of longing. Now have I hope of life, that I may turn to thetriumphant Cross, I above all men, and revere it well. Thereto I have great desire, and my hope of succor is set upon the Cross. I have not now in this world many powerful friends. They have departed hence out of the pleasures of this earthly life, and sought the King of glory; they dwell now with the High Father in heaven, and abide in glory. And every day I look forward to the hour when the Cross of my Lord, of which I had vision here on earth, may fetch me out of this fleeting life and bring me where is great joy and rapture in heaven, where God's people are established forever in eternal bliss; and set me where I may hereafter dwell in glory, and with the Saints have joy of joys. May the Lord be-friend me, He who on earth once suffered on the Cross for the sins of men.

Whether written by Cynewulf himself, or by some singularly faithful imitator, the intimate biographic appeal of such a passage brings conviction to ear and mind that here is an authentic and extended parallel to the signed revelations of the Cynewulfian poems.

Rosemary Woolf (essay date 1958)

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Rosemary Woolf (essay date 1958)

SOURCE: "Doctrinal Influences on The Dream of the Rood," in Medium Aevum, Vol. XXVII, No. 3, 1958, pp. 137-53.

[In the following essay, Woolf assesses The Dream of the Rood 's emphasis on Christ's supremacy and suffering, stating that the poet "reflected exactly the doctrinal pattern of thought of his time. '

The unique quality of the treatment of the Crucifixion in the Dream of the Rood has been long admired, and memorably commented upon. It is unique, not only in Old English poetry—that would not be remarkable since so little survives—but in the whole range of English, and perhaps even western, literature. It is almost certain that this uniqueness of conception is the Anglo-Saxon poet's own, and that he did not have before him a source which he followed closely. There is a compactness and intensity in the poem that would be startling in an Anglo-Saxon translation or paraphrase; nor is its individuality more easily accounted for by the hypothesis that it was originally the work of a Roman rather than of an Anglo-Saxon Christian. Nevertheless all literary and historical probability is against the supposition that nothing but the poet's personal inspiration lies between the gospel narrative and the Dream of the Rood. But, whilst the poem is obviously not a Biblical paraphrase in conventional style, yet it is influenced hardly at all by Latin hymns, nor by certain antiphons of the liturgy, such as lie behind the treatment of the Crucifixion in the Crist. The influences to be considered are in fact not of the kind that can be isolated in any specific text, but rather those of the religious thought of the poet's period, in particular its philosophic view of the person and nature of Christ and definition of the Redemption. The most remarkable achievement of the poem is its balance between the effects of triumph and suffering, and their paradoxical fusion in the Crucifixion is suggested first by the alternation between the jewelled radiant cross and the plain and blood-covered cross in the prelude, and secondly and much more subtly and powerfully by the two figures of the heroic victorious warrior and the passive enduring cross. At the time when the poet wrote, the Church insisted on the co-existence of these two elements in Christ, divine supremacy and human suffering, with a vehemence and rigidity deriving from more than two centuries of heretical Christological dispute, and which abated only when the orthodox view was no longer questioned. In the soteriological doctrine of the time there also co-existed the two ideas of a divine victory and a sacrificial offering, though here not as the result of a carefully formulated orthodox dogma, but simply because as yet the nature of the Redemption had not become a central subject of theological speculation, and contradictory views were therefore stated not only by different writers but also often in different works of the same writer. The author of the Dream of the Rood, then, in emphasizing at once both triumph and suffering in a way that would have been inconceivable in the Middle Ages, reflected exactly the doctrinal pattern of thought of his time, though this fact, of course, by no means detracts from the brilliance with which this thought, so difficult of imaginative comprehension, is transmuted into a poetic form which brings home its meaning to the understanding in a way that is beyond the dry precision of philosophical language.

The stress that will be laid on the Crucifixion as a scene of triumph or a scene of suffering depends upon the stress that is laid on Christ as God or Christ as man. These two possible emphases developed in the late fourth century in the theological schools of Alexandria and Antioch, and both led to Christological heresy. The Monophysites, whose philosophic definition of Christ sprang from the speculative mode of thought of Alexandria, correctly insisted on the unity of Christ's person, but at the cost of a tendency to confuse His two natures: the result was that they overstressed His divinity, for in this confusion His humanity, unsafeguarded by an essential distinctiveness, might seem to be absorbed as a drop of water by the ocean. The undesirable but logically inevitable conclusion of such a philosophic view was either that the Godhead must be thought of as passible—as the Eutychians of the fifth century were accused of maintaining—or Christ must be said to have been immune from the ordinary human experience of suffering, and in the sixth century some of the more extreme Monophysites scarcely avoided this Docetic belief. The heresy of the school of Antioch takes its name from Nestorius, although modern scholarship has shown him to have been at least partly maligned. The Nestorians had the moral and literal way of thought which characterized all Antiochene studies. They, unlike the Monophysites, correctly distinguished between the two natures of Christ, but at the cost of almost denying the unity of His person, and hence of overstressing Christ's humanity. The Nestorians were notorious for their rejection of the term Theotokos (God-bearer) as a descriptive title of the Virgin, and in their most obviously extreme statements held that the indwelling of God in Christ was not different in kind, although of course in degree, from His indwelling in the prophets. To stress that Christ was subject to all the natural pains of human nature was therefore particularly characteristic of the Nestorians. This summary has stressed what is extreme and exaggerated in the Christology of the two heretical schools, for it was this that was remembered and feared by the orthodox. The difference between the moderate and unfanatical thinkers of both sides was more a matter of emphasis than of deep dogmatic division, and each side when speaking cautiously and charitably could reach agreement with the other, as they did at the time of Cyril's Formulary of Reunion (433), but the effect in the heat of hostile argument or in private eccentric speculation was that the Monophysites seemed to deny that Christ was fully man, and the Nestorians to deny that Christ was fully God.

The Church in Rome insisted on a middle way between these two extremes, and the dispute was first settled to the philosophic satisfaction of the west at the Council of Chalcedon (449). There the Council accepteda number of documents as orthodox, besides composing its own Definitio Fidei. Of these documents the one of most lasting importance was the Tome of Leo I. In this the Pope established a razor-edge position between Alexandria and Antioch, maintaining the true western tradition that there was in Christ one person and two natures, the person undivided and the natures unconfused. He also defined the correct manner of speaking of Christ's life on earth, so that this bare definition might be expressed in terms of narrative or exegesis. From Antioch he borrowed the principal of 'recognizing the difference', that is of dividing, as the Nestorians had commonly done in their scriptural commentaries, all the acts of Christ's life into those which appertained to His humanity and those which appertained to His divinity. In His humanity, for instance, He hungered, thirsted, felt fatigue, and suffered: in His divinity He healed, forgave, and accomplished all His miracles—or, to quote a popular and pointed example, in His humanity Christ wept for the death of Lazarus, but in His divinity He raised him. This method preserved admirably the doctrine of the two natures without confusion, but for full orthodoxy it required the corrective and corollary of the principle of communicatio idiomatum, which Leo adopted from Alexandria. The philosophic basis of this principle was that, since Christ's person was a unity, the properties of both natures could be ascribed to it, provided, of course, that the word used for Christ's person was a concrete not an abstract noun (e. g. God, not Godhead). The method was therefore to attribute to Christ under a divine title one of the limitations of humanity: authority for this could be found in the works of St. Paul himself, who had written in a much quoted text, 'If they had known it they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory' (1 Cor. ii. 8). The unity of Christ's person was thus emphasized in a manner which from a literary point of view produced a startlingly paradoxical effect.

Although Leo's Tome established for centuries the orthodox way of describing Christ's life, it did not at the time put an end to Christological dispute, but rather stimulated further dissension. With the doctrinal issue aggravated by motives of imperial policy, Rome and Byzantium remained opposed until the Oecumenical Council of 682, when the Monophysite and Nestorian controversy was finally determined, though only at the cost of the schism of the churches of Egypt and Asia Minor. Even in the west Christological orthodoxy did not then remain undisturbed, for in the eighth century the Adoptionist heresy (the view that Christ was Son of God by adoption only) became strong in Spain and France, and Alcuin was one of those who defended western orthodoxy against it.

Theological disputation may at first sight seem remote from Anglo-Saxon England of the late seventh century. But whilst the fact that the Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastics of this period came of a people only comparatively recently converted, and without any tradition of philosophical thinking, no doubt led to their accepting western orthodoxy unquestioningly, it did not necessarily mean that they accepted it ignorantly. It was not the policy of the Pope to keep them innocently unaware of heretical dangers, but rather to instruct the Anglo-Saxon church against them; nor could they have read the works of any of the great Fathers and remained ignorant of the eastern heresies. The Anglo-Saxons were in fact in an ideal position for upholding the western tradition. On the one hand it is clear that they had sufficient grasp of theological teaching to understand the issues involved, but on the other hand they had neither the fanaticism of spirit nor the confidence of a long tradition of independent scholarship, which might lead them into disagreement with Rome.

In the year 679 the Christological heresies were particularly brought to the attention of the Anglo-Saxon Church. The Pope, in preparation for the Oecumenical Council, wished to assure himself of the invariable orthodoxy of all the countries in the west. In accordance with this wish, Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 679 summoned the Synod of Hatfield, and in the presenceof the papal legate inquired diligently of the bishops and doctors there assembled what doctrine they held, and found that they were all of the Catholic faith. This Council condemned the great heretics, including Nestorius and Eutyches, and read and accepted the documents of the Lateran Council of 649, which, of course, included Leo's Tome. Theodore also set down the declaration of faith of the Council in a Synodical letter 'for the instruction and faith of aftercomers', and a copy of this was given to the legate to take back to Rome. At the OecumenicalCouncil itself the faith of the Anglo-Saxon Church was attested by Wilfrid, on the first occasion when the Anglo-Saxons were represented at such a Council. The papal legate at Hatfield had been John, the arch-chanter or precentor of St. Peter's, who had spent the previous year under the guidance of Benedict Biscop in the monastery at Wearmouth, instructing the monks in the Roman manner of singing the monastic office, and during that time a copy of the documents of the Lateran Council, which he had brought with him, was made at Wearmouth. It is inconceivable that during this time he left unheeded the other half of his commission from the Pope, and failed to discuss and instruct in western Christology. Similar guidance and instruction must have been given by Theodore and his colleague Hadrian of Naples, both of whom are known to have made extensive journeys through England. Theodore himself had been brought up in the geographical centre of the dispute, and was so learned and skilled in the Monophysite controversy that the previous Pope had wished him to lead the Roman legation to Constantinople.

It was not, however, solely from the teaching of such men as Theodore and Hadrian, or from the assembly at Hatfield, or from the documents of the Councils deposited in England, that knowledge of the heretical doctrines of the person and nature of Christ would reach the Anglo-Saxon Church, but also from the works of the great Fathers, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine and Gregory the Great. In separate tracts and in their exegesis of the New Testament the later Fathers constantly refuted the Nestorian and Monophysite heresies, and various key texts in the gospels became conventional starting points for an attack on the wicked Nestorius or the madness of Eutyches. These antiheretical arguments based on scriptural texts are repeated by Bede, whose own commentaries on the four gospels were written in the first quarter of the eighth century. There is little in Bede's commentaries that is original, but neither are they simply translations, and Bede must be supposed to haveselected from the works of his authoritative predecessors those arguments and explanations which he thought most relevant and important, and all his four commentaries are extraordinarily full of refutations of the earlier heretics. From the combined evidence of the historical information and of Bede's commentaries it is clear that the heresies of Nestorius and Eutyches were a living issue in England for at least the fifty years from about 675-725. Since the identity of the authorof the Dream of the Rood is not known, it cannot be conclusively proved from evidence outside the poem that he knew of the Christological controversy. But the burden of proof is undoubtedly on anyone who would maintain that an educated man of this period could remain unaware at the very least that the greatest theological care and precision was required in any statements about Christ's life, and in particular about His Crucifixion, and that an equal stress must be laid on Christ's divinity (against Nestorius) and Christ's humanity (against Eutyches).

The tension between divinity and triumph on the one hand and humanity and suffering on the other might also arise from the doctrine of the Redemption as it was taught at this period. No comprehensive and consistent soteriological theory was evolved until that of Anselm in the eleventh century, and this point—no doubt because it had not been associated with heresy—was not treated with the same philosophic depth and perception with which the Fathers had analysed the person of Christ, and on it they were often ambiguous and self-contradictory. Apart from the typically eastern idea of humanity being cleansed and immortalized through its assumption by the divinity, which though important is not relevant here, two other main ideas can be clearly distinguished. The earlier is that which was commonly held by the eastern church, and it was dualistic, though of course not Manichaean. According to it, the nature of the Redemption was that God, by His Incarnationand Passion, released or redeemed mankind from the devil, who, by the Fall had acquired a just claim to man. Christ's death was seen either as a bait or an offering, and through his acceptance of it the devil was outwitted and overcome. The issue was therefore between God and the devil, and the result was God's defeat of the devil. Although this idea was of eastern origin, it was repeated by the great western Fathers, Leo, Augustine and Gregory 1. They, however, following the New Testament, and in particular the Epistle to the Hebrews, also stressed the Crucifixion as an offering or sacrifice made on behalf of man by Christ as man, the spotless for the guilty. The emphasis in the New Testament on man being redeemed by the blood of Christ could scarcely be ignored, and a recognition of this was aided by the growing devotion to the Eucharist. Gregory I contributed much to the Catholic doctrine of the mass, and in self-contradiction stated both theories of the Redemption, developing a theory of Christ's suffering and death as a sacrificial offering which is Anselm's view in rudimentary form; though elsewhere he also speaks of the Crucifixion in terms of conflict and triumph, repeating Gregory of Nyssa's grotesque image of Christ's humanity being a bait swallowed by Leviathan.

These two theories were not normally combined, but if they were associated in thought a tension and paradox would be inevitable. In one view the stress is on Christ's divinity: God entersthe world to free man from the devil, and the moment of His triumph is the Crucifixion; in the other view the stress is on Christ's humanity: God becomes man that as man He may offer to God the due sacrifice which man is unable to offer for himself, and the Crucifixion is the supreme moment of pain and abasement. It must, however, be added that these two views were not entirely mutually exclusive, but rather what was central in one became secondary in the other. Thus in the theory of the 'devil's rights' it was not forgotten that the result of the defeat of the devil was the restoration of the former relationship between God and man, and in the 'satisfaction' theory it was remembered that the further result of God being reconciled to man was that the devil lost his former possession of the whole human race. For this reason it was not ridiculous that both ideas should be implied or stated within one passage or poem.

The Dream of the Rood then was written at a time when both Christology and soteriology laid this double stress on the Crucifixion as a scene of both triumph and suffering, and the author has succeeded in fulfilling what might seem to be an artistically impossible demand. Without such a brilliant conception as that of the poet's, the two aspects would inevitably have become separated, as they were usually in the Middle Ages. The Crucifixion in both mediæval art and mediæval literature is usually a scene of utmost agony: in accordance with the doctrine of'satisfaction', Christ as man offers His suffering to its farthest limit, until the body hangs painfully from the Cross without blood or life. The note of triumph is necessarily reserved until the Harrowing of Hell, when Christ, approaching as the King of Glory, conquers the devil, often using His Resurrection cross as a weapon of war and plunging it into the mouth of the defeated Leviathan. The timing of this, of course, exactly expresses the pattern of the mediæval doctrine of the Redemption, the sacrifice being primary, the defeat of the devil secondary.

The image of the Crucifixion as a conflict and Christ as a warrior is very appropriate to the dualistic theory of the Redemption, for the essence of this image is that there should be an opponent to be overcome, and that the hero should be triumphant; as a symbol of the 'satisfaction' theory it would lose its force and appear crude and irrelevant. In the Middle Ages, therefore, the image of Christ as a feudal knight is rarely used, and, when it is, is normally accompanied by a statement of the theory of the 'devil's rights'. A clear example of this may be seen in Piers Plowman (Passus xviii, B Text), where Christ is represented as contestor and victor in a tournament, and releases man justly from the devil's power since 'gyle is bigyled' (1. 358) and Christ's soul given in reason (11. 325, 337-42), the ideas of the bait and the offering being here combined. We might conjecture that the image of the Crucifixion as a battle would otherwise have almost died out, had it not been given a new force by the association of courtly love with chivalry, so that Christ becomes the lover-knight, loving his lady (mankind) to the point of death, and deserving thereby to win her love in return. The examplum of the lover-knight, of which the most moving form is in the section on love in the Ancren Riwle and Henryson's Bloody Serk, makes this much-stressed point of Christ's love for man with beauty and clarity.

The presentation of Christ in the Dream of the Rood as a young warrior advancing to battle has been much commented upon as an example of the common Anglo-Saxon convention of treating Christian subject matter in heroic terms. The conception of Christ as a warrior is, however, not peculiar to the Anglo-Saxon imagination. In visual art, for instance, it was a common Mediterranean theme, of which one of the most striking extant examples is a mosaic in the Chapel of the Palace of the Archbishop at Ravenna. There Christ, dressed in Roman military style, stands strongly, the symbolical animals subdued beneath His feet, and a cross of the Resurrection style swung over His shoulder as though it were a weapon. The effect is of a triumphant hero. The armour of Christ probably derives from the description of the divine warrior-redeemer in Isaiah lix. 17, whilst the animals beneath His feet are an illustration of Psalm xci. 13. Whilst it is not improbable that the Anglo-Saxons knew the Christus Miles theme, it cannot be proved that they did, for, although there is a Christ standing over the animals on both the Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses, the original was probably in the hieratic style, in which Christ, dressed in a long mantle, seems to stand as a ruler with serenity and power over the prostrate animals. The concept of the Crucifixion as a battle, however, was not restricted to the visual arts. The idea of a military conflict had been common in the patristic statements of the theory of the 'devil's rights', and became, no doubt therefrom, a commonplace of early Latin Christian poets and hymn-writers, and with it was associated the idea of kingly victory. This derived supposedly from Psalm xcvi. 10, which in the Psalterium Romanum read: 'Dicite in gentibus quia dominus regnavit a ligno'. Versions in which a ligno did not appear were dismissed by the early church as malicious alterations of the Jews, so admirably did this reading express their doctrine of the Crucifixion. The idea that Christ reigned from the tree was given popularity by the famous hymn of Venantius Fortunatus, Vexilla Regis Prodeunt, a hymn undoubtedly used by the Anglo-Saxon Church, and was given iconographical expression in the earliest crucifixes and representations of the Crucifixion. In these Christ, a young man of noble appearance, stands firmly on the Cross, His feetsupported by a suppedaneum, and on His upright head a halo or royal crown. All these are but illustrations of a common imaginative theme of the early church, which must have been known to the Anglo-Saxons, and which presents such striking affinities to both conception and tone of the geong hæleo in the Dream of the Rood, that it would be perverse to prefer thetheory of coincidence to that of influence.

In the Dream of the Rood the heroic quality of Christ is suggested by the three actions ascribed to Him: He advances to the Cross with bold speed, strips Himself, and ascends it. All these emphasize the confidence of divine victory and the voluntariness of Christ's undertaking the Crucifixion. They are therefore absolutely consonant with the teaching of the early church, and in intense contrast to the mediæval treatment of the Crucifixion. The mediæval picture of Christ exhausted and stooping beneath the weight of the Cross is so well-known and so moving that it is easy to forget nowadays that this is not a literal illustration of the gospel narrative, but a mediæval interpretation which, though the Christian may well believe it to be true, is at most faintly implicit in the gospels themselves. There is a discrepancy in the gospel accounts of the carrying of the Cross. In the first three gospels the Cross is said to have been borne by Simon of Cyrene, whilst in St. John Christ carries it Himself. According to the orthodox exegesis, which Bede follows, the discordant statements are reconciled by the view that the Cross was first carried by Christ and later by Simon. But it is interesting to notice that Bede, again following an authoritative tradition, makes only an abstract and moral deduction from this: Simon is allegorically a Christian obeying Christ's command to take up his cross and follow Him, and literally a gentile in order to signify the gathering in of the whole world into Christ's Church. The naturalistic deduction that Christ was too exhausted to carry it farther Himself, which accorded so well with the mediæval doctrine of the Crucifixion, was not made until later. It was therefore not a wilful divergence from the gospel narrative to represent Christ advancing without the Cross (although that the Cross is already in position and watches Christ advancing to it seems to be the poet's own variation). In the mosaics of San Apollinare Nuovo at Ravenna, for instance, Christ Himself advances with His hands outstretched in a gesture of sacrificial self-offering. The poet has taken advantage of this tradition to heighten the heroic and voluntary nature of the Crucifixion.

The stripping of Christ is not described in any of the gospels. The soldiers divide His garments amongst themselves, but their actual removal is not given as an essential detail of the narrative. The Middle Ages, of course, imagined that Christ's robes were torn from Him by the soldiers, as a further stage in their grotesque brutality, and the manner in which this caused the wounds of His flagellation to reopen was often gruesomely described. Since Matthew and Mark a few verses before the description of the Crucifixion tell of the previous stripping of Christ, when the purple robe was placed upon Him, it is plausible to imagine the scene preparatory to the Crucifixion analogously. But the author of the Dream of the Rood was following a patristic tradition, to be found, for instance, in Ambrose's commentary on Luke, of Christ as kingly victor removing His clothes: 'Pulchre ascensurus crucem regalia vestimenta deposuit'. Though to this is added an Old Testament parallel, that as Adam defeated sought clothing, so Christ conquering laid down His clothing. In the Dream of the Rood Christ is very clearly a hero stripping Himself for battle in a description which has been compared with an analogous scene in the Aeneid (v. 241 ff.), where Entellus strips himself, and stands imposing of appearance, ready for his encounter with Dares: a resemblance, of course, of heroic description to heroic description, not of derivative to source. Christ's stripping of Himself, then, is voluntary and heroic, and so also therefore is His nudity. In the Syrian tradition of Christian art, in which nakedness was considered shameful, Christ on the Cross for the sake of reverence and decorum was dressed, with hieratic effect, in the long collobium. But Hellenic Christian art retained the idea of the nudity of the hero, and therefore represented Christ as naked, or almost naked, upon the Cross, without this in any way conflicting with the idea of the Crucifixion as a royal and heroic triumph; and it is this conception which also lies behind the phrase ongyrede hine in the Dream of the Rood. It is interesting to notice that in the Middle Ages writers and artists adhered in this point to the gospel account and to the outward form of Hellenic art, but saw the enforced nakedness of Christ as a humiliation added to torment, and it was sometimes imagined that the Virgin intervened to save her Son from such shame by covering Him with her veil.

Christ's mounting the Cross is the climax and end of the description of the Crucifixion in heroic terms. Again in the gospels the method of attaching Christ to the Cross is not described, and exegesis, as in Bede, normally only expounds the allegorical significance of the Crucifixion, and is not primarily concerned with turning the gospel story into a continuous naturalistic narrative. Of the great Fathers, only Ambrose in the passage referred to above describes Christ ascending the Cross as victor. In Latin hymnody there were two conventional expressions, crucem ascendere and in crucis stipite levatur. The poet, perhaps following Ambrose, and certainly with the same intention in mind, makes use of the Old English equivalent of crucem ascendere: gealgan gestigan. This is the consummation of his theme, and Christ ascends the Cross of His own will, in contrast to the later mediæval representations in art and mystery plays, where the body of Christ is nailed to the Cross as it lies on the ground, and the thrusting of its base into the socket is an additional agony for Christ. The young hero's advance, and ascent of the Cross, is thus at once painless and heroic, and is therefore a most admirable symbol of the divine nature of Christ and the earlier definition of the Redemption.

In any narrative stressing the divinity of Christ, the greatest difficulty lies in the description of Christ's death, a difficulty which is not only literary but theological. To this the poet's image of Christ resting and asleep after His great struggle is a most brilliant poetic solution: 'Aledon hie oær limwerigne … ond he hine oær hwile reste, meoe æfter oam miclan gewinne' (11. 63-5). It had been a fairly common view that at the moment of Christ's death, the Godhead forsook the body, and that the obviously anguished cry of Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani, was the lament of the human body as it felt the divinity depart. Such a conclusion was dangerously near to the Apollinarian heresy (that in Christ the place of the rational soul was taken by the Divinity), but the alternative, which seemed to involve the theologically impossible statement that God could die, and that it was the dead body of God which was removed from the Cross, was not immediately acceptable, and it is little wonder that Christian writers faltered before a so apparently incomprehensible paradox. At the same time there was an insistence on the voluntary nature of Christ's death—that, unlike the thieves and all other human beings, He had died at the exact moment that He chose. That Christ inclined His head before death, not after, was thought to demonstrate this, as also the comparatively short duration of His agony. The text of John x. 18 was orthodoxly associated with this, as can be seen from Bede's commentaries on Mark and John. This theological uneasiness over the death of Christ is negatively reflected in early representations of the Crucifixion, in all of which Christ is shown alive; in the west it is not until the Middle Ages that Christ is shown hanging dead upon the Cross. The author of the Dream of the Rood similarly does not speak of Christ's death: the climax of the poem is simply, Crist wæs on rode, and His death is thereafter described as a sleep, in terms which with cathartic effect suggest exhaustion, release and temporary rest. In describing Christ's death as a sleep the poet was probably not original. The image had already been used of Christ; for instance, by Augustine in his commentary on St. John, and by Bede in imitation. Both intend by it to emphasize the voluntary nature of Christ's death: just as He slept when He wished, so He died when He wished, though Augustine also draws a further allegorical point, that just as Eve was born from the side of Adam as he slept, so the Church was born from the side of Christ in His flowing sacramental blood as He slept in death on the Cross. But, though the poet may have borrowed the image, the use he makes of it in suggesting a body still potentially instinct with life in his own. Modern usage may have reduced the image of death as a sleep to a sentimental euphemism—a danger perhaps inherent in the Homeric and late classical usage—but in its earliest Christian form, in Christ's words to Jairus, its point is not to evade the terror and finality of the word death, but to assert the power of God to bring the dead to life, and therefore its use in the Dream of the Rood is sublimely appropriate.

Whilst the effect of the poet's treatment of Christ the warrior is indeed fine, it is not here that his brilliance of invention lies, but rather in his emphasis on Christ's human nature, which is found in his treatment of the Cross. Wonder at the mere device of making the Cross speak has perhaps been exaggerated, for, as scholars have sufficiently shown, there are adequate parallels in the Anglo-Saxon Riddles and in Latin literature to the convention of ascribing speech to an inanimate object, and to this can be added the point that in at least one dramatic passage in the Fathers in a Pseudo-Augustinian sermon, the Cross itself is actually imagined as speaking. It is the use made by the poet of this device that rather deserves admiring praise: his identification, in part, of the Cross with Christ.

In reaction from the forms of Monophysitism, which so stressed the divinity of Christ that He was thought to be naturally free in both body and consciousness of all human experience of discomfort and pain, orthodox commentators stressed that like other men He hungered and thirsted. He must therefore also have felt the pain of the Crucifixion, though of course in His humanity, not in His impassible Godhead. The sufferings of Christ in His human nature the poet suggests most movingly by the sufferings of the Cross. The Cross shares in all the sufferings of Christ, so that it seems to endure a compassion, in the sense in which that word was used in the Middle Ages to describe the Virgin's identification of her feelings with those of her Son in His Passion. The real emotional intensity of Christ's agony is thus communicated without the reasonable and insoluble bewilderment arising of how impassibility and passibility could co-exist in one consciousness.

The Cross not only experiences the extremities of pain but, having within itself the power to escape them, endures with a reluctance heroically subdued. This reluctance must primarily be referred to the other aspect of the Cross, that of the loyal retainer, and its steadfastness then gains an impressive force, since by a tremendous and ironic reversal of the values of the heroic code, it has to acquiesce in and even assist in the death of its lord, forbidden either to protect Him or avenge Him. To see the Cross's reiterated statements of obedience solely as another reflection of Christ's human nature would undoubtedly be to narrow and misinterpret the range of emotion expressed, much of which consists of the anguish of being the cause of death to another, particularly since the other is by implication its lord, to whom it feels that mixture of love and loyal duty, which was the proper feeling of a retainer. It is, moreover, theologically undesirable to over-emphasize the reluctance of the Cross as being also a feeling of Christ. The Church, in opposition to Monothelitism, had defined the coexistence of two wills in Christ, but had added that there was no conflict between them, since the human will conformed itself voluntarily to the divine. There was also a view, which sprang from a sense of decorum rather than from philosophic reasoning, that even if moderate fear were not in itself evil, it would nevertheless be unfitting that Christ should in any way experience it and recoil from the Crucifixion, thus detracting from the voluntariness of the act. Nevertheless there was one notable passage in the gospels, the account of the Agony in the Garden, which in its literal sense precisely ascribed to Christ that revulsion from pain and death which is an inherent element in human nature. There is a sense of strain in Bede's commentaries on this scene in all three gospels. On the one hand, following Ambrose and Jerome, he does not interpret the cup, as it was commonly interpreted in the Middle Ages, as the cup of Christ's sufferings, but refers it to the Jews, who having the law and the prophets can have no excuse for crucifying one whom they should have recognized. On the other hand the passage interpreted literally provided the strongest evidence against the Gnostics and Phantasiasts who had denied the reality of Christ's human body—a point which Bede makes in exclamatory style—whilst the actual texts, 'The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak' and 'Not my will but thine be done' had similarly become loci classici for the refutation of the Monothelites; and in his commentary on the first of these in Matthew and Mark, Bede, following a common tradition, allows that Christ in His human nature shrank back from death:

Facit hic locus et adversus Eutychianos, qui dicunt unum in mediatore Dei et hominum Domino ac Salvatore nostro operationem, unam fuisse voluntatem. Cum enim dicit Spiritus quidem promptus est, caro autem infirma, duas voluntates ostendit: humanam, videlicet, quae est carnis, et divinam, quae est deitatis. Ubi humana quidem propter infirmitatem carnis recusat passionem, Divina autem ejus est promptissima. (P.L xcii, 277.)

Whilst, therefore, the parallel must not be pressed too far, nor in any way exclusively, it is difficult not to see a correspondence between the antithesis of the divine and human wills in this passage from Bede and the contrast in the poem between the hero who hastens to his death and the Cross enduring only with reluctance.

It might at this point be urged that the reflection in the Dream of the Rood of the divine and the human in the young hero and the Cross has been overstated, and that the figure of the warrior might symbolize no more than Christ's glorious humanity. But it was precisely this element in Christ which had been ignored in Leo's Tome and by subsequent commentators. All actions had been assigned to the two categories of divine and human, and the possibility of a third category—actions possible to a sinless humanity—had not been mentioned. It is therefore certain that anybody who understood the Christological doctrine at all would think in terms of this rigid distinction, which may appear unfamiliar and exaggerated to the modern reader.

The treatment of the young hero and the Cross has so far been seen to fulfil the principle of 'recognizing the difference', but the distinction between divinity and humanity, triumph and suffering, is reunited by the stylistic form of the communicatio idiomatum. It is interesting to compare the style of the Dream of the Rood with that of the description of the Crucifixion in the Crist. Since the latter is a complaint, the main point is the contrast between man's sin and Christ's goodness, man's ingratitude and Christ's love. The characteristic of the style is therefore a series of antitheses, which are stylistically pointed by the alliteration:

Ic wæs on worulde wædla,      þaet þu wurde
  welig on heofonum,
earm wæs ic on eðle þinum,      þaet þu wurde
  eadig on minum.

This, of course, is not native to Anglo-Saxon style, but derives from the Easter liturgy, particularly the Improperia of Good Friday, conceivably with the stimulus of a sermon intermediary. The effect of the communicatio idiomatum is likewise not native to Anglo-Saxon style, for it provides the shock and astonishment of violent paradox. The strangeness of both these styles to Anglo-Saxon literature is immediately evident if we think of them as characteristics of metaphysical poetry: the antitheses being found in their most polished and pointed form in Herbert's 'The Sacrifice', and the potentialities of the communicatio idiomatum most fully exploited in such an objectively meditative sequence as Donne's La Corona. But although the Anglo-Saxons lack the stylistic poise of the Metaphysicals, it might well be maintained that they managed these stylistic forms with greater assurance than did the writers of the mediaeval lyric.

In the thirty lines of dramatic description of the Crucifixion in the Dream of the Rood there are ten examples of the communicatio idiomatum, and each one stimulates a shock at the paradox, a shock which grows in intensity as the poem progresses. Those towards the end are particularly striking: 'Genamon hie þaer ælmihtigne god' (60), 'Aledon hie limwerigne …beheoldon hie ðær heofones dryhten' (63-64), 'gesetton hie oæron sigora Wealdend'  (67). The habit of variation in Anglo-Saxon poetic style and the richness of synonym in Anglo-Saxon poetic diction, assist the poet in each instance to use a fresh word or phrase to emphasize some attribute of God, His rule, majesty, omnipotence; and at the early date of the Dream of the Rood there can be no question of such periphrases having become so conventional as to be weakened in meaning. The theological point that the Christ who endured the Crucifixion is fully God and fully man is thus perfectly made, and with it the imaginative effect which is the natural result of the communicatio idiomatum is attained, the astonishment at the great paradox of Christianity that God should endure such things.

There is a further and related point of contrast to be made between the description of the Crucifixion in the Crist and in the Dream of the Rood. Since the first takes its form from the antiphons of the liturgy, it anticipates the mediæval lyrics and mystery plays, in which the audience or readers are made to feel participants in the action, by Christ's direct address to them, and the making of their actions and feelings one half of the stylized antitheses. The didactic and devotional intention of this is plain, but it also serves another useful literary purpose, though probably unintentionally: it removes the difficulty of the customary instinctive reaction of the audience—which is, to identify themselves with the character in the play or poem with whom they sympathize. There can be no danger of them unconsciously identifying themselves with Christ in His torment because they feel themselves present in their own person. Their own feelings and situation are dramatically relevant to what is being said or done in the literary work. Now this is not so in the Dream of the Rood, where the dreamer, with his consciousness of the tragic and terrifying contrast between his own sinfulness and the glory of the Cross, is forgotten once the Cross begins to speak. However, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon period, a treatment of the Crucifixion in which the hearer was led by his intense sympathy for Christ's pain to identify himself with Christ in the poem, would obviously be unfortunate, since it would carry with it the implication that Christ's consciousness was solely human and therefore comprehensible to fellow human beings. But to imagine Christ's consciousness at the Crucifixion in terms of human experience would be to revert, though no doubt unsuspectingly, to the Gnostic heresy which was even more obviously un-Christian than the extremes of Nestorianism and Monophysitism, that before the Passion began Christ's divinity left Him. By the semi-identification of the Cross with Christ, the poet enables his hearers to share in an imaginative recreation of Christ's sufferings, whilst the problem which bewilders the mind—the nature of Christ's consciousness—is evaded.

The general feeling and vocabulary of the Dream of the Rood suggest affinities with the school of Cynewulf rather than of Cædmon. But it is evident from the early date of the Ruthwell Cross, on which modern archæologists and art historians are agreed, that the Dream of the Roodmust have been an offshoot of the school of Biblical poetry begun by Cædmon. Yet, when Bede speaks of Christ's Passion as one of Cædmon's subjects, one inevitably thinks of the style of the section of the Heliand which describes the Crucifixion (5534-715), rather than of the Dream of the Rood. But the poem must have been written round about the year 700, and that the poet did not simply write a Biblical paraphrase in native style must surely be accounted for by the fact that he was steeped in the doctrine of the Church, and thus gave to his treatment of the Crucifixion the full richness and subtlety of its theological significance. The exigencies of a complex and rigid doctrine, far from hampering the poetic magination, have here provoked a magnificent response: a profound and dramatic meditation that could never have been inspired by unchartered freedom. It is, in fact, this poetic transformation of the philosophic and theological views of the Crucifixion that gives to the poem its unique quality, and adds depths below depths of meaning under the apparently lucid surface.

Robert E. Diamond (essay date 1958)

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Robert E. Diamond (essay date 1958)

SOURCE: "Heroic Diction in The Dream of the Rood," in Studies in Honor of John Wilcox, edited by A. Dayle Wallace and Woodburn O. Ross, 1958. Reprint by Books for Libraries Press, 1972, pp. 3-7.

[In the essay below, Diamond analyzes the use of heroic language in The Dream of the Rood.]

Many people who have read The Dream of the Rood have been struck by the poet's use of certain heroic phrases in describing the crucifixion. The tree from which the cross was made is said to have been cut down by bold enemies (strange féondas, 30b). The Lord is referred to as a young hero (geong hæleþb, 39a). He is said to be bold and brave (strang and stiþmód, 40a). The cross is said to be wounded with arrows (strælum forwundod, 62b). The Lord is said to rest for a while after the mighty conflict (æfter þám micelan gewinne, 65a). When the poet says that the Lord hastens with great courage (efstan elne micele, 34a), he uses a phrase strongly reminiscent of the one used to state that Beowulf hastened to do battle with Grendel's mother (efste mid elne, 1493). The executioners of the Lord are twice called warriors (hilderincas, 61, 72), the very compound used in Beowulf to refer to Beowulf twice (1495, 1576) and to Grendel once (986). The Lord is referred to as a famous ruler (mæran þéodne, 69a). This same phrase is used six times in Beowulf to refer to Hrothgar, four times to Beowulf, and once each to Heremod and Onela. The Lord is referred to as a prince (æðelinge, 58a). In Beowulf, this word is used three times to refer to Beowulf (1596, 2374, 2424), once to Scyld (33), once to Wæls (888), and once to one of the warriors at Heorot (1244). After the descent from the cross, the followers of the Lord sing a dirge for Him (sorhléoð galan, 67b). This is the same phrase that appears in Beowulf where Hrethel sings a dirge (sorhkléoð gæleþ, 2460) for his son Herebeald.

It must be apparent at the outset that this heroic language is strangely out of place in a poem about the crucifixion of the Lord. When the poet describes Christ as a bold hero hastening courageously to the mighty struggle, he directly contradicts the story of the crucifixion as related in the gospels; but, more important, he does a kind of violence to the spirit and doctrines of Christianity. The central paradox of Christianity is the everlasting victory through the apparent momentary worldly defeat and humiliation. Our poet seems to have reversed the softening tendency which so often creeps into heroic poetry: for example, in the Serbian heroic song of the Battle of Kossovo, the hero rejects an earthly kingdom in favor of the heavenly kingdom; and one of the heroic figures of the Mahabarata—Arjuna—appears in the heroic narrative frame of the didactic poem, the Bhagavad Gita, bewailing the senseless slaughter of the approaching battle. There seems to be a point in the heroic poetry of many peoples where the softening tendencies of a more ethical society begin to supersede the old heroic standards of vengeance and glory in battle. In The Dream of the Rood, however, the situation is just the reverse: supposedlya Christian poem, presumably informed by the spirit and doctrines of Christianity, it displays in some passages a seemingly atavistic reversion to the heroic spirit.

How can we account for this apparent inconsistency of tone in The Dream of the Rood? Scholars and critics have generally assumed that the poet was trying to make his Christian subject matter attractive to an audience that was accustomed to hear heroic poetry. But England had been solidly Christian probably for quite a long time when the poem was composed. It seems likely that the poet lapsed into heroic language not so much in order to please his audience as because hewas accustomed to compose in such language. This brings us, of course, to the subject of traditional diction in Old English poetry. Whether or not The Dream of the Rood and other such poems were composed orally or with pen in hand can probably never be settled to anyone's satisfaction, but they reflect a kind of oralformulaic diction, handed down from generation to generation, added to a little here and a little there, comprising a common stock of formulaic phraseswhich enabled the poets to express almost any idea in correct verses, without casting about for a felicitous turn of expression. A poet who was accustomed to compose songs on heroic subjects would quite naturally apply all the old heroic epithets and formulas to his matter. If he set himself to compose a song on a Christian subject, it was natural that diction reflecting an earlier society should creep in. And, as time went by, a stock of Christian formulas was developed. Many were, of course, formed on older models, using, for example, epithets for kings to refer to the first two persons of the Trinity.

Such a poet, then, is in some sense a captive of his traditional diction. There are not an infinite number of ways to express an idea in correct verses; there are only the traditional ways. While the poet can rely on the traditional diction to help him out of tight places in composing, he is also caught in the net of tradition, so to speak—he cannot compose in any other way. This applies not only to his actual choice of words, but to the themes and narrative technique of his work. The tradition in which the poet was composing was a narrative tradition. Dogmatic or introspective subject matter would most likely be passed over in favor of something that gave the poet a story to tell. To call the thing by its right name: the poets tended to choose subjects from Christian story that were rather sensational.

A good example is the Cynewulf poem on the acts of Saint Juliana, which relates a succession of lurid events. Whereas hagiography does not lend itself particularly well to the kind of narrative treatment the Anglo-Saxon poets customarily gave their work, the Apocryphal book of Judith is admirably suited to this kind of narrative treatment and makes an excellent heroic poem. The setting and the proper names are all that distinguishes Judith of Bethulia from a Germanic heroic figure. In The Dream of the Rood, the central section of the poem, describing the actual crucifixion, the section where most of the heroic diction occurs, is handled in this narrative manner. The story of the events of the crucifixion is told in a series of swift-moving actions, with little delay.

A strong indication that the poem was composed in the traditional oral-formulaic style is the number of repeated verses. Checking every verse against the entire corpus of Old English poetry reveals that 67 of the 311 verses are repeated elsewhere at least once. This is 21.5 percent, more than one in five. Of course, this poem has a great number of hypermetric verses, 64 to be exact. As one can rarely find a hypermetric verse repeated in its entirety, it is interesting to examine the figures for the normal verses only: 27 percent of the normal verses are repeated elsewhere. This is more than one in four. Such a high percentage of repeated verses would be unthinkable in a poem composed in the modern way. This is not to deny originality to the poet of The Dream of the Rood: the dazzling conceit of the cross which tells its own story is not dimmed by the fact that the poet used traditional diction. Within the framework of the tradition in which he was composing, he displayed great inventiveness.

What kind of society can give rise to poems which represent such a strange blend of heroic and Christian elements? It would be no more accurate to say that Beowulf is a heathen poem with Christian coloring than that The Dream of the Rood is a Christian poem with heathen coloring. Both poems are clearly the work of believing Christians, composed in the traditional style for Christian audiences who were accustomed to certain standards and conventions of composition. They both represent a blend of traditional and Christian elements.

Perhaps we can account for the persistence of the traditional style of poetic composition by assuming that Anglo-Saxon England, while firmly Christian, still preserved many of the conditions of the heroic age. That epoch, from which the traditional style of composing and many of the themes of the poetry can be traced, is usually assumed to be over by the time most of the extant Anglo-Saxon poetry was composed. It is interesting to note, however, that the Cynewulf-Cyneheard episode, related in the Chronicle as having taken place in the year 786, occurred fifty years after the death of Bede. Here we have a typically heroic situation, with the loyalty to the comitatus taking precedence over kinship loyalty—half a century after the death of the man whose career surely represents the pinnacle of Christian civilization in Anglo-Saxon England. If the comitatus and the meadhall were still functioning so vitally, we can assume that there were two kindsof societies simultaneously in pre-Conquest England: one centering around the great monasteries; and the other a military society depending on the comitatus relationship. We know that oral composition was practiced in the monastic society—from Bede's account of Cædmon and his vision; and we know that heroic themes were sometimes of interest to the poets of this society—from Alcuin's letter mentioning Ingeld. As clerical communities constantly recruit members from lay society, young men who were in contact with the military society and its style and taste in poetry must have been drawn into the monastic centers—and they must have brought the traditional style of poetry with them. If they had not done so, none of the poems would have been preserved, for meadhall composing was for entertainment and not to be written down. It is natural that when the traditional style came to the monastic centers, it should be used for the most part to compose poems on Christian subjects.

It seems likely, then, that the contact between these two societies, the military and the religious, or, if you prefer, these two important and dominant segments of Anglo-Saxon society, gave rise to poetry which preserves the old clichés and formulas of heroic poetry but applies them to Christian subjects.

J. A. Burrow (essay date 1959)

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J. A. Burrow (essay date 1959)

SOURCE: "An Approach to The Dream of the Rood, " in Old English Literature: Twenty-two Analytical Essays, edited by Martin Stevens and Jerome Mandel, University of Nebraska Press, 1968, pp. 253-67.

[In the following essay, first published in 1959 in Neophilologus, Burrow contrasts the emphasis and detail in The Dream of the Rood with that in several Middle English Crucifixion lyrics.]

The Dream of the Rood is one of the first and one of the most successful treatments in English of the theme of the Crucifixion. It is successful because it is more than just a biblical paraphrase in the Caedmonian tradition. For one thing, the biblical narrative is treated with a greater freedom of emphasis and selection; for another, it is integrated into a new, non-biblical form, involving dreamer, vision, and speaking Cross. The present essay attempts to analyze and illustrate these two aspects of the poem, and to suggest how its characteristic pattern of emphasis, its "point of view," emerges in both. For the poem seems to me remarkable among Old English poems in the closeness of its organization. The organizing principle is, partly, the point of view or religious sensibility characteristic of the early Middle Ages as against the late. I think, therefore, that comparison with some later medieval English poems of the Crucifixion throws light, by contrast, on the Old English poem. It will illustrate how strikingly treatments of the same traditional theme can reflect varieties of sensibility in author and audience in the distribution of emphasis and selection of detail, and how different narrative forms serve these varying emphases—as, for example, the "goût de la pathéetique" (taste of the pathetic), which [E.] Mâle finds characteristic of fourteenth and fifteenth century treatments of the Crucifixion [in his L'art réeligieux de la fin du Moyen Age en France, 1925], has its most representative literary expression at that period in the monologue of the "mater dolorosa" (sorrowful mother) by the Cross. I will quote one or two such Middle English examples in order to suggest what is significantly absent in the Old English poem, and to throw into relief its own peculiar unity of form and emphasis.

The form of the poem offers a suitable point of departure, in the striking use of the figure "prosopopoeia." Miss [Margaret] Schlauch has already pointed this out [in her "The Dream of the Rood as Prosopopoeia"] as a formal innovation in the tradition of Crucifixion literature, tracing its background in the poetic practice and rhetorical theory of classical and post-classical Latin writing. I would like, here, to consider it from another point of view, as a controlling factor in the total meaning of the poem; for it seems to me that the identity and situation of the narrator, the "consciousness" through which the events of the Crucifixion are observed, is as significant here as—to draw a long comparison—in Henry James' What Maisie Knew, where Maisie's mind is made "the very field of the picture." It controls both what we see and how we see it, just as it does in the later Crucifixion lyric, where the same kind of device is frequently used, to different effect.

The use of prosopopoeia in descriptions of the Crucifixion is still to be found in the later Middle Ages (Miss Schlauch points out that Geoffrey of Vinsauf's most extensive illustration of the figure in his Poetria Nova consists of a speech by the Cross); but the dramatic forms which are most frequent and characteristic in the Middle English Crucifixion lyric would, in rhetorical terms, be called "ethopoeia"—fictional dramatic speech not of an inanimate object but of a human being. This ethopoeia takes three main forms—monologue of the "mater dolorosa," dialogue between Mary and Christ on the Cross, and monologue by the crucified Christ. I will give a short passage to illustrate each, taken from Carleton Brown's collections. Dialogue between Mary and Christ:

Ihesus:  Maiden and moder, cum and se,
         Þi child is nailed to a tre;
         Hand and fot he may nouth go,
         His bodi is wonden al in wo.…

Maria:  Mi suete sone þat art me dere,
        Wat hast þu don, qui art þu here?
        Þi suete bodi þat in me rest,
        Þat loueli mouth þat i haue kist—
        Nou is on rode mad þi nest.

This passage illustrates how fully this form of ethopoeia lends itself to the humanizing pathos which is characteristic of late medieval religious feeling. The tone is set by the repetition of child and sone, by the nest image of the last line, and by the use of the characteristic epithet suete, which could even, at this period, be applied to the Cross itself:

Swete be þe nalys,
And swete be þe tre,
And sweter be þe birdyn þat hangis uppon the.

The same note is struck in the monologue form, the "lamentacio dolorosa" (sorrowful lamentation) of Mary, which is often only formally distinguishable from the true dialogue:

Suete sone, þi faire face droppeþ al on blode,
And þi bodi dounward is bounden to þe rode;
Hou may þi modris herte þolen so suete a fode
Þat blissed was of alle born and best of alle gode.

In the monologue of Christ, by contrast, there is often a greater austerity of effect, as in this beautifully complete short lyric from the fifteenth century:

I have laborede sore and suffered deyth
And now I rest and draw my breyth;
But I schall come and call ryght sone
Hevene and erght and hell to dome;
And thane schall know both devyll and mane
What I was and what I ame.

But this is strictly a post-Crucifixion lyric, spoken from the tomb. In the many monologues from the Cross, as in Herbert's Sacrifice, which follows this traditional medieval form, we find again the "goût de la pathétique," without, however, the peculiar resonance which comes from stressing the family relationship between Christ and Mary:

Þi garland is of grene
Of floures many one;
Myn of sharpe þornes
Myn hewe it makeþ won.

Þyn hondes streite gloved
White and clene kept;
Myne wiþ nailes þorled
On rode and eke my feet.

In this, as in the other examples, the dramatic form serves directly to intensify the human immediacy of the Crucifixion scene, to excite "dolour" and "drede." In such poems, as Mâle puts it, speaking of the iconography of the Passion in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, "la sensibilité, jusque-là contenue, s'y exalte" (the sensibility, up to that point contained, becomes exalted). I would like now to turn back to The Dream of the Rood with the previous quotations in mind, and consider how, there, the prosopopoeia serves, unlike the ethopoeia of the Middle English lyrics, to "contain" the human pathos and immediacy of the scene.

The vision opens, after a short introductory passage, with twenty lines introducing the Cross. Nothing in Middle English quite matches this passage. The Cross here is neither the swete tre of which the fourteenth-century poet speaks, nor the physical instrument of the Miracle plays, but a cosmic hieratic image of both. The swete tre becomes the syllic treow, raised to the sky, bathed in light, adorned with gold and jewels, worshipped by eall þeos mære gesceaft; the instrument of torture, alternating with it, soaked in blood—mid wætan bestemed—is correspondingly represented in non-naturalistic terms. Both forms of the fuse beacen recall liturgical practice, as [H. R.] Patch has shown [in his "Liturgical Influence in the Dream of the Rood," PMLA XXXIV (1919)]; neither makes any direct appeal to the human or the natural. The gap between the dreamer and the Cross, at this point in the poem, is absolute:

Syllic wæs se sigebeam and ic synnum fah

Forht ic wæs for þaere fægran gesyhþe

With the opening of the speech of the Cross, however, there is a sudden shift in the tone and scale of the poem. The cosmic vision is left behind, and the Cross speaks as a natural tree:

þaet wæs geara iu—ic þæt gyta geman—
þaet ic wæs aheawen holtes on ende,
astyred of stefne minum.

The colloquial informality of this opening—without apostrophe or introduction—is in striking contrast to the impersonal liturgical grandeur of what has gone before. The congregation of worshippers, halige gastas, menn ofer moldan, and eall þeos mære gesceaft, is for the time being lost from sight, and there is nothing surprising when the Cross addresses the dreamer as if they were alone and on equal terms—hæleþ min se leofa. This sudden and unexplained transition from the public-hieratic to the private-colloquial would be possible only within the conventions of the vision form—it anticipates effects in Piers Plowman. It makes the mediating consciousness through which the action of the crucifixion is to be described a more complex thing than anything in the Middle English lyric. It is not a simple dramatic figure, but a double persona, strongly differentiated, belonging in its two forms to the two widely separate worlds (as they are presented at this point) of nature and the supernatural. The result in the narrative which follows is a kind of double focus, which I wish to consider next.

In the opening lines of its speech, already quoted, the Cross introduces itself in its natural environment, a wood, from which it is cut down to be used in executions for no other reason than that it stood holtes on ende. The tree is an ordinary one suddenly drawn into a world of violence. The suddenness and the violence, together with the passivity of the Cross itself, are conveyed in the compressed paratactic syntax, the lengthened line, and the rapid sequence of verbs of action in the passage immediately following

Genaman me þær strange feondas,
geworhton him þæ to wæfersyne, heton me
  heora wergas hebban.
Baeron me þæ beornas on eaxlum, oþþæt hie
  me on beorg asetton,
gefaestnodon me þær feondas genoge.

(The repetition of þær, to which [B.] Dickins and [A.S.C.] Ross tentatively assign the meaning "then," seems rather intended to suggest the confused telescoping of events at this point.) These lines dramatically establish the second, natural, persona of the Cross, and as such it functions throughout its account of the crucifixion as a representative of common humanity and consequently of the dreamer himself. Like the dreamer in face of his vision, the Cross is afraid:

Bifode ic þa me se beorn ymbclypte; ne dorste
  ic hwæþre bugan to eorþan.

and, again like the dreamer, with a verbal reminiscence of line 20, it is "troubled with sorrows"—sare ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed (line 59)—just as, with the other crosses, it later stands weeping (70). In this form, in fact, the Cross represents the common "crystyn creature" of the Middle English Meditations on the Supper of our Lord:

Now, crystyn creature, take goode hede,
And do þyn herte for pyte to blede;
Loþe þou nat hys sorowes to se
Þe whych hym loþed nat to suffre for þe.

But the Cross here does not only see with the dreamer—in its second, non-natural persona it suffers with Christ:

þurhdrifan hi me mid deorcan næglum; on me
  syndon þa dolg gesiene,
opene inwidhlemmas. Ne dorste ic hira ænigum
Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere.

Here the wounds of the Cross are carried over by transfer from Christ with whom it suffers (unc butu ætgædere). So, in 47b, there is an obscurer transfer which suggests a kind of "dream condensation" between Christ and the Cross. The motif which it states—that the Cross could strike down the crucifiers but dare not since Christ does not wish it—recurs elsewhere in the poem (36-37: Ealle ic mihte feondas gefyllan, hwæþre ic fæste stod); and it is linked with the idea, repeated three times, that the Cross could have refused to bear Christ by bending or breaking (35-36, 42-43, 45). These themes seem to me more than simply a natural extension of the animism implicit in prosopopoeia. They refer properly to Christ. It was Christ who could have struck down his enemies, and Christ who could have refused the ordeal, if he had not willed it otherwise (a theme to which we will return later).

Thus the Cross, in its own narrative, functions doubly as a surrogate both for the dreamer and for Christ; and these two functions correspond to the double transcendental-natural image of the Cross established at the beginning of the poem. The consequences of this in the poem are curious. It might be expected that the Cross would, as it were, bridge the gap between the natural and supernatural worlds by virtue of belonging to and speaking for both. One might look, that is, for the kind of naturalism which I have illustrated from the Middle English religious lyric, or even for the direct pathetic realism of the Miracle play. There is indeed a trace of such an effect—in the way the Germanic idea of comitatus loyalty is implied in the scene of the Deposition, where the beornas bury their æþeling and sing him a sorhleoþ—but the general impression is quite different. The gap between the natural and the super-natural is felt as absolute. There is here a striking difference of effect between the prosopopoeia of the Old English poem and the various ethopoeic forms of the Middle English lyrics. In the later poems the central scene is humanized through the speeches of Christ and Mary—the emphases fall on the physical suffering of Christ, his won hewe, his body dounward bounden to þe rode, and on his natural relation as the suete sone of Mary. In The Dream of the Rood, by contrast, the reader and the dreamer experience the human suffering and passive naturalness of Christ only in so far as these are transferred to the Cross itself, blode bestemed, and shared by it. For the Cross in its main role, as representative of the "crystyn creature," Christ remains completely opaque:

Geseah ic þa frean mancynnes,
efstan elne mycle þæt he me wolde on gestigan.

These lines, in which Christ is for the first time introduced, follow immediately after the passage quoted above in which the strange feondas set up the tree as a cross. The passivity of the Cross in those lines throws into sharp relief the sudden dynamic appearance and mysteriously voluntary actions of Christ—he hastens elne mycle, wishing to ascend the Cross.

There is no concession here to circumstantial realism, no attempt to render the scene naturalistically in the late medieval way. The figure of Christ acts in absolute independence of its environment. The presence of the feondas is hardly felt at all from this point onwards in the poem—the moment of crucifixion itself is described in a series of nonrealistic verbs which, as Patch has shown, recall the Latin hymns: he me wolde on gestigan, gestah he on gealgan heanne (ascendere (to climb)), me se beorn ymbclypte (amplexere (to embrace)). There is no sense of the weight of the body dragging dounward such as we find in later plastic and literary works; Christ is presented ceremonially in positive deliberate action, just as a little later:

he hine þær hwile reste,
meþe æfter þam miclan gewinne.

The trope—death as sleep—was probably traditional in Old English verse (it is used of the dead Grendel, guþwerig Grendel, in Beowulf 1586); but it is characteristic of The Dream of the Rood that its use here should be fully meaningful, suggesting the willedness, and also the impermanence, of Christ's death. This emphasis harmonizes with the manner in which the crucifixion itself is described, and with those passages, already mentioned, in which it is Christ's will, Dryhtnes word, which controls the Cross itself.

The death-as-sleep trope is also used in the Middle English Christ Triumphant, quoted above; but, on the whole, the non-naturalistic mode which we have been illustrating in The Dream of the Rood is as alien to the Middle English lyric as it is to the Miracle plays. The nearest thing to The Dream of the Rood in Middle English literature is to be found in Passus XVIII (in the B text, from which I will quote) of Piers Plowman. The differences both in form and approach are clear enough—there is nothing in the Old English poem which anticipates Langland's fluid allegorical method (except, possibly, in 52-54, where, if one follows Dickins and Ross in taking scirne sciman as parallel with wealdendes hræw, there is a suggestion of Langland's allegory of light and darkness—but the phrase may belong to the following clause). Nevertheless, there is a striking similarity of emphasis between the two poets, for in some ways Langland stands outside the main Middle English tradition. There is little of pathos or passivity in his account of the crucifixion. Christ is a knight jousting with the powers of evil, who rides "pricking" to Jerusalem; or he is light conquering the darkness of hell. His death is described in words which recall the sleep metaphor, the lorde of lyf and of lighte tho leyed his eyen togideres. Correspondingly, there is little direct concession to the "goût de la pathétique"—the trial, the buffetings and the nailing to the Cross are treated sparely in less than twenty lines. We may recall the words of Repentance in his prayer to God earlier in the poem:

And sith with þi self sone in owre sute deydest
On godefryday for mannes sake at ful tyme of þe
Þere þiself ne þi sone no sorwe in deth feledest;
But in owre secte was þe sorwe, and þi sone it
Captiuam duxit captiuitatem (he led captivity
(V, 495-498)

These lines seem to me as relevant to The Dream of the Rood as they are irrelevant to the greater part of the lyric poetry and drama which was being written in Langland's own day. The Old English Christ feels no sorrow in death; there too the sorrow is in owre secte, in the dreamer and in the Cross as his representative. For Langland, Christ at the Passion jousts in Piers armes (glossed as humana natura (human nature)) for no dynte shal hym dere as in deitate patris (in the divinity of (his) father). This allegorical image stresses sharply, as Langland stresses throughout, the distinction between the natural and the supernatural Christ; in his poem the inviolable deitas patris (the divinity of the father) is never for a moment lost sight of, just as in The Dream of the Rood it is continually recalled:

Ongyrede hine þa geong hæleþ, þæt wæs God

Dickins and Ross are surely wrong in suggesting … that the second half of this line is an "addition" or an "expansion." The whole line, as it stands, stresses the dichotomy which, we have already seen, is stressed throughout the poem. It is perhaps significant, in this connection, that Christ is referred to as such only once in the account of the crucifixion—otherwise he is either on the one hand geong hæleþ, beorn, guma, æþeling, or on the other Frea mancynnes, Dryhten, heofona Hlaford, Wealdend, rice Cyning, God ælmihtig. The two sets of terms express the contrast between humana natura and deitas patris, the contrast which is summed up in line 39.

So far in this essay I have attempted, by considering the account of the crucifixion in the first part of The Dream of the Rood and comparing it with later treatments of the same subject, to define the point of view characteristic of the Old English poem, and to suggest how this point of view emerges both in the prosopopoeic form and in details of language and style. It is this overall unity of form and meaning which seems to me remarkable in the poem—not the point of view itself, which, abstractly stated, was by no means unusual at that period. In fact the contrast I have drawn with the Middle English lyric corresponds very closely to the well-established general lines of contrast between the religious art of the early and late Middle Ages. Visual representations of the crucifixion in the earlier period lay the emphases very much where The Dream of the Roodlays them, on the deitas patris of Christ on the Cross, and, again like the Old English poem, make little of the natural pathos. Similarly, the characteristics of the Middle English religious lyric extend to the visual art of the period. In the late Middle Ages, as Mâle has shown, painting, sculpture, lyric and drama "ont évidemment leur origine dans le méme sentiment … la sensibilité, jusquelá contenue, s'y exalte" (evidently have their origin in the same sentiment … the sensibility, up to that point contained, becomes exalted). They share the same naturalism, the same stress on the sufferings of Christ, the same "goût de la pathétique." Again, the contrasts with which I have been concerned have their parallels (perhaps even, to a certain extent, their explanations) outside the arts altogether, in the history of the philosophy and theology of the period. The pervasive Platonism in the religious thought of the early Middle Ages matches the supernaturalism implicit in The Dream of the Rood; and it is perhaps significant that traces of ultimately Aristotelian ideas are to be found in the most naturalistic of the Miracle cycles. Perhaps, too, the strength of the Franciscan, anti-Aristotelian tradition in Langland's thought has something to do with the peculiarities of his passus on the crucifixion. But these are matters where "the bottom is a long way down," and it is enough here to point out that the attitudes and emphases which I have been discussing are not peculiar to The Dream of the Rood. For the purposes of the present essay there remains one further topic of more immediate relevance.

The account of the crucifixion in The Dream of the Rood ends with the burying of the crosses (line 75)—not quite half way through the poem as it stands in the Vercelli Book. The rest of the poem consists of a homiletic speech by the Cross to the dreamer (78-121), with which the vision ends, and a coda in which the dreamer describes his unhappy life on earth and his hope of a heofonlic ham (122-156). Dickins and Ross, who regard the Vercelli text as an expanded and composite version of an earlier work, are suspicious of this part of the poem. They argue that it "does not afford any metrical or linguistic evidence which necessitates the assumption of an early date," that "in quality it seems to us definitely inferior," and that "it is perhaps significant that the passages found on the Ruthwell Cross all correspond to passages in the first half of the Vercelli text." The first of these arguments makes no claim to be conclusive, and the last is very weak—would it not, after all, be natural to choose passages from the speech of the Cross for inscription on a cross, rather than passages of a generally didactic or personally reminiscent kind? The case seems, therefore, to rest on the argument from inferiority, and this too is open to strong objection. The inferiority, to modern taste, of the latter part of the poem is hard to dispute; but the argument from this fact to an assumed composite origin, although quite a common procedure in the criticism of Old English verse, begs so many questions that I feel justified in considering briefly the latter part of The Dream of the Rood as a legitimate component in the whole poem.

It is, as I have admitted, inferior; but, despite some laxness of rhythm and diffuseness of expression, it is not difficult to see that the themes of the earlier part are developed consistently and meaningfully. With the conclusion of the account of the crucifixion (75), the tone of the speech of the Cross begins to change. It no longer speaks as a representative of common humanity to which the supernatural world is opaque (part, as we have seen, of the effect of the earlier passages), becoming again unambiguously an initiated member of that world, as it was in the opening vision, honored above natural trees as Mary is honored above women (90-94). The Cross reassumes its original persona, and, as it does so, the themes and images of the opening lines return—first in a brief reference to the Invention:

Hwæþre me þær Dryhtnes þegnas
freondas gefrunon,
gyredon me golde and seolfre.

and then, almost immediately, in full restatement:

Is nu sæl cumen
þæt me weorþiaþ wide and side
menn ofer moldan and eall þeos mære gesceaft,
gebiddaþ him to þyssum beacne

where the verbal reminiscences seem deliberately to stress the recapitulation (line 82 is identical with line 12, for example). The Cross, thus reestablished in its original transcendent form, ends its speech appropriately enough by explaining to the dreamer the mysteries of salvation.

The poem, however, does not end here; there is a further thematic development, which appears in the closing soliloquy of the dreamer. In order to appreciate this, the reader must recall the opening section of the poem, as the poet himself recalls it in lines 75-83. That section, as we have seen, turned on the sharply marked contrast between the natural and the supernatural:

Syllic wæs se sigebeam and ic synnum fah

and it is only in terms of this contrast that the dreamer's identity is defined at this point. He appears as a generalized, passive figure, prostrate in face of his vision, which in its turn is static, though brilliantly decorative, like a tableau:

Hine þær beheoldon halige gastas,
menn ofer moldan and eall þeos mære gesceaft.

The last part of the poem offers a deliberate contrast to these effects. The dreamer takes on an independent personal identity, with a past in which he has suffered feala ealra langunghwila and the death of powerful friends; and it is these snatches of elegiac autobiography which provide the personal background for a new dynamic religious feeling:

ic wene me
daga gehwylce hwænne me Dryhtnes rod
þe ic her on eorþan ær sceawode
on þysson lænan life gefetige
and me þonne gebringe þaer is blis mycel.

Instead of gazing at the Cross, he prays to it:

Gebæd ic me þa to þan beame bliþe mode
elne mycle.

It is in keeping with this development in the dreamer's attitude that the last lines of the poem should be crowded with verbs expressing movement (the only movements in the opening vision are the symbolic transformations of the Cross):

… ic þone sigebeam secan mote

… hie forþ heonon
gewiton of worulde dreamum, sohton him wuldres

…ic wene me
daga gehwylce hwænne me Dryhtnes rod
þe ic her on eorþan ær sceawode
on þysson lænan life gefetige
and me þonne gebringe þæer is blis mycel

… þa he mid manigeo com
gasta weorode on Godes rice

These passages contrast sharply with the static, hieratic imagery of the opening vision, for they represent the third and last stage in the development of the poem, where the opening tableau takes on life and motion after the central scene of the Crucifixion. The theme is the activity of Grace, released through the death of Christ; the language is the abstract language of motion—seeking, travelling, fetching, coming, bringing—abstract, that is, in the sense that it has little to offer in the way of visual "imagery." Perhaps it is for this reason that the last part of the poem is the least memorable, at any rate for most modern readers. It has to compete on unequal terms with the visual and dramatic concreteness of the visions of the Cross and of the Crucifixion.

The poet himself may have felt this, for at the very end of the poem (148-156) he attempts, as it were, to dramatize the personal religious themes of the last part in an account of Christ's Harrowing of Hell. There seems no reason to accept Cook's contention that this is an addition. The transition from the personal present to the historic past is skillfully managed, and it is hard to see where the supposed addition might begin:

Si me Dryhten freond,
se þe her on eorþan ær þrowode
on þam gealgtreowe for guman synnum

The relative clause effects the shift in tense and person, from the present to the past and from the dreamer to mankind (guman) which is confirmed in the following lines:

He us onlysde and us lif forgeaf,
heofonlicne ham

The further transition to the Harrowing of Hell (Hiht wæs geniwad …) is natural at this point as an amplification of Christ's "releasing" power. It is also convincing in the general economy of the poem. The last lines are not vivid, as is the treatment of the same theme by Langland (who draws on the Miracle play tradition)—though there is a compensating syntactic effect in the sequence of parallel clauses leading up toþær hisel wæs—but they do have a specific relevance. This lies not so much in the traditional doctrinal association between the Harrowing and the Crucifixion, as in the story's tropological significance at this point in the poem, its relevance to the dreamer's "moral state"—his personal hiht (see line 126) which is the distinguishing theme of the closing soliloquy.

This personal theme is implicit in The Dream of the Rood from the first. The essential principle of development lies here, in the dreamer himself, just as it does in Piers Plowman. At the beginning of Langland's Eighteenth Passus, before the vision of the Crucifixion, the dreamer is wolle-ward and wete-shoed and wery of the worlde; when it is over he wakes joyfully calling to his wife and daughter to pray to the Cross:

Crepeth to the crosse on knees & kisseth it for
  a iuwel,
For goddes blissed body it bar for owre bote.

So the dreamer in the Old English poem moves from fear and sorrow to hope, and it is this simple emotional sequence which links the closing soliloquy with the opening vision and sets the tone of the central Crucifixion scene.

Stanley B. Greenfield (essay date 1965)

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Stanley B. Greenfield (essay date 1965)

SOURCE: "Christ as Poetic Hero," in A Critical History of Old English Literature, New York University Press, 1965, pp. 124-45.

[In the following excerpt, Greenfield centers on the prominent role of Christ in The Dream of the Rood, emphasizing "the poem's double stress on the triumphant and suffering Christ. ']

[Christ] is, by the nature of His Passion, eminently central to the Dream of the Rood, the finest expression of the Passion in Old English poetry. This 156-line narrative-lyrical adoration of the Cross survives in the Vercelli Book, and part of it appears in Northumbrian runic inscription in the margins of the east and west faces of the eighth-century Ruthwell [rivl] Cross in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. Two lines reminiscent of the poem also appear on the late tenth-century Brussels Cross. The relation between the Ruthwell inscription and the Vercelli text is not clear: is the former a condensation of an original Anglian poem of about A.D. 700, preserved in its West Saxon tenth-century form in the Vercelli MS, or is the manuscript poem, even in its earliest shape, an expansion of the Cross inscription? There is also a problem with the longer poem itself: lines 79 and following seem to be in a different style from the Crucifixion segment that precedes, and are possibly an addition by a later redactor. Even so, the Dream of the Rood is a coherent and unified poem as it stands, compact and intense in its emotional effect.

Listen! I'll tell the sweetest dream,
That dropped to me from midnight, in the quiet
Time of silence and restful sleep.
     I seemed to see a tree of miracles
Rising in the sky, a shining cross
Wrapped in light.…
     It was a tree of victory and splendor, and
     I tainted,
Ulcered with sin. And yet I saw it—
Shining with joy, clothed, adorned,
Covered with gold, the tree of the Lord
Gloriously wrapped in gleaming stones.
And through the gold I saw the stains
Of its ancient agony when blood spilled out
On its right-hand side. I was troubled and afraid
Of the shining sight. Then its garments changed,
And its color; for a moment it was moist with
Dripping and stained; then it shone like silver.
[ll. 1-23]

This beginning not only sets the mood and tone of wonder and sinful remorse but its image of the double-visaged cross, gemmed on the one hand and stained with blood on the other, functions as asymbolic prelude to the triumph and suffering that are doctrinally and poetically at the poem's core. In the body of the poem, the Cross itself is made to speak and to describe from its particular point of view the Crucifixion, a rhetorical device known as prosopopoeia. The Cross's speech begins in riddle fashion describing quickly and succinctly its origins as a tree, its felling and shaping into a rood, and its "planting" in the hillside. Then:

                I saw the Lord of the world
Boldly rushing to climb me
And I could neither bend, nor break
The word of God. I saw the ground
Trembling. I could have crushed them all,
And yet I kept myself erect.
[ll. 33b-38]

This advance of Christ upon the Cross is not, of course, the usual picture of Christ carrying the Cross to Calvary, but it has traditional sanction. More important, it shows Christ the hero freely willing His own Crucifixion, heightening this "leap's" heroic and voluntary nature. Stripping Himself for battle—again an action within Patristic tradition, and again emphasizing Christ's heroism and voluntarism—Christ climactically mounts the Cross, an admirable symbol of the Divinity of Christ and of the earlier Middle Ages' conception of the Redemption:

I trembled as His arms went round me. And still
  I could not bend,
Crash to the earth, but had to bear the body of
I was reared as a cross. I raised the mighty
King of Heaven and could not bend.
They pierced me with vicious nails. I bear the
  scars Of malicious gashes. But I dared not injure any
  of them.
We were both reviled, we two together. I was
  drenched with the blood that gushed
From that hero's side as His holy spirit swept to
               Cruel things came to me there
On that hill. I saw the God of Hosts
Stretched on the rack. Clouds rolled
From the darkness to cover the corpse,
The shining splendor; a livid shadow
Dropped from Heaven. The creation wept,
Bewailed His death. Christ was on the cross.
[ll. 42-56]

Crist wæs on rode: the breathtaking account of the Crucifixion ends on this simplistic yet highly emotional note. But we may observe in this passage two things at least. First, the Cross's presentation of itself as a loyal retainer in the epic mode, with the ironic reversal that it must acquiesce and even assist in the death of its Lord, and cannot aid or avenge Him. Second, the Cross's trembling and suffering, taking upon itself the Passion of Christ. By its passive endurance it becomes a surrogate for Christ, representing that other aspect of the Crucifixion which was to predominate in the later Middle Ages, the humanity of Christ. Its suffering as a "thane" also foreshadows the Dreamer's own reflections toward the end of the poem where, after the vision has ended, he describes himself as an exile in this world, deprived of friends, longing for a new "patron" (God, of course) in a manner similar to the speaker's of The Wanderer.

The Cross of the poem continues its speech describing the Deposition and Burial:

         They carried away almighty God,
Raised Him out of His torment. I was abandoned
  of men,
Standing bespattered with blood, driven through
  with spikes.
They laid down the weary-limbed God, stood
  and watched at His head,
Beholding Heaven's King as He lay in quiet
Exhausted with hardship and pain. And they
  started to carve a sepulchre,
With His slayer watching. They chiselled the
  tomb of the brightest stone
And laid the Lord of victories there.
[ll. 60b-67a]

Christ's death is pictured here as a sleep, a catharsis of exhaustion, release, and temporary rest—a depiction probably not original with the poet, yet exquisitely handled by him. (The concept of death as a sleep has become a commonplace in speech and literature, but its use in the Dream of the Rood is as effective as is Donne's later handling of it in his sonnet "Death be not proud.") This passage stylistically fuses the human and divine doctrinal aspects of the Crucifixion by its use of the paradoxical communicatio idiomatum: "They carried away almighty God," "They laid down the weary-limbed God … beholding Heaven's King," "And laid the Lord of victories there." Miss [Rosemary] Woolf 's comment [in her "Doctrinal Influences on The Dream of the Rood," Medium Aevum XXVII (1958)] on this device and its doctrinal-esthetic result is worth quoting:

In the thirty lines of dramatic description of the Crucifixion … there are ten examples of the communicatio idiomatum, and each one stimulates a shock at the paradox, a shock which grows in intensity as the poem progresses.… The habit of variation in Anglo-Saxon poetic style and the richness of synonym in Anglo-Saxon poetic diction, assist the poet in each instance to use a fresh word or phrase to emphasize some attribute of God, His Rule, majesty, omnipotence.… The theological point that the Christ who endured the Crucifixion is fully God and fully man is thus perfectly made, and with it the imaginative effect which is the natural result of the communicatio idiomatum is attained, the astonishment at the great paradox of Christianity that God should endure such things.

No known source has been found for the Dream of the Rood. Some liturgical influence there may have been, but the fine tensions of the poem between the Divinity and triumph of Christ on the Cross on the one hand and His humanity and suffering on the other, probably owe their inspiration to the poet's awareness of the Christological disputes of the seventh-eighth centuries about the human-divine nature of the Savior, and from the doctrine of the Redemption as taught at this time. The poem's double stress on the triumphant and suffering Christ argues that the poet knew well the difficult theological line he was treading and, mirabile dictu, succeeded in keeping his balance in the brilliant fusion he effected in his use of the Cross as narrator within the dream vision. As an emotional sequence of words and ideas, the Dream of the Rood also moves brilliantly from the fear and sorrow of the Dreamer at the beginning to the hope he visualizes at the end:

He broke our bonds and gave us life
And a home in Heaven. And hope was renewed
In bliss for those who'd burned in Hell.
The Son triumphed on that journey to darkness,

Smashing Hell's doors. Many men's souls
Rose with Him then, the Ruler of all,
Rising to Heaven and the angels' bliss
And the joy of the saints already enthroned
And dwelling in glory, welcoming almighty
God returning to His shining home.

John V. Fleming (essay date 1966)

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John V. Fleming (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: "The Dream of the Rood and Anglo-Saxon Monasticism," in Traditio, Vol. XXII, 1966, pp. 43-72.

[Below, Fleming examines the characters, language, and themes of The Dream of the Rood, calling the poem "a carved celebration of the monastic ideals" of English Benedictinism.]

The earliest text of The Dream of the Rood consists of a few lines of runic inscriptions carved around the edges of a North English high cross now at Ruthwell in Dumfriesshire. It represents no more than a fragment of the text as we find it in the Vercelli MS, a short passage describing the Crucifixion and the ordeal of the Cross. The precise relationship between the Ruthwell runes and the Vercelli poem is a matter of conjecture and dispute. To some critics the Ruthwell inscriptions represent an 'earlier poem,' of which the Vercelli text is an expansion or a later revision or both. It is a question to which I shall wish to devote some attention in due course. For the present, I would suggest that the runic inscriptions provide a valuable clue to the interpretation of the Vercelli poem along lines so far left unexplored; for the runes form a part of a rich iconographic program, developing a unified meaning closely connected with the figurative meaning of The Dream of the Rood.

This 'unified meaning' of the iconographic scheme of the Ruthwell Cross has also been much discussed. Baldwin Brown thought that the Ruthwell carvings celebrated the Triumph of the Cross. A more recent student [P.G. Medd] concludes that 'the theme which emerges is that of conversion.' In light of the brilliant article on the Ruthwell Cross ["The Religious Meaning of the Ruthwell Cross," Art Bulletin 26 (1944)] by Meyer Schapiro, however, it seems clear beyond question that the 'unified meaning' of the Ruthwell carvings is eremitic. The figures of John the Baptist, the desert saints, Paul and Antony, the central Christ in deserto, together with less obvious icons of the ascetic life, form a carved celebration of the monastic ideals which were at the heart of both the Celtic and the early English (Roman) churches. I shall argue in this article that The Dream of the Rood is also such a celebration, a product of the English Benedictinism which was the chief cultural institution of the Age of Bede, presenting a figurative statement of the main principles of early Benedictine asceticism and a typically monastic view of salvation.

The religious meaning of The Dream of the Rood lies only thinly veiled beneath the surface of the Old English poetic diction which its author was obliged to use. It is a diction to some extent archeological and 'Germanic,' the language of the high style of Old English Christian poetry, which gives it its peculiar and often misleading heroic and Teutonic ring. This language has been thought to reflect the values of that kind of Germanic warrior society which Tacitus called the comitatus, still alive in the Anglo-Saxon poetic consciousness generations, indeed centuries after the Christianization of England. Typically, comitatus values of loyalty and community have been thought to animate such tragic and dramatic high points in Old English literature as the Finnsburh lay in Beowulf and the Cynewulf and Cyneheard episode in the Chronicle, and to provide the philosophic background for the plight of the 'exile' or 'lordless man' in The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and elsewhere. Indeed, one might argue that The Dream of the Rood is a kind of Christian 'answer' to the problems posed by the stringencies of a comitatus society.

The language of the comitatus applies to all the characters in the poem: the Cross, Christ, the Dreamer himself. Most obviously the episode of the Crucifixion is a heroic drama in which Christ seems to be associated with the Germanic warrior:

        Geseah ic þa frean mancynnes
efstan elne mycle þæt he me wolde on gestigan.

Ongyrede hine þa geong hæleð, (þæt wæs god
strang ond stiðmod. Gestah he on gealgan
modig on manigra gesyhðe, þa he wolde mancyn

But the Cross, too, has a dramatic role in terms of the comitatus in its prosopopoeic voice, for it has suffered just those two calamities that provide the main tensions of 'Germanic' tragedy: disruption from the comitatus, and disloyalty, at least apparent, to its lord. For the forest tree, part of the comitatus of the Lord of all created things, is cut down by strange feondas, removed from its place in the created order, degraded, humiliated. It is in its role as Christ's retainer that the Cross's frustration at being forbidden to strike back at its lord's enemies becomes most poignant. Charlemagne in pious legend is supposed to have cried out, upon hearing the tale of the Crucifixion retold, 'If I had only been there with my Franks!' The Cross says:

þær ic þa ne dorste ofer dryhtnes word
bugan oððe berstan, þa ic bifian geseah
eorðan sceatas. Ealle ic mihte
feondas gefyllan, hwæðre ic fæste stod.

What was foolishness to the Greeks was treason to the Germanen. The Cross, in the poetic role of a warrior in Christ's band, must become the bana, or technical slayer, of its own lord. For this paradoxical disloyalty, the Cross receives the traditional reward of the faithful retainer ('gyredon me golde ond seolfre.' [77]) And the final inversion of the values of the comitatus comes in the homily of the Cross to the Dreamer, in which it makes the point that the path to salvation for all men lies in following the bana of their Lord. Cynewulf 's men in the Chronicle episode are prepared to fight to the death even against their own kinsmen rather than follow the slayer of their lord: hio næfre his banan folgian noldon. Yet such is the blasphemy of Christians.

If the Cross and Christ are actors in a heroic drama, the Dreamer likewise participates in the apparent Germanic design of the poem. Though the point is not greatly elaborated, it is clear that he is a lordless man, a traditional elegiac exile.

         Nah ic ricra feala
freonda on foldan, ac hie forð heonon
gewiton of worulde dreamum …

Elsewhere the Dreamer is ana and mæte werede (123-124). The resolution of his lordlessness is his transference of hope for protection from 'freonda on foldan' to a 'Friend' in heaven: 'Si me dryhten freond' (144). Such a compressed sketch hardly does justice to the considerable poetic gifts displayed in the development of the themes of community and exile in the poem, but I hope it will serve to draw attention to the ideographic framework around which an Anglo-Saxon poet chose to structure a particular kind of Christian poem.

It would be a mistake, however, to consider these carefully developed themes as some kind of archeological remains, pagan echoes in a Christian poem; for it is by no means only in the Teutonic poetry of the Anglo-Saxon period that the ideas of exile and community are to be found. They are two of the preeminent concerns of the principal ecclesiastical and cultural institution of Anglo-Saxon England: Benedictine monachism. In a brilliant essay ["Le Monachisme du haut moyen âge (VIIIe-Xe siècles)," in Théologie de la vie monastique, 1961] which modestly but authoritatively provides the guideposts for the study of Western monachism in the period from the eighth to the tenth centuries, Jean Leclercq has written thus:

II semble que l'on puisse grouper les principales idées théologiques illustréees par les Vies des saints moines des époques dites mérovingienne et carolingienne autour de deux thémes majeurs, ceux de l'exil et du paradis, correspondant aux deux domaines de l'activité monastique: I'ascése et de la mystique, la pratique des vertus et l'union de l'esprit à Dieu.

The twin concerns of early Benedictine thought here abstracted by Leclercq are the concerns as well of the poet of The Dream of the Rood; the 'lordless man' and the comitatus, the exile and the society for which he yearns.

One of the most felicitous of the notable poetic gifts demonstrated by the author of The Dream of the Rood is his ability to present us with a kind of double focus in which to view the ambiguities of the Crucifixion, the role of the Cross, and the response of the Dreamer. If we may imagine the Cross rising, as it does between the old Law and the New, between the themes of exile and comitatus, themselves the two sides of one coin, we shall discern that the Dreamer combines two roles: he is both the first person voice of an Old English poem, clothed in the elegiac and heroic language of traditional English poetry, and he is the Benedictine voice of a poem on the monastic life. For as the lordless man moves from exile into his true comitatus through the Cross, the monk moves through a spiritual exile to a mystical union with Heaven. The movement of the poem, we should note, is not so much around the Cross as through it, just as the Dreamer sees þurh þæt gold to a deeper meaning of the Crucifixion and that it is ourh oa rode that he will be saved. In this respect The Dream of the Rood is an amplification of the little Latin motto which epitomizes the aspirations of the monastic life: Per crucem ad lucem.

We have already seen that the Dreamer is in some respects a typical 'lordless man.' He is alone; he lacks powerful friends; he moves toward a 'stoic' understanding. Unlike the Wanderer or the Seafarer, the Dreamer does not seem to be engaged in any kind of travel of a literal kind, though his state of exile might conceivably imply some kind of journey. Now Dorothy Whitelock suggested some fifteen years ago [in "The Interpretation of the Seafarer," in The Early Cultures of Northwest Europe, 1950] that The Seafarer is not an exercise in Germanic seamanship with a stiff upper lip but an entirely Christian poem about actual peregrinatio, and G. V. Smithers, in a similar vein, has more recently produced impressive arguments [in his "The Meaning of The Seafarer and The Wanderer, " Medium Aevum 26 (1957)] to show that the language of both The Seafarer and The Wanderer in their imagery of exile and peregrination, is allegorical, spiritual. It would be fruitful to include in a study of The Dream of the Rood those two brilliant elegies which have so much in common with it, and to pursue the lines suggested by Whitelock and Smithers guided by recent work in monastic history and in the allegorical vocabulary of early monastics. Yet it would not be directly to my point, for despite the important characteristics which they share, The Dream of the Rood is different from the elegies in at least two important respects. It is in the first place overtly and obviously Christian, full of a wide range of specifically Christian allusions. It is also clearly allegorical, set in the allegorical framework par excellence of the dream vision. Secondly, it differs from the elegies in the nature of its philosophical resolution, for it provides an explicit answer for the 'lordless man' which goes beyond Boethian fortitude.

There is vigorous movement in the poem, movement from exile to community. The Dreamer begins alone and in the dark midnight (to midre nihte,/syoþan reordberend reste wunedon); the end of the poem leaves him in joy and hope, anticipating a life of radiant glory on wuldre. On the one side of the Cross the Dreamer is alone, ana; on the other he is inspired to eschatological anticipations of life in the eternal community of the saints (mid þam halgum). The whole force of the poem is directed toward the concept which finds expression in its final half-line: þær his eoel wæs. Christ's eoel is, of course, Heaven. It is the same homeland to which all who 'would be perfect' must hurry. Professor Smithers has drawn attention to a striking citation from Ælfric in the tenth century expressing the concept of our alienation from our true homeland (urum eoele) and finds a convincing 'single source' for it in the Fourth Dialogue of St. Gregory. But what these two great Benedictines, the one borrowing the words of the other, give voice to is a concept of Christian 'pilgrimage' as old as St. Paul, which finds expression as well in the Regula Benedicti. The monk is temporarily alienated from what Benedict calls the patria, and his Rule is addressed to those ad patriam caelestem festinans. Paul the Deacon, whose commentary on the Rule is one of the most valuable guides to Benedictine thought and practice in the Age of Bede, writes thus:

Et debet [monachus] etiam expectare tempus; in quo exeat anima de corpore suo; exeat ad loca sua et proprietatem suam. hoc est in paradisum; quod est locus noster. et ad cives et parentes suos; hoc est angelos.

This locus noster is the eoel of The Dream of the Rood, the homeland to which the Cross is the key, and exile the path. In the telling phrase of a Benedictine commentator of the high Middle Ages, the monk moves 'per exterioris exilii finem … ad interne patrie claritatem.' Per crucem ad lucem. The monk should daily, cotidie, meditate expectantly on his last day, the end of his exile, just as the Dreamer awaits the eschatological Cross daga gehwylce.

The language used by the poet to describe the heavenly homecoming which is the end of exile might seem at first far removed from treatises on ascetic theology, and critics have found in the description an echo of the Germanic feast-hall as it appears elsewhere in Old English poetry.

        þær is blis mycel,
dream on heofonum, þær is dryhtnes folc
geseted to symle, þær is singal blis.

The heavenly feast does indeed neatly complete the comitatus theme in the poem, but there is no need to turn to pagan Germania for an explanation. The imagery is just as strikingly reminiscent of the forceful, masculine vision of Heaven in a little dialogue on the monastic life attributed to Alcuin, 'ubi spiritualiter quiescens, bibes et epules perpetualiter in regno Christi et Dei'. The same point can be made of other 'Germanic' elements in the poem.

The historical episode of what might be called the Wagnerian school of Anglo-Saxon studies is happily over, but its monuments remain. We would be the poorer without them, for among those keen Germanicists who set out to explore our earliest literature in 'the search for Anglo-Saxon paganism' were some of the philological giants upon whose backs all dwarf-like literary critics must stand. Occasionally their zeal for Germania did positive violence to the text of The Dream of the Rood—as with the critic who translated 'ongyrede hine geong hæleþ' as 'the young hero put on his armor,' presumably because that is what a Germanic warrior was likely to do faced with a battle—but they have quite properly drawn attention to the interesting possibilities of approaching the poem through the comitatus theme. On the whole, however, the search for Germanic echoes in the poem has produced only untenable 'finds.' In a standard history of Old English literature [E.E. Wardale, Chapters on Old English Literature, 1935], recently republished, we are told that ' "All creation wept, lamented the fall of the King," is an echo of the description of the death of Baldor, the sun god, for whose untimely end all nature lamented …' [Bruce] Dickins and [Alan S.C.] Ross [The Dream of the Rood, 1954] repeat this farfetched suggestion, even though in later editions they add a citation to Curtius which completely undermines the identification of this 'source' by demonstrating the pervasiveness of the weeping-Nature trope. The author of The Dream of the Rood is being no more pagan than John Donne.

Of all the 'Germanic' elements in the poem, none has been more often commented upon than Christ's description as a geong hæleþ and the heroic treatment of the Crucifixion generally. In fact, the regal and heroic attitude of Christ is perhaps the least convincing of the proposed Teutonic elements in the poem. As Rosemary Woolf says [in her "Doctrinal Influences on The Dream of the Rood," Medium Aevum 27 (1958)] the conception of a warrior Christ is 'not peculiar to the Anglo-Saxon imagination.' If we must speculate, it is not unlikely that the Anglo-Saxons picked up the idea, insofar as it is an idea and not the implication of Old English poetic diction, from the same source they picked up their other ideas about Christianity: the Benedictines who came to them as missionaries. Alcuin of York, who does not seem otherwise to be tainted by the religion of Woden, speaks of the Crucifixion, repeatedly and at length, in very much the style of The Dream of the Rood, stressing the power and vigor of Christ on the Cross. Of attempts to read a 'Germanic' meaning into such a view [Hans Bernhard] Meyer says rather pointedly [in his "Crux, Decus es Mundi: Alkuins Kreuz und Osterfrömmigkeit," in Paschalis Sollemnia, 1959],

man braucht für die Idee des freiwillig leidenden und siegenden Königs nicht die germanische Volksseele zu bemühen. Es genügt, die exegetischen und homiletischen Werke der Kircheväter zu lesen.

The geong hæleþ is no more 'Germanic' for the poet of The Dream of the Rood than he is for St. Ambrose. If it is dangerous to search for a 'Christ figure' in the hero of Beowulf, it is no less so to seek a 'Beowulf figure' in the Christ of The Dream of the Rood.

To what extent there was any real 'Germanisierung des Christentums' the scope posited by Dibelius and other keen Germanicists will probably remain a matter of some dispute, but it seems clear from the careful work of Michael Seidlmayer [Weltbild und Kultur Deutschlands im Mittelalter, 1953] that the most 'significant' examples of the Germanization of the Church can be limited to three:(1) the maintenance of class distinction within the cloister;(2) the acceptance, within severe limitations of the Germanic prerogatives of revenge; and (3) the institution of the secular Emperor, by quasi-sacramental anointings, as protector of the Church. The second of these concerns The Dream of the Rood tangentially, for it seems clear that its author is keenly aware of the brittle demands of Germanic revenge. His interest in them is ancillary to his principal matter, however, and the course he follows is not to Germanicize the Christian, but to Christianize the Germanic.

An attempt to get away from a Germanicizing reading of the poem has recently been made by Rosemary Woolf in her article, cited above, on the poet's Christology. She argues that the core poem (roughly the Crucifixion episode, stripped of its later accretions) is a carefully orthodox formulation of Christ's dual nature and the contrasting aspects of the Crucifixion—'divinity and triumph on the one hand and humanity and suffering on the other'—and that it was written in full knowledge of and to some extent in answer to heretical opinions which had partially characterized the Monophysite position at the Council of Chalcedon and which, as she shows, were of concern to English theologians in the late seventh and early eighth centuries. The poet's remarkable achievement is the fusion of a 'double stress on the Crucifixion as a scene of both triumph and suffering.' She goes on:

Without such a brilliant conception as that of the poet's, the two aspects would have become separated, as they were usually in the Middle Ages. The Crucifixion in both mediaeval art and mediaeval literature is usually a scene of utmost agony: in accordance with the doctrine of 'satisfaction,' Christ as man offers His suffering to its farthest limit, until the body hangs painfully from the Cross without blood or life.

She later says that

particularly in the Anglo-Saxon period, a treatment of the Crucifixion in which the hearer was led by his intense sympathy for Christ's pain to identify himself with Christ in the poem, would obviously be unfortunate since it would carry with it the implication that Christ's consciousness was solely human and therefore comprehensible to fellow human beings … would be to revert, though no doubt unsuspectingly, to the Gnostic heresy.

My basic sympathy with Miss Woolf 's approach should be obvious; yet in rejecting her central conclusions I must debate her on at least two points. In the first place there seems implicit in her argument the curious notion that the statement of orthodoxy is invariably a rebuttal to heresy, in this case that 'Chalcedonian' Christology predicates an urgent concern with Monophysitism. I fully agree that much of the poet's remarkable achievement is the fusion of a 'double stress on the Crucifixion as a scene of both triumph and suffering,' but it is the manner of this fusion rather than the fact of it which is remarkable. Generally speaking, orthodoxy is, after all, the rule, not the exception.

The other point concerns stylistic history. Miss Woolf seems to me narrow and misleading in her characterization of the Crucifixion of 'mediaeval art and mediaeval literature' as 'usually a scene of utmost agony.' Since she uses the terms 'mediaeval' and 'Middle Ages' to refer to an unspecified epoch which excludes 'the Anglo-Saxon period,' she is presumably referring to certain emotional tendencies in late Romanesque or late Gothic painting, to a stylistic convention which becomes dominant only many centuries after The Dream of the Rood could have been composed. Much of her own evidence supports the fact that neither in plastic nor pictorial art of the period during which the poem could conceivably have been written (and certainly not from the late-seventh century, when she would date it) is it possible to produce significant examples of the Crucifixion which are expressive at all, let alone expressive of 'utmost agony.'

As for the 'Gnostic' treatment of a pathetic Christ, it must be pointed out that it is precisely in England and precisely during 'the Ango-Saxon period' that such tendencies do appear. According to Thoby, the swaying corpse of the dead Christ begins to appear in English miniatures of the eleventh century. To the eleventh century as well belongs the incipient 'Gnostic' cult of the adoratio crucis, the sacred wounds, the nails which pierced Christ's flesh, and (in rudimentary form) the Sacred Heart. One of the lovely little painted books of the Old English period—B. M. MS Cotton Titus D 27—combines a sequence of these emotional devotions with a pictorial treatment of the Crucifixion which is entirely 'Chalcedonian,' heroic, with Christ open-eyed, triumphant, regnant.

The sole surviving English rood fragment in situ over a pre-Conquest chancel arch, at Bitton in Somerset, shows a typically heroic Christ with feet 'side by side on the cross, above a serpent or some such creature, and the Bitton Rood is typical of the treatments of the Crucifixion in the visual arts not only in England but in all of Western Christendom until well after the Conquest, the so-called 'Benedictine' type. The question of the development of the late Gothic or 'pathetic' crucifix is complex and as yet unresolved, though various theological influences have been suggested which may in part account for it—the preaching techniques of the friars, the development of the doctrine of 'Satisfaction' mentioned by Miss Woolf, etc. It is a question that hardly concerns The Dream of the Rood, however, except to reinforce the fact that the poet is clearly working within the stylistic mainstream of his own age.

Such discussion, which might seem more properly to appertain to the disciplines of theology and art history than literary criticism, seems to me necessary because of the fact that Woolf 's doctrinal approach to the poem leads her to a position sometimes at odds with the text. For example, regarding the 'Gnostic' identification which an audience might make with the tortured human nature of Christ, she maintains that the author of The Dream of the Rood 'does not speak of Christ's death: the climax of the poem is simply, Crist wæs on rode, and His death is thereafter described as a sleep.' In point of fact, of course, the first half-line of the 'climax' (56a) is cwiodon cyninges fyll, where fyll means 'death,' or something stronger, like 'slaughter.' Line 49b (…he hæfde his gast onsended) is hardly less direct about speaking of His death. The overt statement 'Deao he þær byrigde' (lOla), in the part of the poem which Woolf does not consider echt, merely recapitulates what has already been said. This is not to deny that the poet uses the death-as-sleep figure, but it has a poetic rationale of its own which has nothing to do with the poet's putative 'theological uneasiness' in speaking of the death of Christ, which as we have just seen he does on multiple occasions in the clearest of terms. Following St. Ambrose on Luke, the poet has described the Crucifixion in the mood of an athletic contest, violent and incidentally exhausting.

It remains possible, of course, to see in The Dream of the Rood a response to the Christological debates of the fifth century, but by the same token it would be possible to argue that virtually every treatment of the Crucifixion for half a thousand years is such a response. For my part, I find it difficult to believe that The Dream of the Rood is a polemical or controversial document of any kind. The poet's chief concern is not to handle a tricky bit of Christology without lapsing into Monophysitism, Nestorianism, or Gnosticism, and those critics who are unwilling to dismiss more than half the Vercelli text as 'surely a later addition by a writer of the school of Cynewulf' may wish to seek an artistic purpose which has little to do with academic heresies, perhaps indeed little to do immediately with Christ or the Cross, in that part of the poem that deals with the Dreamer, the ic of the very first line, the speaker with whom the poem begins and ends.

I wish to suggest that the thematic intimacy between Christ and His Cross in The Dream of the Rood is not the poet's means of narrowing the theological focus of the Crucifixion episode to preclude Christological difficulties, but rather his method of widening that scope to bridge the gap between Christ and the Dreamer. The Cross becomes a kind of mediator, in the first instance, between the Dreamer and his Lord. A number of critics have sought a relationship between the Old English poem and the great liturgical hymn Crux fidelis: they both present images of 'faithful' crosses. There is no doubt that the Cross is faithful to Christ, but that is only half the story; and Dionysius the Carthusian, writing at the end of the Middle Ages but with the same ascetic point of view which I find everywhere revealed in The Dream of the Rood, says that the Cross is fidelis to mankind, for whom it is the key to Heaven. In The Dream of the Rood the Cross becomes the common denominator between Christ and the Dreamer, the essential experience which they share, and it is in terms of the exposition of the relationships between Christ, the Cross, and the Dreamer that the structure of the poemis to be explained.

Although no very careful study has been made of the compositional unity of the Vercelli text, it is commonly assumed to be a composite work, dividing at line 78. Wardale speaks of it as a reworking of an 'original poem,' and Dickins and Ross say that 'the Vercelli text is probably composite.' [Albert S.] Cook [The Dream of the Rood, 1905] found the concluding lines of the poem an 'inartistic addition,' and as we have just seen Rosemary Woolf considers half the text a 'later addition.' Now it is not my purpose to produce a detailed defense of the unity of the Vercelli text, which remains problematical, but I should like to make the point that no arguments of any substance have in fact been advanced against it. Dickins and Ross find it 'perhaps significant' that the runic text on the Ruthwell Cross, undoubtedly linguistically more ancient than the Vercelli text, corresponds to a passage in the early part of the poem. The second part of the poem (i. e., after line 78) seems to them 'in quality … definitely inferior' But the Ruthwell runes are, after all, a part of a scheme of lapidary decoration. The inscription begins with the Crucifixion episode, omitting 38 lines of the Vercelli text, providing a poetic statement which is appropriate (a) to a tall cross, the sculptured decoration of which includes (b) a Crucifixion, and the central panel of which is (c) a victorious Christ in deserto. Even what is on the Ruthwell Cross represents considerably less half the number of lines of corresponding text in the Vercelli poem. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the Vercelli text is an expansion of the runic text, for the runic text may well be a series of lines taken from a larger work for epigraphic purposes. The Ruthwell runes in any case cover the entire workable space on the Cross shaft, so that there would not have been room for further 'quotations' from the second half of the poem even had they been relevant. The runes are actually rather cramped into the available space, unlike the uncrowded Latin inscriptions which accompany the carvings. The most recent study of the cross [Frank Willett, "The Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses—A Review," Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society, 98 (1956-57)], partly on this account, goes so far as to suggest that 'the Ruthwell Cross inspired the poem inscribed upon it' and that 'the poem is inserted upon the cross in such a way as to suggest that it was not part of the original design, but was added later.' Epigraphy is not an art form generally characterized by brilliant original poetry, and I find Willett's suggestion improbable; but it does underscore a major weakness in the assumption that the Ruthwell text is necessarily the distant ancestor of the Vercelli poem.

Whether or not that part of the poem after line 78 is 'definitely inferior' to what has preceded it remains a matter for private critical appraisal. There is undeniably a marked difference of tone in the two 'halves.' Having finished the episode of the Crucifixion, the Cross goes on to a frank homily explaining the implications of spiritual crucifixion to a Dreamer who, as J. A. Burrow has nicely pointed out [in his "An Approach to The Dream of the Rood," Neophilologus 43 (1959)], is 'the principle of development in the poem.' Without the Dreamer the poem would be more truly 'Cædmonian,' that is, it would be an inspired biblical redaction. With him it becomes a poem of philosophical pretensions, the vehicle of an ascetical-theological doctrine which sketches in a brilliantly imaginative way the aspirations of the monastic cadre of Anglo- Saxon society, a society no longer one composed primarily of warriors.

A stylistic argument against the unity of authorship could conceivably be based on metrical grounds. The earlier part of the poem is characterized by lavish use of hypermetric lines, giving it an almost stanzaic effect, and these virtually disappear in the second part. On the other hand it would seem that these differences, essentially rhetorical, mirror the tonal differences between the narratio of the Crucifixion episode and the homiletic explanatio which follows it.

It should be apparent that arguments so far advanced against the compositional unity of the Vercelli text (when, indeed, any have been advanced) are rather assumptions based on subjective reactions to the 'quality' or appropriateness of the poetry in different parts of the poem. My own argument does not depend in the final analysis upon the compositional integrity of the Vercelli text. It is possible that a 'Vercelli poet' has reworked an 'earlier poem' about the Crucifixion, in which case he has produced a larger poem of extraordinary thematic unity in which the earlier Crucifixion episode fits like Cinderella's foot. The Crucifixion episode in The Dream of the Rood serves precisely the same function within the Vercelli text that it does within the iconographic schedule of the Ruthwell Cross: as part of an exposition of the eremitic life. That the only two texts of the Crucifixion episode—the Brussels inscription is more an misremembered quotation than a separate 'text'—should be used for the same artistic purposes by the Ruthwell masons and the author of the Vercelli poem strongly suggests, to my mind, that that was the purpose for which it was written.

The second 'half ' of the Vercelli text is as important as the first; it is the spiritual history of the Dreamer who provides the 'essential principle of development' in the poem even as does the Dreamer in Piers Plowman. One could add other parallels: Boethius in the Consolatio, the Dreamers of Pearl, The Book of the Duchess, and many more. The Dreamer of the Old English poem belongs to that numerous tribe of personae of medieval vision poems who experience an education, moving with greater or lesser speed from incomprehension to understanding. In TheDreamof theRood the Cross is in the center of the poem, as it is at the center of the Christian religion; but it is neither the whole poem nor the whole religion.

The dramatic movement of this poem, as opposed to the dramatic episode of the Crucifixion, concerns the Dreamer's response to his vision. As Burrow puts it, the Dreamer

moves from fear and sorrow to hope, and it is this simple emotional sequence which links the closing soliloquy with the opening vision and sets the tone of the central Crucifixion scene.

With one point only in Burrow's fine statement would I quarrel: the sequence is neither simple nor essentially emotional. It is, however, the undoubted movement of the poem—per crucem ad lucem—informing it with a thematic unity which argues persuasively against those unquestioning in their belief that the concluding section of the poem is a 'later addition.'

The poem in its entirely develops an ambiguity of the monastic vocation which is the ambiguity of the Crucifixion episode, for the 'cross' of monastic theology in the early Benedictine centuries, like the Cross of The Dream of the Rood, presents a double focus, suggesting both the spiritual crucifixion and daily martyrdom of asceticism and the martial and triumphant glory of the successful militia. In the visions of the cross which are a fairly common motif in early monastic hagiography, the spiritual and indeed specifically monastic implications of the 'cross' sometimes find explicit statement. A case in point comes from the life of a great French abbot of the early eighth century. St. Leutfrid, founder of the monastery which came to be known as La-Croix-St.-Lefroy. Engaged in a journey one day, Leutfrid came to a crossroads where, to his puzzlement, his horse stopped, refusing to go on further. After a few moments he became aware of a glorious vision of the Cross in the sky, a portent which he understood as a command to found a monastery on that spot: 'quod locus ille futuris temporibus crucifixi domini Iesu Christi veros cultores habiturus esset, qui crucis mortificationem et in corde et in corpore suo evidenter gestaturi essent.' For Leutfrid the corporeal vision of the Cross was a spiritual injunction to the mortificatio crucis of the cloister, the spiritual crucifixion. But the cross was also the battle standard of that glorious and heroic warfare of which St. Benedict speaks in the Prologue of the Regula, the other side, so to speak, of the monastic life. When a precisely similar revelation of the Cross appears in another saint's Life of the period, it is the aspect of the militia Dei which is stressed: 'Intellexit protinus quod locum sibi Dominus delegisset, in quo multos sub Christi vexillo militantes divina dignatio congregaret.'

An understanding of the ascetic implications of the cross will perhaps be helpful in analyzing the lines in which the Cross gives its final charge to the Dreamer to be constantly aware of that last terrible moment when Christ Himself will come to take a reckoning of his deportment in this life.

Ne mæg þær ænig unforht wesan
for þam worde þe se wealdend cwyð.
Frineð he for þære mænige hwær se man sie,
se ðe for dryhtnes naman deaðes wolde
biteres onbyrigan, swa he ger on ðam beame

Such an invitation to martyrdom may seem a jarring note in a poem which I maintain is about the monastic life—in spite of its thematic similarity to episodes in Anglo-Saxon hagiography. (We may cite the example of St. Boniface who, according to Leclercq, united the major monastic aspirations of exile, preaching, and martyrdom, impelled in part by nocturnal 'visions.') Yet the passage becomes less startling when examined from the point of view of the metaphoric vocabulary of the early monastic writers, both Celtic and Benedictine. The spiritual concept of the bloodless or ascetic martyrdom which finds its commonplace statement in Isidore's Origenes (7.11.4) has been carefully traced by the monastic scholar Louis Gougaud. The idea that martyrdom is a state of spiritual readiness to die for the faith, that is, to make a final act of self-denial, whether or not it actually culminates in physical death, is implicit in pre-Benedictine monachism, finds its first explicit statement in a famous letter of Sulpicius Severus about St. Martin, and is quickly taken up by the first major Benedictine commentator, Gregory the Great. The influence of the idea is apparent in the martyrologies of the early Benedictine centuries, where the distinction between 'martyrs' and 'quasimartyrs' is not conspicuous. Notable Anglo-Saxon martyrs include, for instance, SS. Guthlac and Etheldreda, both of whom died in bed so far as we know.

So-called 'bloodless martyrdom' or 'daily crucifixion' is a metaphor for the monastic life, and in early monastic vocabulary 'the acceptance of the cross is meant to signify the renunciation of all property, and a complete separation from one's kindred.' Such a state of separation characterizes the traditional 'lordless man'of Old English poetry (anhaga, wineleas, etc.), as it does the Dreamer in The Dream of the Rood ('Nah ic ricra feala/freonda on foldan'). In Old English, indeed, the very word martirdom means, in addition to its common modern meaning, the state of exile, of being 'lordless.' The onhaga of the Boethian poem 'Resignation' describes his state as a martirdom. That the monastic life is a martyrdom, a spiritual image of Christ's crucifixion, that the monk is one 'se oe for dryhtnes naman deaoes wolde/biteres onbyrigan' is a point frequently emphasized by the great Benedictine reformers of the high Middle Ages who, in seeking to revitalize the Black Monks with the ascetical zeal of their glorious heritage, produced the first comprehensive treatises on the monastic life which went beyond glosses to the Benedictine Rule. For example, Peter of Celle argues in his De disciplina claustrali 'Quod claustrum sit vicarium Crucis,' building an intriguing allegory to show, among other things, that just as Christ, impaled on the Cross, had control of one member of his body only—His tongue, which he used to pray—so ought the monk to hobble all bodily activity save the praise of God with his mouth. And Ailred of Rievaulx, the great Cistercian saint whose works typify the spirituality of the second golden age of English Benedictinism, could tell his monks in chapter that their order was the very Cross of Christ:

Jam ipsa crux Christi sit quasi speculum Christiani. In ipsa cruce Christi conveniant, et inquantum participat cruci Christi, intantum sibi praesumat gloriam Christi … Ordo noster crux Christi est.

Just as early monasticism was a daily crucifixion it was also an apostleship, and there is nothing that militates against a 'Benedictine' reading of The Dream of the Rood in the evangelical commission which the Cross gives the Dreamer: 'Nu ic þe hate … þæt ou þas gesyhoe secge mannum.' (95-96) The expanse of the cloister was very wide in the Age of Bede. The Anglo-Saxons had received the Faith from Benedictine missionaries; and they were likewise monks—'foris apostoli, intus monachi'—who set out from England to conquer the old racial homelands. The chief pastoral functions in the Celtic Church, preaching and administering the sacraments, had been executed by monks, and in the Northumbrian (Roman) churches even such 'pure' Benedictine establishments as Wear-mouth and Jarrow had considerable pastoral duties.

With this ideographic background in mind, we must look again at the intricate relationships by which the poet links Christ, the Cross, and the Dreamer, a series of poetic associations which I have argued are not his means of narrowing the poem's theological implications but rather his way of broadening them. There is no doubt, as many critics have noted, that there is an extraordinary identification of Christ and His Cross in the poem. Their intimate identification stems not from a fortuitous 'meeting' at the Crucifixion, but from a long, perhaps even labored, series of parallels. Both share a significant act of volition. That of the Cross is explicit, that of Christ implicit. Both are 'heroic.' They suffer the same ordeal, and the Cross appropriates the stigmata of Christ as its own wounds: 'þurhdrifan hi me mid deorcan næglum. On me syndon ka dolg gesiene.'(46) The Cross says: 'Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere,'(48) and the dual unc grammatically underscores the relationship between them in the Crucifixion episode. They are seen in intimate and isolated association, a heroic and redemptive stasis. Alone they suffer for the sins of men ('for mancynnes manegum synnum/ond Adomes ealdgewyrhtum' [99-100]) suspended, as in the common pictorial representation of a later period, between Heaven and earth. The Cross shares Christ's defeat, but it is soon to share His glory too, and their careers continue as in parallel columns. Christ is buried, and the Cross is dumped into a wretched hole with the gibbets of the thieves. Christ's resurrection was the visible sign of his victory over death, a victory which the Cross now fully shares. In one of the very few explicit echoes of the Invention legend, the Cross is exhumed from its pit. In this thematic identity of Christ and the Cross we may perhaps see the mental habit which lies behind the quasi-dramatic Good Friday 'deposition' as it appears for the first time in England in the Regularis Concordia at the end of the tenth century, in which a cross, crucifix, or eucharistic host becomes a surrogate for the corpse of Christ. But this remarkable identification is only half the poet's achievement, for he is just as concerned to establish a relationship, which is at first not identity but contrast, between the Cross and the Dreamer.

The splendor of the radiant objet d'art which is the Dreamer's first apprehension in his palimpsest view of the Cross creates an immediate 'tension' in the poem. 'Syllic wæs se sigebeam, ond ic synnum fah,' (13) says the Dreamer. The Cross is 'on lyft lædan, leohte bewunden'(5), and 'begoten mid golde' (7). The Dreamer is said to be licgende. But when the Dreamer sees through the gold of the Cross to the gory gibbet of Calvary, it is to the apprehension not of contrast but of identity. The Dreamer says, 'Eall ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed' (20), and the Cross, 'Sare ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed' (59). The Dreamer is 'forwunded mid wommum' (14); the Cross 'mid strælum forwundod' (62). Now these resemblances are no mere verbal parallels; they are true identities, understood spiritually. For the wounds and sorrows which the Cross shares with Christ are the wounds and sorrows, paraphrasing the text, of the stains of sin which characterize the Dreamer. It is this implicit realization by the Dreamer in line 21 which accounts for his fear, a fear which paradoxically grows from an understanding that there is no great gulf between him and the Cross, as his first glittering view of it seemed to suggest, but just the opposite. Even as Christ and the Cross bear together the stigmata, so in another sense do the Dreamer and the Cross, for the wounds of Christ are the earmra ærgewin, and mancynnes manegum synnum ond Adomes ealdgewyrhtum, the 'wounds' of the Dreamer.

The meaning of the poem must lie in the penitential submission by which, just as Christ has taken up the sins of men, men must take up the Cross of Christ. It is in this submission that the most satisfying explanation of the reference to the Annunciation in the poem is to be explained:

Hwæt [says the Cross], me þa geweoroode wuldres
ofer holmwudu, heofonrices weard!
Swycle swa he his modor eac, Marian sylfe,
ælmihtig god for ealle menn
geweoroode ofer eall wifa cynn.

We may wish to recall that the Annunciation appears in the iconographic scheme of the Ruthwell Cross immediately above the Crucifixion on the righthand panel, where it underscores the theme of humility or submission. 'Be it unto me according to Thy will,' was Mary's choice, and this is also the choice of Christ and the Cross. In the penitential economy of The Dream of the Rood, such submission becomes the sole hyht of the Dreamer.

We cannot, of course, claim that this perception is uniquely 'monastic.' The monastic vocation is, after all, merely the Christian vocation par excellence. Yet it seems to me that we may conclude that the theology of salvation in The Dream of the Rood is not commonplace in its expression; for though the redemptive work of Christ is explicitly spelled out ('He us onlysde ond us lif forgeaf,/heofonlicne ham' [147-148]), it is the Cross which actively urges itself as the agent of man's salvation ('ic hælan mæg/æghwylcne anra, þara þe him bio egesa to me' [85-86]). It is likewise the Cross, not Christ alone, which will come to fetch the Dreamer from this world. The ascetic theorem of this cross-centered poem is that 'ourh oa rode sceal rice gesecan/of eorowege æghwylc sawl,/seo þe mid wealdende wunian penceo' (119-121). For though it is undoubtedly the Dreamer who is the 'principle of development' in the poem, it is the Cross that is the vehicle of the development, spanning the gulf between exile and Heaven, between the 'lordless man' and his comitatus, between the Dreamer and his Lord. The function of the rood in this poem is succinctly stated by Gretser in his discussion of the 'spiritual' meaning of the Cross, a meaning with which St. Ailred would have been in full agreement. 'Eximius [he says] inter cæteros crucis fructus est & iste, quod crux Christo nos conformat & similes efficit.' The exiled forest tree, déeraciné 'holtes on ende,' finds its fulfillment only in the paradoxical submission to becoming the bana of its own Lord. The Cross's experience is an educational one; it moves from uncomprehending obedience in distasteful duty to glorification with the risen Christ and the authoritative knowledge which characterizes its homily to the Dreamer. As Christ is the Cross's 'teacher,' making an instrument of healing of a machine for executing criminals, so the Cross is the 'teacher' of the Dreamer, leading him from fear to hope to the eschatological contemplation of eternal joy. The Cross's first view of the Crucifixion, of its 'loyalty' as it were, was a limited one, and so is the Dreamer's first view of the Cross as a radiant ecclesiological objet. He must see þurh þæt gold to the ascetic implications which lie behind the repeated adversative sense of hwæore with its contrasts of 'degradation and glory, or earthly impulse and spiritual duty.'

We must now examine the Dreamer's response to the 'message' of the Cross, the importance of which I have repeatedly stressed. That response is immediate and dramatic.

Gebæd ic me þa to þan beame bliðe mode,
elne mycle, þær ic ana wæs
mæte werede. Wæs modsefa
afysed on forðwege, feala ealra gebad
langunghwila. Is me nu lifes hyht
þæt ic þone sigebeam secan mote
ana oftor þonne ealle men,
well weorþian.

The true meaning of these lines, however, has apparently been lost in the difficulties of translation which they present. According to Dickins and Ross hyht and secan do not here have their usual meanings of 'hope' and 'go to,' but by taking 'hyht as 'joy' and secan as 'resort to' the sense is better: 'resorting to the Cross is the joy of my life, now that I alone (by reason of my vision) am in a more favorable position for adoring it than other men.' This paraphrase (it can hardly be called a translation) is remote from the text, making difficulty where none exists (the meaning of hyht and secan) but avoiding difficulty where it does exist (the meaning of ana). According to Hans Bütow, ana refers to the Cross, and the passage is to be translated: 'Nun ist mir des Lebens Hoffnung,/Dass ich das Siegeskreuz suchen mag,/ Es allein, öfter als alle Menschen,/Wohl su verehren …' This also seems to be the opinion of Sister Anna Mercedes Courtney, the most recent editor of the poem, who translates the passage: 'It is now my life's hope that I may/Search out that victory tree,/May honor it well, alone, more often than all men.' Such translations are grammatically impossible, and in my opinion we are on much surer ground to take ana on its face value, with A. S. Cook in his fine edition as 'alone, nsm. wk,' in both lines 123 and 128. The Dreamer says: 'It is now the hope of my life that I, alone more often than other men, may go to the cross, worship it fittingly.' The Dreamer is a monastic, a spiritual exile and a solitary. He is one of the Anglo-Saxon monks who rejoiced in the name of crucicolae, 'worshippers of the Cross.' The hope of his life is 'to go to the Cross,' to practice the asceticism which is the path to his celestial homeland, per crucem ad lucem. In line 128 ana means just what it means in line 123, 'alone,' not 'only.' The state of the Dreamer is that of the Cross hewn down from its forest, that of the icons of Christ, John Baptist, SS. Paul and Antony on the Ruthwell Cross: the Dreamer is in deserto. It was W. P. Ker, one of the first and best of the poem's critics who argued [in his The Dark Ages, 1904] that the vision is treated 'as a mystery acted in some visionary place, not on any historical scene.' The terminology which the poet uses to 'place' the Dreamer is likewise not geographical; it is spiritual. That the Dreamer should claim a unique channel of grace for himself alone in the Cross, by reason of his vision or anything else, would be dangerously advanced spiritual pride. That he should argue the aspirations of his monastic profession is entirely logical.

The implication that the Cross is the recourse of one who is 'ana oftor þonne ealle menn' is a recapitulation of the major theme of the poem. The Dreamer, pressing the inversion of the comitatus metaphor, now finds his 'mundbyrd' in his Lord's bana and no longer dreads his lack of powerful earthly friends. Such a statement, in addition to being thematically relevant, grows naturally out of what precedes it. The Dreamer describes a movement from langunghwila to hyht, two poles spanned by the Cross. He had suffered langunghwila, but the vision has restored an urgent spiritual energy. His hyht lies in going to the Cross, that is, in monastic asceticism. In the terms defined by Leclercq the voice of this poem moves from askesis to mysticism, from the penitential recourse to the Cross as a remedy for langunghwila to the 'soul's union with God'—waes [min] modsefa afysed on fordwege.

But what is the meaning of langunghwila? I have criticized Dickins and Ross, perhaps too severely, for their handling of lines 126b-129a; yet it is they alone who have given a satisfactory explanation of the hapax legomenon langunghwila in the immediately preceding half-line. They suggest that 'the precise sense of lanyuny- in this passage is accidia.' Accidia represents an opposing influence to the mystical energy of 124b-125a and is antithetical to hyht in 126b. The Krapp-Dobbie punctuation is misleading, for the verb gebad should be read as a perfect form: 'I had endured many of all spells of accidia. [But] now …' The construction 'feala ealra … langunghwila' is cumbersome, but its sense is clear.

Accidia takes on, in the later Middle Ages, the generalized meaning of 'sloth,' and it is probably most familiar in the listing of the seven capital vices. There is no doubt, however, as the citations in Du Cange attest, of its specifically monastic provenance. Dickins and Ross quote the definition in Cassian's Institutes ('anxietas sive taedium cordis'); and a recent study of the monastic vocabulary of the Latin translations of the Vita Antonii, probably the second most influental monastic document, after the Regula itself, of the entire Middle Ages, puts this definition in focus. A principal meaning of accidia in the monastic milieu which produced the Ruthwell Cross is the anxiety of a monk as to whether the sacrifices he has made—the abnegation of self in abandoning property, friends, and relations—is really worth it. It is a sapping of spiritual energy which comes from anxiety about the vita peregrini, the life of exile, spiritually in deserto. The Cross has revealed in its narrative that it, too, experienced incomprehension about its role; in this it is paralleled by the Dreamer who has suffered langunghwila.

It is this passing glimpse of the Dreamer's former langunghwila that more than anything else in the poem 'personalizes' him, or at least provides him with the condition which adds a dramatic emphasis to the revelation of the Cross. For once he hears the Cross's homily, his 'personality' undergoes a radical change. He regards the rood no longer 'sorgum gedrefed' but 'blioe mode;' and he specifically refers to his 'lordless' state (131b f.) very much in the manner of the 'secular' Old English elegy, only to say that it no longer matters. In an ascetic (or Boethian) sense, he has changed his loyalty from one comitatus to another, from visibilia to invisibilia. As with the Cross, so it is with the Dreamer, a period of doubt and torture gives way to one of comprehension, of joy, even of glory—already achieved by the Cross and the Dreamer's former earthly friends, and by the Dreamer whose aspiration is wunian on wuldre (135, 143) eagerly awaited. Yet I cannot find that this transformation is essentially an 'emotional' one. The emotional language which the cloistered voice of the poem adopts, like the sensuous imagery describing the aspects of the Cross, is meant to move the reader from visceral engagement to the contemplation of insubstantial mysteries. He is talking about 'conversion,' in its principal medieval sense of ascetic profession, the putting off of the visible things of the world for the invisible things of God.

The Dreamer is speaking in no vague or woolly sense when he says 'Is me nu lifes hyht/þaet ic þone sigebeam secan mote.' His response to the vision of the Cross is at first penitential, dwelling in a series of adversative phrases on the spiritual distance between him and the saving sigebeam; then, after the Cross's homily, joyful, indeed mystical. For it is penitential 'going to the Cross' that is the cure for accidia. Surprisingly, we know little about the actual penitential practices in the cloisters of the earlier Middle Ages in spite of the large number of surviving penitential texts. Leclercq has observed that the sources for practically all monastic studies of the period must be hagiographic, enshrined in the monumental Acta Sanctorum O.S.B. of Mabillon; and these Lives do contain at least one episode which is revealing for the study of The Dream of the Rood.It concerns the life of the gentle St. Lambert († ca. 700).

Lambert, Bishop of Maastricht, was deprived of his see through the political tyranny which eventually led to his martyrdom. In great humility of spirit, he retired to the (Benedictine) monastery at Stavelot where he practised notable acts of mortification. His biographer related that one night when all the other monks were asleep St. Lambert, as was his wont, arose to pray, creeping through the dormitory, sandals in hand lest he disturb any of the sleeping brethren. Stumbling in the dark, he dropped one of the sandals with a clatter which awoke the convent. This, of course, wasa quite serious offence, as it violated the major silence of the Regula. The abbot, having no idea that the culprit was the distinguished refugee Lambert, and ignorant of the circumstances of the infraction, called out in the dark that the guilty one, whoever he was, should 'go to the Cross' as penance. This the saintly Lambert did with the humility and deference to the abbot's authority which accounts for his biographer's inclusion of the story.

Lambert's biographer, the monk Sigeburt, had an interest in archeology and monastic practice, and it is he who best explains this reference to 'going to the Cross,' in the Vita edited by the Bollandists.

Haec crux lapidea [he says] inter oratorium et dormitorium erat statuta. Filii Israel in deserto ob taedium longi itineris ac laboris murmurantes et pro hac noxa percussione ignitorum serpentium pereuntes, sanabantur ab aspectu aenei serpentis, in figura crucifigendi Filii hominis, a Moyse pro signo exaltati. Ad hunc modum credibile est, hanc quoque crucem pro signo positam fuisee, ut ad aspectum illius hi, qui erant Christi, carnem suam crucifigerent cum vitiis et concupiscentiis, et si qui pertaesi longi laboris in via Dei lassescerent, ad aspectum crucis ex morte Christi longanimitatem spei resumerent, et sic ignita antiqui serpentis venena effugerent. [Et infra rursum ait:] Ad quam addicti regulariter poenitebant, si qui graviusculis culpis delinquebant.

There is much that is familiar in this passage. We have already seen a similar echo of the Pauline doctrine of spiritual crucifixion in the anecdote from the life of St. Leutfrid. As for St. John's typological interpretation, it is a favorite text of monastic authors of the Middle Ages, who were able to make a ready identification between the children of Israel in desertoand their own spiritual state. According to Bede (Hist. Abb. 9), pictures of the brazen serpent and the Crucifixion were among the paintings with which Benedict Biscop adorned the monastery at Wearmouth in a scheme intended to show the perfect fulfillment of the Old Law in the New. For the monk, the tropological significance of the text and its cognate in John 12.32 is that it is by humiliating himself before the exalted, crucified Christ that he comes to share Christ's glory, the exaltatio caelestis. This is, figuratively, the course followed by the Cross itself in The Dream of the Rood; so also the Dreamer, like St. Lambert, faces the penitential meaning of the Cross 'to midre nihte/ syþþan reordberend reste wunedon' (2-3), and moves from fear, guilt, langunghwila, the tenebrae, to the joy and implied brightness of the patria caelestis. To 'go to the Cross' was a common penitential practice in early monasteries. It reflects the same mental habit linking penance with the 'cross' which partially explains the widespread custom, even among the laity, of praying, standing or prostrate, with the arms outstretched in the form of a cross.

If I am correct in my argument that the 'cross' of the poem is essentially figurative, an emblem of diverse suggestion which generates the ascetical and penitential energy of the poem, we should not be surprised that [H.R.] Patch's early attempt [in his "Liturgical Influence in The Dream of the Rood," PMLA 24 (1919)] to approach the text by way of actual ceremonies involving the cross in the Anglo-Saxon liturgy met with such limited success, or that the legend of the Invention and other aspects of the abundant medieval Cross-lore have little to offer toward the poem's explication. Attempts to find the poem's 'sources' in cross leg-ends have been unsuccessful for the most part because the poet is interested in the cross as redemption, not as relic. There remain, nevertheless, some unexplored clues in the text, which are perhaps explicable by means of the 'monastic' liturgy. For example, there is a promising liturgical echo in the lines in which the Dreamer seeks the protection of the Cross: 'and min mundbyrd is/geriht to þaere rode' (130-131). Dickins and Ross translate mundbyrd as 'hope of protection,' but that is not necessary if we take geriht as an adjective: 'My protection is firm in the Cross.' This would seem to be an echo of the collect, dubiously ascribed to Alcuin, in the Missa de Sancta Cruce, which became the standard Friday votive mass in the ninth century: 'Deus … concede, quaesumus, eos qui ejusdem sanctae crucis gaudent honore, tua quoque ubique protectione gaudere.' The Dream of the Rood (126b-131a) presents the same pattern of a desire to honor the Cross followed by the hope of enjoying its protection. Incidentally the lines spell out what Rosemary Woolf has nicely called 'a tremendous and ironic reversal of the values of the heroic code,' for it is Christ's bana as we have seen who now becomes the Dreamer's mundbyrd. As with so much in the latter portion of the poem, the lines are a kind of expanded poetic recapitulation of themes introduced in the Crucifixion episode. Such passages may indeed seem 'definitely inferior' according to critical canons which prize poetry only for its concision, paradox, and indirect suggestion, but they are characteristic of practically all surviving Old English poetry, including, of course, large chunks of Beowulf In The Dream of the Rood they form a part of the structure of a poem with numerous medieval analogues, in which an at first uncomprehending visionary is brought to eventual knowledge as the poem moves from metaphoric to explicit statement.

There may be a liturgical explanation as well for another passage in the poem which has puzzled the poem's editors. The poet says (118) that no man 'þe him aer in breostum bereð beacna selest' need fear the Doom. Dickins and Ross say, 'This might mean "on his breast" and refer to an actual cross, or "in his breast" and be metaphorical. The latter seems the more probable.' In fact the cross is at once 'actual' and 'metaphorical,' for it is the cross signed by the minister at baptism. We haveclear testimony from Alcuin concerning the pectoral unction which was part of the baptismal rite practiced by the English monk-missionaries on the Continent.

Pectus quoque codem perunguitur oleo, ut signo sanctae crucis diabolo claudatur ingressus. Signantur et scapulae, ut undique muniatur. Item in pectoris et scapulae unctione signatur fidei firmitas et operum bonorum perseverantia.

It is the Christian, faithfully persevering in his baptismal vows, who needs not fear the Last Judgement.

There is ancillary documentation for the meaning of the line in another prosopopoeic poem of the Anglo-Saxon period that deals with the paradox of the Cross, once an instrument of terror, now ahealing sign of hope. The Ænigma of Tatwine, the English Primate and leading southern 'intellectual' of the first half of the eighth century, have received less attention than they merit. His riddle 'De cruce Christi' in particular bears such obvious relationship to The Dream of the Rood that it may be cited in full.

Versicolor, cernor, nunc nunc mihi forma nitescit
Lege fui quondam cunctis jam larvula servis,
Sed modo me gaudens orbis veneratur et ornat;
Quiqui meum gustat fructum jam sanus habetur.
Nam mihi concessum est insanis ferre salutem.
Propterea sapiens optat me in fronte tenere.

Among the obvious similarities of phrasing between the Latin riddle and the Old English poem are the following: 'Geseah ic wuldres treow/ waedum geweorðode wynnum scinan' (14-15); 'Iu ic waes geworden wita hear-dost/leodum laðost' (87-88); 'ic haelan maeg/aeghwylcne anra' (85-86); 'þe him aer in breostum bereð beacna selest' (118). The final line of Tatwine's poem refers in a more immediately recognizable way to the baptismal mystery which is also in The Dream of the Rood.

The grace which the baptismal mystery implies is central to the meaning of The Dream of the Rood, and to the interpretation of the concluding section of the poem, which has so far found small favor with the critics. Dickins and Ross say that the 'last few lines, referring to the harrowing of Hell, have all the appearance of an addition.' And A. S. Cook, whose pronouncements should usually command respect, speaks in a similar vein.

The concluding section, which has the air of an interpolation, or of an inartistic addition by the poet's own hand, is only about a twentieth of the whole. The poem is complete without it, and it seriously mars the unity of impression.

These arguments need answering, and Burrow has set out to answer them. With fine perception he notes that the 'transition to the Harrowing of Hell … is natural at this point as an amplification of Christ's "releasing" power. It is also convincing in the general economy of the poem.'

It is also possible to argue that the reference to the Harrowing is a logical reflection of the sequence of prayers addressed to Christ on the Cross in the monastic devotions codified in the Regularis Concordia, the well known adoratio crucis. We are fortunate in having an interlinear Old English gloss to the second oldest surviving text of these prayers, and this gloss, as might be expected, presents some interesting parallels with the poem. The final six petitions of the sequence run as follows: [1] Domine Jesu Christe, adoro te in cruce ascendentem [in rode astigendne];(2)… in crucem vulneratum [on rode gewundudne];(3) … in sepulchro positum [on byrgene geledne];(4) … descendentem ad inferos, liberantem captivos [nyðer astigendne to hellwarum alysendne gehæfte];(5) … a mortuis resurgentem & ad caelos ascendentem [fram deadum arisendne 7 to heofenum astigendne];(6) … venturum & judicaturum [toweardne 7 to demenne].

Now the events in the life of Christ to which the prayers refer are in the order of their statement in the Creed, 'chronological' order as it were. With the exception of the sixth act of devotion, adoring Christ in his coming at the Doom, the prayers are parallel to and in the order of similar elements in The Dream of the Rood. As for the Doom, it is the explicit subject of a lengthy section (103 ff.), and the whole poem reverberates with eschatological echoes of those monastic aspirations so felicitously defined by Dom Colombas which characterize so much of early English religious literature, the Doomsday poems, the 'elegiac' poems, the apocalypticism at the heart of Bede, historian of 'the Sixth Age.' Any connection between such monastic spiritual exercises and The Dream of the Rood must remain speculative. Though we may presume that the petitions of the adoratio crucis antedate their codification in the Regularis Concordia, we have no evidence. Still, there remains a more powerful response to the objection raised against the episode of the 'Harrowing.'

The answer is to deny the premise upon which it is founded. To be blunt, Dickins and Ross are mistaken in saying that lines 148 to the end 'clearly refer to the Harrowing of Hell.' Line 148b and line 149 do make such a reference, but the following lines (150-156), which conclude the poem, refer to an entirely different though conju-gate event in the history of Our Lord, namely the Ascension. The eccentric punctuation adopted by Dickins and Ross leads them to deny that siðfæt means 'journey;' they translate it as 'expedition.' But Bosworth-Toller record its principal meaning as 'journey,' and the punctuation adopted by Cook and Krapp-Dobbie underscores what that journey is; it is the victorious journey of Christ to Heaven, þær his eðel wæs, that is, the Ascension.

Far from being irrelevant or tangential, the reference to Christ's glorious Ascension completes the poem's mystery of grace. It is the expected fulfillment of his earlier 'lifting up' in line 40 ('Gestah he on gealgan heanne'). It resolves the mystery of the Cross which is at once a gory gibbet and a jewel-encrusted ornament, the mystery of the brazen serpent in the desert. We may recall our text in St. John 3. 13-15.

Et nemo ascendit in caelum, nisi qui descendit de caelo, Filius hominis, qui est in caelo. Et sicut Moyses exaltavit serpentem in deserto, ita exaltari oportet Filium hominis, ut omnis qui credit in ipsum non pereat, sed habeat vitam aeternam.

In another crucial 'monastic' text (Rom. 6. 4-6) St. Paul has said that the price of resurrection with Christ is the 'crucifixion of the old man.' In a profoundly eschatological discussion of the meaning of the monastic life, a modern Benedictine has argued that there is but a single mystery of the Christian vocation, the mystery of the Ascension. Christ's ascension of the Cross on Calvary, His Ascension into Heaven—these are the two visions which the Dreamer sees. In the eschatological mysticism of St. Benedict the two views are one: per crucem ad lucem. The Dreamer first sees the vision of a glorious cross, wrapped in light, covered with jewels, but this is a cross he cannot truly 'see' until he perceives the implications of the Crucifixion. Without the first ascension, there can be no second.

The controlling themes of The Dream of the Rood are eschatological. All the 'last things' are there: the death of spiritual crucifixion and the impending Doom, the Heaven to which the Dreamer aspires and the Hell spoiled by Christ. These themes have been preparedfor from the opening lines of the poem. To midre nihte when, literaliter, the vision occurs, has associations beyond the commonplace, for it immediately suggests the Nocturns of the Benedictine Office.

On uhtan we sculon God herian ealswa Dauid cwæð: 'Media nocte surgebam ad confitendum tibi super iudicia iustitie tue.' Dæt is: 'To middre nihte ic aras (and andette drihtenes doma rihtwisnesse).' Crist sylf bead þæt we geome wacian sceoldon; he cwæð: 'Vigilate ergo quia nescitis quando ueniet dominus'. Dæt bið: 'Waciað georne forðam þe ge nyton hwænne eower drihten cymð.

But the Christians of the early Middle Ages did know 'when' their Lord was to come again. It would be at midnight, announced by a glorious rood, the jewelled image of which typically decorated the eastern apses of early medieval churches.

We know as well what some of them thought about as they waited. From quite early times Benedictines employed a series, or rather several different series, of unofficial meditations in conjunction with the canonical hours of the Office. A little poem written down in the fifteenth century summarizes their nature thus:

Haec sunt septennis Domino cur psallimus
Prima flagris cedit, subducit tercia morte,
Sexta tegit solem, sed nona vidit morientem.
Vespera deponit, reddit completa sepulchro
In medio noctis domita morte resurgit.

Rupert of Deutz has left us in his De Divinis Officiis a more complete schedule of the meditations of his day. They include, for the Office to midre nihte, two which are of cardinal interest to this study. 'Bursting the gates of Hell, like another Samson, Christ rose from the dead at midnight;' and 'It is written that He will come again in the middle of the night, as in Egypt when the Passover was celebrated and the exterminator came.' It is not fortuitous that The Dream of the Rood ends with allusions to the Harrowing and the Ascension, nor irrelevant that the Dreamer awaits the Doom with expectancy.

The Dream of the Rood, of course, is no mere patchwork of phrases gleaned from theological treatises, and the texts which I have collated are not offered as 'sources' in any narrow sense. The poet who so brilliantly shaped the structure of the Vercelli text was more than equal to the task of giving original and satisfying expression to the traditional ideas with which he dealt. What I have tried to suggest is that the poem is characterized by a cast of thought and to some extent by a vocabulary that is not merely vaguely 'Christian,' but which is specifically monastic in its spirituality. A leading authority on Anglo-Saxon monasticism [Hugh Farmer, "The Studies of Anglo-Saxon Monks (A. D. 600-800)," in Los Monjes y los Estudios, 1963] has recently written that

the doctrinal and theological implications of several surviving poems such as The Dream of the Rood are so deep that it seems unlikely that they were composed outside a monastic milieu.

The thematic ordering of the poem argues even more; for it is no Caedmonian biblical paraphrase, no inspired redaction. It is a poem about the monastic life, the Christian life par excellence, born of the deep spirituality of Anglo-Saxon Benedictinism. We know from Alcuin that the Regula Benedicti was expounded in the vernacular for the benefit of the monoglot monks in the Northumbrian monasteries. The Dream of the Rood is, among other things, a sophisticated verse exposition of the spiritual precepts of that document in which the cross is everywhere—except in name.

This characterization of the poem does not exhaust its being nor fully explain the poet's achievement. On the other hand, I hope it will provide a fresh perspective about a work whose richness has captivated several generations of literary historians. English literature begins with the lay brother Caedmon in the Celtic convent at Whitby. Aldhelm, whose verse King Alfred admired, was a Benedictine. So, probably, was Cynewulf. If we consider Bede's 'Death Song' we can claim the greatest English man of letters of the Middle Ages. To this group of early English humanists, members of that monastic fraternity whose literary aspirations and achievements Dom Jean Leclercq has so brilliantly taught us, we may add the anonymous author of The Dream of the Rood, an Anglo-Saxon monk in whom the 'love of letters and the desire for God' combined to produce a poem of extraordinary imaginative power.

Louis H. Leiter (essay date 1967)

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Louis H. Leiter (essay date 1967)

SOURCE: "The Dream of the Rood: Patterns of Transformation," in Old English Poetry: Fifteen Essays, edited by Robert P. Creed, Brown University Press, 1967, pp. 93-127.

[In this essay, Leiter studies the transformation of the poem's three characters: Christ, the Cross, and the Dreamer.]

The Dream of the Rood is concerned with a process of salvation by means of radical transformation that involves three actors in a universal spiritual crisis. Metamorphosis informs the structure of the poem and gives life and significance to its aesthetic materials.

In presenting these transformations, the poet has recourse to Christian tradition—to the Passion of Christ, the story of the Cross, and the hoped-for conversion of fallen mankind. For poetic reasons the poet casts the Passion, the drama of the Cross, and the salvation of the Dreamer into a series of three almost identical dramatic metaphors that reinforce each other contrapuntally. By this means he achieves amplification, progression, and cohesion among his metaphors. But the metaphors being dramatic, are also dynamic: they are incremental, varied, and transmuted; they progress through a series of dramatic climaxes. In their final resolution they project a new life, a new state of being, for the three performers—Christ, Cross, and Dreamer.

The drama of the first two performers, Christ and Cross, must be regarded in a special light, that is, not as exclusive historical happenings, but as what might be called rehearsals—actions that demonstrate a method, a way of achieving spiritual rejuvenation. But it is the Dreamer who, through identification of his fate with the radically contrasted experiences—mundane and yet eschatological—of Christ and Cross, validates and enlarges their common fate.

The poem, then, is concerned with the religious experience, but not in the form of belief, or of conversion, or of revelation, or of the nature of any of these, but religion in the sense of change—human transformation. Hence metamorphosis is used quite deliberately and literally for two reasons: the transformations of the performers and, congruent with their change, the transformation of the structure, imagery, and thematic materials of the poem.

For these dramas the poet chose materials close at hand, experience from a daily life that was animated by memories of a pagan past and incidents from his encounter with biblical story. Then, taking the vocabulary of warfare of which he had intimate knowledge, he constructed the three identical dramas that form the poem: the defeat and paradoxical victory of Christ, the hewing down and raising up of the Cross, and the sleep and awakening of the stained and sinful Dreamer.


In the first of these dramatic metaphors the young hero, frea … mancynnes (33b), who is either king, prince, or lord, has been defeated in battle. This defeat the Cross points up by saying heton me heora wergas hebban 'they ordered me to lift up their criminals' (31b). The defeated hero proves he still has the hero's ellen, however, since he efstan elne mycle 'hastened with great boldness' (34a) and Gestah he ongealgan heanne 'ascended the high gallows' (40b). He is tortured, pierced with deorcan næglum 'dark nails' (46a), which leave opene inwidhlemmas 'open malicious wounds' (47a), treated ignominiously, while Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere 'they mocked us both together' (48a). The prince, weruda god 'god of hosts' (51b), is then further tortured and executed, his death being þearle þenian 'violently extended[?]' (52a). Weop eal gesceaft, / cwiðdon cyninges fyll 'all creation wept, mourned the fall of the king' (55b-56a). Reinforcements come: Hwæðere þ æ fuse feorran cwoman / to þam æðlinge 'still eager ones came from afar to that prince' (57-58a), but these hilderincas 'warriors' (61b) find that they cannot save their lord. He is dead: beheoldon hie ðær heofenes dryhten, ond he hine ðær hwile reste, / meðe æfter ðam miclan gewinne 'there they beheld the lord of heaven, and he rested there for a time, tired after the great struggle [battle, or war]' (64-65a).

They bury him:

      Ongunnon him þa moldern wyrcan
beornas on banan gesyhðe …
gesetton hie ðæron sigora wealdend.

Then men began to make him a tomb in the sight of the murderers…in it they then put the lord of victories.

In this act can be seen a paradoxical foreshadowing of his return to life and eventual victory. Like the comitatus around a fallen prince—those around the burned Beowulf, for instance—the warriors, eager but mournful reinforcements, gather to sing funeral songs: Ongunnon him þa sorhleoð galan 'they then began to sing a dirge' (67b). The grief-stricken mæte weorode 'little band' (69b) remain with their lord: syððan stefn up gewat / hilderinca 'the cry of warriors went up' (7lb-72a), until Hræwcolode, / fæger feorgbold 'the body grew cold, the lovely abode of the soul' (72b-73a).

The poet continues to amplify the battle metaphor: now physically defeated by the enemy, strange feondas (30b), but spiritually victorious, the warrior-hero-prince rises phoenix-like from the flames of death: hwæðere eft dryhten aras / mid his miclan mihte mannum to helpe 'yet again the lord arose with his great strength as a help to men' (lOlb-2). Consequently, Hiht wæs geniwad / mid bledum ond mid blisse þam þe þær bryne þolodan 'hope was renewed with blessedness and with joy to those who had earlier suffered from fire' (148b-49a). Like a warrior-prince, he returns from exile in the foreign country of his captors and executioners: the prince cwom / … þær his eðel wæs 'came … where his native land was' (155b-56b), where he will join his people to symle 'at the feast' (141a) of victory.

There are rather complex emotional overtones generated here for which this bare rehearsal of the cohesive metaphor of battle does not completely account. Doubtless the metaphor would serve to capture the emotions of a people to whom warfare was as familiar as their daily bread and catch them up in the excitement of its drama. Their memories and fears would be stirred, but the effect here goes deeper. By identifying with the protagonist of the clearly wrought struggle, the listeners would unconsciously submit to the mimetic powers of the metaphor, supported, to be sure, by the rhythm of the verse, for the poet has at his command means other than that of dramatic metaphor. For example, he achieves emotional heightening by repetition of half-lines, often beginning with the same word, as in the insistent ongunnonongunnon in the two lines Ongunnon him þa moldern wyrcan (65b) and Ongunnon him þa sorhleoð galan (67b). These two heavily emphasized and paralleled beginnings, echoing an earlier line in which the tree ongan þa word sprecan 'began to speak words' (27a), are supported and emphasized with two statements beginning similarly with very strongly dramatic verbs: curfon hie ðæt of beorhtan stane (66b) and gesetton hie ðæeron sigora wealdend (67a).

Repetition, parallelism, shifting of the verb of action to the semantically (though not rhythmically) important initial position, and hints that the message of the Cross is the Word of Christ (ongan þa word sprecan) are all deliberate devices for underscoring the significance of the drama enacted in the cohesive metaphor of battle. At the same time they are fairly simple devices of a stylization that achieves emotional heightening precisely at the necessary moment in the battle metaphor. The warrior-hero is dead; his men have had the spirit knocked out of them. Then comes the cluster of sounds on, un, mo, an, no, or, en, am in the following lines:

Ongunnon him þa moldern wyrcan
beornason banan gesyhðe;    curfon hie ðæt of
  beorhtan stane,
gesetton hie ðæron sigora wealdend.
Ongunnon him þa sorhleoð galan
earme on þa æfentide,    þa hie woldon eft
meðe fram þam mæran þeodne.)

In their profound resonance they mime the importance of the climactic change. Thus dramatic ending and equally dramatic beginning demand and receive in various ways the proper aesthetic emphasis.

Not the least of the devices at the poet's command is that which he employs to emphasize the transformation from the paralysis accompanying grief to the activity accompanying release from grief. After using three images of stasis within the space of two lines—limwerigne 63a), gestodon (63b), and reste (64b)—to characterize the astonishment and moral perplexity of the witnesses of the dramatic execution, the poet immediately calls in verbs of action—ongunnon, curfon, gesetton, ongunnon—to signal a rebirth, a new beginning, of the spirit in the emotionally depleted men at the exact moment they entomb their warrior-hero-Christ. The transformation is mimed here rather than overtly presented; it is like an echo or the passing of a dark shadow that cannot but emotionally move the reader or listener.

The poet and the warriors of Christ seem to catch their breaths for one shocked moment; then, releasing them, they move into action. Through this action they inspire their defeated neighbors, much as the Cross does the Dreamer, with those breaths of hope without which they cannot rebuild their exhausted moral lives and achieve victory over death. The poet dramatizes this inspiration when he sings of the raising and adorning by the prince's comitatus of the felled and buried Cross. Spiritually changed by participation in the drama of hero-Christ, the men symbolically spiritualize the Cross by adorning it with jewels, thus making it worthy of its future office. In turn, the spiritualized Cross repeats their action when it appears to the Dreamer and ministers to him, admonishing him to minister to other men by carrying its sign in his breast, much as the poet now sings to his rapt audience.

When in the battle metaphor the poet uses fyll 'fall,' 'destruction,' or 'death,' in Weop eal gesceaft, / cwiðdon cyninges fyll 'all creation wept, mourned the fall of the king' (55b-56a), the word is precisely the one that enriches his battle metaphor with the necessary spiritual overtones. Literally, fyll refers to the disobedience and fall of Adam, the connotation needed at this juncture to link the death of warrior-Christ in the present drama with the fall of Adam in that old chaos of the Garden, the effect of which is still evident in the felled tree and prostrate speaker. The metaphorical fyll, aheawen, licgende, and Þa us man fyllan ongan / ealle to eorðan (73b-74a) of the singer fuse Adam, Cross, tree, and Dreamer in one perpetually repeated drama of loss and redemption, much like the three detailed repetitions of the battle metaphor. The Rood poet could depend on his listeners' acquaintance with the doctrine that all mankind rebelled with Adam whenhe forfeited supernatural life by his transgression in tasting the forbidden fruit. Adam, the first Christ, was "the figure of him that was to come" (Rom. 5:14); "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Cor. 15:21-22); "The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit" (I Cor. 15:45). Singing of the cyninges fyll, the poet could quite naturally depend on his audience's hearing 'fall,' automatically recalling Adam, remembering the Dreamer—and making the proper identifications.

The poet constantly expands the battle metaphor through his use of fairly commonplace religious material until it links events in the distant past, Adam's fall, for instance, to events inthe more recent past, the felling of the tree and the fall of Christ to the sleeping Dreamer, now lying stained with sins and forgetful of those old tragedies.

What is perfectly clear is the identification of the fall of Adam with the execution of Christ and of the drama of the tree bearing the forbidden fruit with the drama of the Cross bearing the redemptive body—the "firstfruits" of I Cor. 15:20-23: "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming."

                    þæt … is wuldres beam,
se ðe ælmihtig god     on þrowode
for mancynnes     manegum synnum
ond Adomes    ealdgewyrhtum.

that…is the tree of glory on which God Almighty suffered for the many sins of mankind and Adam's deed of old.

Because Adam sinned in the past, Christ must suffer now; because Adam-man still sins, Christ must re-enact and reverse that drama of the Fall by waging war (thus the central metaphor of battle) against man's Adamic self still enthralled by His old foe Satan. It was in this manner that legend and dogma saw in Adam an antitype to Christ and maintained that the tree whose fruit was forbidden Adam and Eve was the one that served as the Cross of the Crucifixion. The concept that Christ "in his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" (I Pet. 2:24) lies behind the poet's use of the word fyll to dramatize Christ's death on the Cross, the evocation of Adam's name in line 100a, and the fallen Dreamer lying as though in death.

The Adam-Christ tradition persisted well into the seventeenth century with notable examples in Donne's Hymne to God My God, in My Sicknesse: "We thinke that Paradise and Calvarie, / Christs Crosse, and Adams tree, stood in one place." Or a somewhat more complex version in Crashaw's Vexilla Regis, The Hymn of the Holy Crosse:

  Hail, our alone hope! Let thy fair head shoot
Aloft; and fill the nations with thy noble fruit.
  The while our hearts and we
  Thus graft our selves to thee;
Grow thou and they. And be thy fair increase
The sinner's pardon and the just man's peace.

Crashaw clearly fuses tree (crucifix), noble fruit (Christ), sinful man (Adam), with the Prince of Peace; and to that he grafts the just man so that all participate in one grand drama of salvation.

The subtle chemistry of The Dream of the Rood strengthens the contrasted identification of Adam and Christ by evoking the legend that saw a connection between Adam's forfeit of mankind to Satan and his ransom by Christ: Gestah he on gealgan heanne, / modig on manigra gesyhðe, þa he wolde mancyn lysan 'he ascended the high gallows bold in the sight of many, when he wished to redeem mankind' (40b-41).

Amplifying and reinforcing his basic battle metaphor by choosing the dramatic lysan 'redeem' or 'ransom,' the poet directs our attention to the reward demanded for captured warriors. Because it is biblical, 'redeem' also refers to Christ's incarnation in order to purchase forfeited man from that Satan whom the poet characterizes asthe enemy: "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28).

An even more apt identification might be made in this manner among Dreamer, Cross-messenger, and Job, who, like the Dreamer, lies sorely wounded (though unlike Job, the Dreamer admits he is stained with sins): "Yea, his soul draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers. If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness: Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom" (Job 33:22-24). The Rood poet will return to this idea at the end of the poem: He us onlysde ond us lif forgeaf / heofonlicne ham 'He redeemed us [or released us] and gave us life, a heavenly home' (147-48a). That the Lord is a 'ransom' deepens our immediate experience with the familiar Christian materials by pointing to the dramatic metaphor of war and the reward that must be paid the enemy for worthy captives.

But in religious poetry literal fact usually points to spiritual significance. 'Ransom' encompasses sacrifice and redemption, the fundamental ritual of the poem—a ritual that we celebrate through the stained and fallen Dreamer, Cross, and Christ and conversely through the purified Christ, Cross, and Dreamer. Man like Christ and Cross must lose his life to save it: "He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 10:39). In the Mass for the celebration of the finding of the Holy Cross the congregation repeats the prayer after the Gloria: "O God, we were reminded again of the mystery of your passion by the miraculous discovery of the cross of salvation. May we attain eternal happiness through the ransom price you paid for us on that tree of life; who lives and rules with God the Father." In this manner the Church Fathers identified Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit and the consequent forfeiture of man with the ransom paid by Christ on the Cross, seen metaphorically as "the tree of life."

The Rood poet strengthens his Adam-Christ identification by recourse to the legend that Adam or his skull or both were buried on Mt. Calvary. He alludes to it when he uses beorg in hie me on beorg asetton (32b). The word primarily denotes a mountain or hill, yet by its secondary meaning, 'barrow' or 'burial place,' it may direct our attention to the iconographical image of Adam's skull at the foot of the Cross. Because of Adam's fault the world has become a cemetery very much like Ezekiel's valley of dry bones: "The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, And caused me to pass by them round about.… Prophesy upon those bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: …" (37:1-5). Because of Christ's supreme compassion, Golgotha, that place of the skull and hill of bones, along with the fallen world, the sinful Adam, and the Dreamer lying beneath the towering Cross, shall be redeemed.

The poet gives even greater coherence to the Adam-Christ and tree-Cross identification by employing the imagery of food and eating. Speaking of the execution of the captured warrior-Christ in the battle metaphor, he says Deað he þær byrigde 'he tasted death there' (lOla) for Adomes ealdgewyrhtum 'Adam's deed of old' (100). Adam tasted the fruit; Christ tasted death; now man must perform the same bitter act:

                         hwær se man sie,
se ðe for dryhtnes naman    deaðes wolde
biteres onbyrigan,    swa he ær on ðam beame

where is the man who is willing to taste bitter death for the Lord's name as he himself did earlier on the Cross.

But only from this willing act comes salvation: "For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin" (Rom. 6:5-7). To purchase salvation and the forfeited paradise, with its eschatological banquet like that at the end of The Dream of the Rood, man must taste bitter death as Christ tasted bitter death because Adam tasted the fruit that exiled us from a blissful kingdom. Christ above all men chose to taste the death that would open the way for exiled man. "But we see Jesus … by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Heb. 2:9).

This ritualistic metaphor of spiritual transformation is amplified further when the Dreamer describes where the Cross will take him:

                      þær is blis mycel,
dream on heofonum,    þær is dryhtnes folc
geseted to symle …

where there is great joy, happiness in heaven, where the Lord's people are placed at the feast …

Here at the end of the poem he emphasizes the emotionally charged transformation by contrastinghis fallen world with that restored paradise through the simple device of repeating powerful parallelisms: þær is blis mycel (139b), þær is dryhtnes folc (140b), þær is singal blis (141b), þær ic syþþpan mot (142b), and þær his eðel wæs (156b). To summarize the fusions and identifications thus far: As Adam tasted the fruit and brought death, sowarrior-Christ tasted the fruit of death; and the Dreamer must taste death with and for his Lord (his present dark night of sleep) in order to taste an eternal feast of life after death.

Thus the fallen Dreamer, representing all sinful men, lying now stained with mortal sins, has been fused with the fallen Adam. Then the poet identifies the Dreamer with the man willing to accept that death for Christ that the Cross endured earlier. Finally, the Dreamer undergoes another transformation identifying him with Christ, who will return to heaven with þam þe þær bryne þolodan 'those who earlier suffered from fire' (149b) after the Harrowing of Hell, much as the Dreamer hopes to return to man's lost paradise where he will join the messianic banquet.

Ideas much like these are stated more didactically in The Phoenix:

Swa þæt ece lif    eadigra gehwylc
æfter sarwræce     sylf geceoseð
þurh deorcne deað,    þæt he dryhtnes mot
æfter geardagum    geofona neotan
on sindreamum,    ond siþþan a
wunian in wuldre    weorca to leane.
Þisses fugles gecynd    fela gelices
bi þam gecornum   Cristes þegnum
beacnað in burgum,   hu hi beorhtne gefean
þurh fæder fultum    on þas frecnan tid
healdaþ under heofonum,    ond him heanne
in þam uplican    eðle gestrynaþ.

                So is it
With each of the blessed, bearing misery
And choosing the darkness of death for themselves
In order to find eternal life
And the protection of God, repaying pain
On earth with endless glory and endless
Joy. For the Phoenix is very like
The chosen servants of Christ, who show
The world and its towns what comfort and pleasure
Descends from our Father's solace, and how,
In this dangerous time, they can take His grace
As a certain sign of lofty glory
To be lived in that celestial land above.

More obviously in The Phoenix than in The Dream of the Rood not only Christ but the people suffering in the flames are identified with the immortal bird. We also observe that both Phoenix and Cross come to the chosen and both are seen as ministering agents of grace.

The poem employs a final image to present the dramatic transformation from a lower to a higher spiritual level: stripping, a simple symbolic gesture, reveals the true man. Traditionally the stained garment that is put aside symbolizes the false man, the old Adam, the heavy burden of sinful flesh. When Christ's foes captured him and brought him to the gallows for execution Ongyrede hine þa geong hæleð, (þt wæs god ælmihtig), / strang ond stiðmod 'the young hero—that was God Almighty—stripped himself strong and resolute' (39-40a). The allusion is to the biblical text: "ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Col. 3:9-10). To disobey as the old Adam did is to put on the garments of sinfulness; the new Adam, Jesus Christ, must be stripped of those garments before crucifixion. Put off the old Adam and put on the new Christ, as in Shakespeare's "old Adam new-apparelled" (Comedy of Errors, IV, iii) and as in his King Lear, where the sinful old man is freshly clothed before he rises from what he thinks is the grave. In Everyman the hero, varying the symbolism of the ritual action, strips off the old garments, scourges himself, and puts on the robe of contribution:

Knowlege:  It is a garment of sorrowe;
           Fro payne it wyll you borrowe:
           Contrycyon it is
           That getteth forgyenes;
           He pleaseth God passyinge well.
Good Dedes: Eueryman, wyll you were it for
               your hele?
Eueryman: Now blessyd be Iesu, Maryes sone,
          For now haue I on true
               contrycyon …

Ritualistic stripping transformed the tree, ravished from the woods, stripped of the fruit of Christ's body, and steame bedrifenne 'covered over with blood' (62a) into the vehicle of redemption. It becomes the guide to the heavenly banquet, after the little band around Jesus had found it and gyredon me golde and seolfre 'adorned me with gold and silver' (77), suggestive, perhaps of the prophet Malachi: "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? … And he shall sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver… " (3:1-3). The once stripped but now adorned Cross leohte bewunden 'surrounded with light' (5b) and bearing gems swylce þær fife wæron / uppe on þam eaxlegespanne 'there were five up on the shoulder-beam' (8b-9a) symbolizes, by contrasting the five bloody wounds with the five shining gems, the dynamic process of physical and spiritual transformation lying at the heart of the poem. Having been stripped, mocked, slain, buried, and resurrected, the Cross and Christ became one. The Cross, the first Adam's tree, served as a bloody gallows, but through consciously sharing warrior-Christ's fearful experience, it changed, like Ezekiel's valley of bones, into a quickening spirit, into a guiding sign:

                  syllicre treow
on lyft lædan,     leohte bewunden,
beame beorhtost.

a marvelous tree, stretching [leading] aloft, surrounded with light, the brightest of beams.

This sign ærþan … him lifes weg / rihtne gerymde, reordberendum 'opened the true way of life to the people' (88b-89). So neatly does the Rood poet's language enrich and amplify his basic metaphor that if we are not carefuls we might miss the significance of 'stretching' in the expression on lyft lædan: extension, expansion, or stretching in space, as the poet well knew, symbolizes at once both God's suffering on the Cross and his dominion over the universe. John Donne also knew this when in "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" he identified his lovers with the beatified and then declared that, although separated, their two souls:

                endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to ayery thinnesse beate.

Now all of this points directly to the central drama of the Dreamer who, as he lies mid sorgum gedrefed, / forht … wæs for þære fægran gesyhðe 'stained with sins, sorely wounded with evil deeds' (20b-21a), shares the stripping-adornment imagery with the Cross and Christ, but he does this only by extension of previous resemblances, by, as we might say, final association. No specific image pictures the Dreamer's being stripped and adorned; nevertheless, he does rise from his defeat, no longer stained with wounds, but carrying in his breast the 'best of signs.' He is changed, transformed, into a man:

               bliðe mode,
elne mycle,    þær ic ana wæs
mæte werede.

with great zeal, happy in mind, there where I was alone with little company.

In this, one of the many parallels linking the three major actors in the redemptive drama, the Dreamer thus reminds us that, like the Cross and warrior-Christ on Calvary, he has only a mæte werede 'a little company' with him.

The significant act of stripping and adorning functions ritualistically as a metanoia for the dreamer because it renders mimetically the biblical text that avows that it is necessary to strip off the old man Adam and ritualistically to adorn oneself with the Cross in order to releasethe new man Jesus Christ from his enthrallment in the dark prison of the human heart. To bear the Cross on the human body or to carry 'in one's breast,' as the Dreamer declares, 'the best of signs,' is dynamically and dramatically to suffer death on the Cross with Christ, while purging, by means of ritual lustration, the old enemy of mankind.

The poem thus seems to contain a vivid metaphor of war, capture, execution, and apparent death that leads paradoxically to a purgation and transformation of the protagonist of the metaphorical drama. The metaphor contains a redemptive truth stated as a perennial paradox: man may save his life by losing it; though the spirit be incarnate in the flesh, that flesh may undergo purification through suffering until such time as flesh and spirit become one in God. Furthermore, the mimetic action contained in this metaphor will, as though to reinforce its communal and ritual aspects, be repeated twice in the exfoliating design of the poem, with the Cross and Dreamer as protagonists.

From another point of view the metaphorical battle would dramatize a timeless transformation going on inside man always, a continuous inward process of defeat and victory, much as the dream or vision is internal, personal, yet universal, a ritual of spiritual conversion. Creating that drama of salvation, like a profound and insistent glow, the imagery illuminates, with its literal meanings and subtle connotations, the significance to all men of the Dreamer's transformational experience.


Defeated and captured as though in battle, the Cross wæs aheawen holtes on ende, / astyred of stefne minum 'was cut down at the edge of the wood, taken from my stem' (29-30a). Genaman me ðær strange feondas 'strong foes seized me there' (30b) and exiled it: Bæron me ðær beornas on eaxlum, oððæt hie me on beorg asetton, / gefæstnodon me þær feondas genoge 'men carried me on their shoulders, until they placed me on a hill, enemies enough fastened me there' (32-33a). Enslaved and ordered to perform their tasks, the Cross declares that they geworhton him þær to wæfersyne, heton me heora wergas hebban 'they made me into a spectacle for them, ordered me to lift up their criminals' (31). Commanded not to counterattack by its lord, the Cross says Ealle ic mihte / feondas gefyllan, hwæðre icfæste stod 'I could have killed all foes, yet I stood fast' (37b-38a). Now the warrior-Cross is þurhdrifan … mid deorcan næglum 'pierced with dark nails' (46a) and wounded: On me syndon þa dolg gesiene, / opene inwidhlemmas 'the wounds are visible on me, the open malicious wounds' (46b-47a); eall ic wæs mid strælum forwundod 'I was all wounded with darts' (62b). Ignominiously mocked, Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere 'they mocked us both together' (48a), the Cross is tortured: Feala ic onþam beorge gebiden hæbbe / wraðra wyrda 'I endured on that hill many cruel experiences' (50-5la). Then the Cross is killed, Þa us man fyllan ongan / ealle to eorðan 'people began to cut us down completely to the earth' (73b-74a), and buried, Bedealf us man on deopan seaþe 'they buried us in a deep hole' (75a).

Like the warrior-Christ, the Cross is raised and adorned with symbolic riches:

         Hwæðre me þær dryhtnes þegnas,
freondas gefrunon,
ond gyredon me    golde ond seolfre.

Still the disciples of the Lord heard of me and adorned me with gold and silver.

Though defeated, the Cross paradoxically becomes a sigebeam 'cross of victory' (127a) and returns to its native land, the kingdom of the spirit:

ac ðurh ða rode sceal    rice gesecan
of eorðwege     æghwylc sawl,
seo þe mid wealdende    wunian þenceð.

every soul who proposes to dwell with the Lord must seek the kingdom away from earth through the Cross.

Through a felicitous use of imagery the poet deepens our dramatic involvement with the fate of the Cross much as he did with the fate of Christ. The Cross refers to itself as a vehicle, a means of passage from this earth to the heavenly kingdom in the lines just quoted, while the Dreamer declares that the Cross on þysson ænan life gefetige / ond me þonne gebringe þær is blis mycel 'will fetch me from this transitory life and bring me where there is great joy' (138-39). The poet's language here would surely have evoked images of rituals and their emotional meanings, for it sounds very much like the Preface to the Holy Cross from the Mass that is read from Passion Sunday through Wednesday of Holy Week: "It is truly right and just, proper and helpful toward salvation, that we always and everywhere give thanks to you, O Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God; for you ordained that the salvation of mankind should be accomplished upon the tree of the cross, in order that life might be restored through the very instrument which brought death, and that Satan, who conquered us through the tree, might also be overcome by it."

If the instrument that brought death becomes the vessel of salvation, perhaps it will not be amiss to see that the secondary meaning of the words used for 'cross' express through a most familiar image its function as a vehicle of redemption. Beam (6a), wudu (27b), and beam (97b) can all mean 'ship' as well as 'cross,' and sigebeam (127a) could connote 'ship of victory' as well as 'cross of victory.' This conjecture would then be strengthened by reading on lyft lædan (5a) as 'leading aloft.' Without pressing the poetic idea too far, however, we might recall that St. Hippolytus in the third century wrote: "The world is a sea, in which the Church, like a ship, is beaten by the waves but not submerged." And we are all acquainted with the architectural nave (ship), the main body of the church in which the congregation gathers. In the sixteenth century Donne could still write A Hymne to Christ in which he evokes much the same idea:

In what torne ship soever I embarke,
That ship shall be my embleme of thy Arke,
Whence sea soever swallow mee, that flood
Shall be to mee an embleme of thy blood …

Donne's subtle poetic sensibilities complicate what is in The Dream of the Rood a simple idea by identifying the church with Noah's ark or the ark of the covenant, the sea with the Flood (sea-whale with poet-Jonah), and the universal lustration of the Flood with the purgation-regeneration of Christ's blood. Gestigan (34b) means 'to mount,' yet it also strengthens the connotations suggested here through its secondary meaning, 'to go on board,' as does holmwudu (9la) by suggesting an ocean ship. And all these link back to on lyft lædan (5a).

Much of what I have been calling attention to here—the Cross as vehicle—is part of the hymn Crux Fidelis sung in the Reproaches of the Good Friday Mass, and it seems to confirm what at first may appear to be pure conjecture: the tree-Cross, the adorned Cross, the food-tasting imagery, the wounds of sinfulness, the Flood as an antitype of the world's lustration through Christ's sacrifice. The hymn goes:

See His side is open now,
Whence to cleanse the whole creation
Streams of blood and water flow.

Then all of this is united in the verse that reads:

Tree which solely was found worthy
Earth's great victim to sustain,
Harbor from the raging tempest,
Ark, that saved the world again,
Tree with sacred blood anointed
Of the lamb for sinners slain.

Here we have a marvelous series of transformations of tree to Cross, to harbor, to ark, to Cross, to doorposts anointed with the blood of the sacred passover lamb, and none of it causes the slightest confusion. Nor apparently did it in The Phoenix, where we must follow the rapid metamorphosis of the old phoenix to a corpse, to an apple, to a worm hatched as though from an egg (apparently referring to the brazen serpent lifted up in the wilderness, Jesus rather than Satan), to an eaglet, to an eagle, and finally, to a rejuvenated phoenix that is not only Jesus Christ but all mankind:

                               Þonne fyr þigeð
lænne lichoman;    lif bið on siðe,
fæges feorhhord,    þonne flæsc ond ban
adleg æleð.    Hwæþre him eft cymeð
æfter fyrstmearce    feorh edniwe,
siþþan þa yslan    eft onginnaþ
æfter ligfraece    lucan togædre,
geclungne to cleowenne.    Þonne clæne bið
beorhtast nesta,    bæle forgrunden
heaþorofes hof;    hra bið acolad,
banfæt gebrocen,    ond se bryne sweþrað.
Þonne of þam ade    æples gelicnes
on þære ascan bið    eft gemeted,
of þam weaxeð wyrm,    wundrum fæger,
swylce he of ægerum    ut alæde,
scir of scylle.    Þonne on sceade weaxeþ,
þæt he ærest bið    swylce earnes brid,
fæger fugeltimber;    ðonne furþor gin
wridaþ on wynnum,    þæt he bið wæstmum
ealdum earne,    and æfter þon
feþrum gefraetwad,    swylc he æt frymðe
beorht geblowen.…
               Swa se fugel weorþeð
gomel æhter gearum,    geong edniwe,
flæsce bifongen.

                And then it's gone,
Flesh and bone burned in the flames
Of a funeral pyre. Yet, in time
He returns, his life re-born after
The flames drop lower, and his ashes begin
To fuse together in a shrivelled ball,
After that brightest nest is burned
To powder and that broken body, that valiant
Corpse, slowly starts to cool.
The fire flickers out. The funeral
Pyre sprouts a rounded apple
Out of a bed of ashes, and that pellet
Sprouts a wonderful worm, as splendid
As though hatched from a lustrous, pale-shelled
He grows, flourishing in the holy shade
And soon the size of an eaglet, soon,
Fattening on pleasure, as large in form
As any proud-winged eagle. Then

His feathers return and he is as he was
At the beginning, blossomed brightly to life
And eternal beauty.…
So the Phoenix grows, dropping a thousand
Years and taking on youth.

Here the image of ashes reminds the listeners of Adam's original clay and hell's fire; the apple reminds them of the Fall and the fruit of the tree of life; the worm recalls Satanand the brazen serpent, Nehushtan-Christ. Yet these complexities enrich rather than confuse: Crossis both tree and vessel, Christ is both serpent and savior, phoenix is both God and man. Only these paradoxes are capable of suggesting the full nature of the spiritual experience. For the experience is not only profound and complex; it goes beyond the visible and the mundane, and this relating of images is an attempt to express what is hidden, inward, and miraculous.

In the Crux Fidelis and The Phoenix the very rapid transformations through which the poet carries the Cross and the bird become a device through which he forces individual images to bear a massive burden of meaning. In The Dream of the Rood the rapid transformations in such a passage as the following accomplish much the same thing, while at the same time serving as a graphic demonstration of the central transformational process dramatized in the battle metaphor:

            Eall ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed,
forht ic wæs for ære fægran gesyhðe.
     Geseah ic þæt fuse
wendan wædum ond bleom;    hwilum hit
  wæs mid wætan
beswyled mid swates gange,    hwilum mid
  since gegyrwed.

               I was all completely troubled with
I was afraid because of the beautiful vision. I saw
  the hastening sign
Vary in hanging and colors; at times it was wet
  with moisture,
Stained with the flow of blood, and at times
  adorned with treasures.

After the transfigured tree has become a cross, it is then imbued with the numinous. Miming possible future transfiguration for the similarly stained Dreamer, it also symbolizes the dramatic means by which man attains wholeness and salvation. By suffering with the Cross and Christ in a similar transformational experience, the Dreamer undergoes an identical metamorphosis and elevation of spirit.

This passage has vividly dramatized for the benefit of the Dreamer a visual presentation of the process of transformation, ranging from a depleted spiritual state ('stained with blood') to an exalted one (symbolized by 'adorned with treasure'). Similarly, transformation is also dramatized in the parallel phraseology of hwilum hit wæs mid wætan bestemed (22b) and hwilum mid since gegyrwed (23b), which strongly contrast the beginning and the end of the spiritual change. The Rood poet reinformed this illumination of the Dreamer's inner vision by making him observe the changing light surrounding the Cross and by the gradual metamorphosis of his own insight through a series of 'I saw' phrases that dynamically pass from the Dreamer's 'I thought that I saw' to tree, to sign, to master, to God, in this manner: Þuhte me þæt ic gesawe syllicre treow (4); Geseah ic wuldres treow (14b); Geseah ic þæt fuse beacen (21b). But when the phrase is next repeated, it incorporates the image of God, and it is the Cross that speaks, because, having shared Christ's pain, it can truly say Geseah ic þa frean mancynnes (33b); Geseah ic weruda god (5lb)."Seeing" in the rhythm of the transformation drama has become a metaphorical way of expressing involvement in suffering, death, burial, and resurrection. The next change occurs at the end of the drama of the Cross when the phrase undergoes a transformation itself and becomes Ic þæt all beheold 'I beheld all that' (58b)—"to behold" has taken on the additional meaning "to be involved in the painful experience itself." Because of all this the Cross plays the role of a beacna (118b) and towers in the heavens above the Dreamer who miraculously beholds, not at the end, but at the beginning of his own transformational experience, all the heavenly hosts gazing at the Cross: Beheoldon þær engel dryhtnes ealle, / fægere þurh forðgesceaft 'all the angels of the Lord, fair through all time, gazed on it there' (9b-10a). Parallelism of phraseology, stylization of syntax, and accretion to words of unfamiliar connotations strongly emphasize the steps through which the Dreamer passesin his spiritual transformation.

Nor is this all. Toward the end of the historical explanation that passes into the hortatory address to future action (and as a matter of fact suddenly transcends the battle metaphor), the Cross suddenly refers to 'Mother Mary' without any apparent preparation for the simile:

Hwæt, me þa geweorðode     wuldres ealdor
ofer holmwudu,    heofonrices weard!
Swylce swa he his modor eac,    Marian sylfe,
ælmihtig god    for ealle menn
geweorðode    ofer eall wifa cynn.

Lo! Then the Prince of Glory, the Lord of Heaven
Honored me above the other trees of the forest
Just as God Almighty for the sake of mankind
Also honored his Mother Mary above
All the race of women.

The various elements of the poem cohere so faithfully that we unconsciously expect and immediately understand the relationship of a Cross that opens the true way of life to the people and the Virgin Mary whom God honored ofer eall wifa cynn. We have seen that the Rood poet manipulated Adam's fall in such a manner as to fuse it with Christ's crucifixion, the tree with the Cross, the instrument of death with the vessel of salvation. Now, relying on the same technique, the poet apparently assumes that we will think of Eva, the mother of death and type of Mary. In The Dream of the Rood this identification and contrast of the two women is strengthened by the earlier evocation of the Adam-Christ contrast. The churchman, the poet, and the playwright had no difficulty in entertaining and enjoying such manipulations of names. They saw the salutation "Ave" made to the Mother Mary, who brought new life to man, as a reversal of Eva (e vae 'from woe'). Certainly something very much like this appears in the Breviary hymn Ave, maris stella, but perhaps its appearance in the drama will indicate its common currency. In the Hegge Salutation and Conception Gabriel descends to Mary and says:

Ave, Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum!
Heyl, fful of grace, God is with the!
   Amonge alle women blyssyd art thu!
Here this name Eva is turnyd Ave;
  That is to say, with-owte sorwe ar ye now.

Thow sorwe in yow hath no place,
   yett of ioy, lady, ye nede more;
 Therefore I adde and sey "ful of grace,"
   ffor so ful of grace was nevyr non bore.

And something very much like this appears in the Wakefield Annunciation.

The transformative, spirit-bearing Cross becomes the sign of rebirth for the Dreamer; the intercessive Mother Mary becomes the vessel of birth for Christ, the warrior-hero, and through him for all mankind. Mary, the Mother who reopened the gates of heaven, is linked with the Cross that performs the same function in The Dream of the Rood for the transformed Dreamer. The antiphon for the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary begins, "Embrace Mary, for she is the very gate of heaven who brings to you the glorious king of the new light." In the Litany of the Virgin, the Mother of Christ is variously symbolized as "Vessel of Honor," "Ark of the Covenant," "Gate of Heaven," and "Morning Star." Gate and Cross, Virgin and tree are even more closely linked through the "root" image in the Compline, final antiphon to the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Hail, Queen of Heaven!
Hail, Lady of the Angels!
Salutation to thee, root and portal,
When the Light of the world has arisen.

Symbolized by the sky at daybreak, Mary, the Queen of Heaven, the Morning Star, in turn symbolizes the root from which the Son grows to become that tree of life whose fruit all men shall share in paradise—the eschatological banquet at the end of the poem.

Both Cross and Virgin "opened the true way for all people," and the Dreamer learns from their metamorphic experiences. When he rises transformed from his slumber of death, he will do as the Cross commands:

þæt ðu þas gesyhðe    secge mannum,
 onwreoh wordum    þæt hit is wuldres beam,
 se ðe ælmihtig god    on þrowode
 for mancynnes    manegum synnum
 ond Adomes    ealdgewyrhtum.

that thou tellest this sight to men, make clear by words that this is the tree on which God Almighty suffered for the many sins of mankind and for Adam's deed of old.

The poet validates to some extent this conjecture by linking the Dreamer to the sinful Adam, for as Adam stained all mankind and closed the gates, the Dreamer, who has been transformed by his vision, will rise from his sleep (symbolic of indolence, ignorance, and at its worst, death from the woundings of sin) and like Christ and Cross bear the glad tidings of lustration to other men.


"For what else is Christ but the word, the sound of God? So the word is this upright beam on which I am crucified; and the sound is the beam which crosses it, the nature of man; but the nail which holds the center of the cross-beam to the upright is man's conversion and repentance."

All transformations and identifications have been for the benefit of the Dreamer, who must be provoked into the metamorphic experience, into a radical change from stained and fallen man into a spiritualized being. Not surprisingly, his transformation imitates and profoundly participates in the dramatic metaphor of war traced with the Cross and Christ. The metaphor of the Christian warrior is common property of the New Testament, Old English poetic tradition, and religious through the ages. It is found, for instance, in the secret prayer for the Mass celebrating the finding of the Holy Cross: "May the sacrifice we offer be pleasing to you, O Lord. Let it free us from all the evils of war and destroy the pitfalls prepared by our powerful enemy, so that we may be safely protected under the banner of your son's cross. Through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord." The post-Communion prayer reads: "We have been nourished by the food of heaven and refreshed by spiritual drink. Shield us from our evil enemies, O Almighty God, for you have commanded us to fight through to victory under the cross of your Son, the weapon of justice that will save the world. Through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord." Perhaps even more important for this poem is the appearance of the warrior-hero in the final victory of Christ as described in Revelation: "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.… And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linens, white and clean" (19:11-14).

The dramatic portrayal of this metaphor of the warrior-Cross and the warrior-God no longer stained but "clothed in fine linens, white and clean" is duplicated with the Dreamer, now a warrior-hero, as the protagonist. His battle has already been waged when the poem opens, and he apparently has been defeated. Cut down by the enemy, he lies bleeding from his wounds in a death-sleep, ic synnum fah 'I stained with sins [or injuries]' (13b). He is grievously wounded, forwunded mid wommum 'sorely wounded with evil deeds' (14a), and suffers, Eall ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed 'I was completely troubled with sorrows' (20b); ic þær licgende lange hwile / beheold hreowcearig hælendes treow 'lying there for a long time, I looked sorrowfully at the Cross' (24-25). Then follows a lacuna in the logical, dramatic development of the battle metaphor, but it is that gap that is of most importance for the dynamic transformation of the warrior-Dreamer.

The warrior, we should observe, frames the poem with his visionary experience and his joyous future life after that vision ends. Within this frame, as within his mind, there occur the dramas of Christ and the Cross. Thus the experience of the Dreamer frames that of the Cross, and that of the Cross frames that of Christ, as though one had to pass through the agency of the Cross to reach the Lord. Precisely symbolic, the structures of the three frames—really three almost identical dramatic battle metaphors—point to Christ and his archetypal experience, the redemptive drama as the magnetic center, the spiritualizing and transformative power of the source of life. The second frame, the story of the Cross, points towards the nucleus that is Christ and outward towards the Dreamer, thus symbolizing something very much like an agent of grace.

Moving inward from the outer frame, we meet, first, the defeated Dreamer, then the defeated tree, and at the heart of the poem, the defeated Christ, followed by references to Adam (who seems to represent all that is gross, weighty, base, and stained in the Dreamer) and Mary (who represents all that releases, gives life, and fructifies in the Dreamer). Moving outward, then, from that transcendent center, we experience, first, the victory of Christ, then the victory of the Cross, and finally the victory of the Dreamer, who has been spiritualized by having lived through, while vicariously participating in, the vivid drama of that numinous center and its immediate frame. Within the frame of the Dreamer's experiences they—Cross and Christ—suffer battles, captures, executions, mockeries, burials; yet they suffer not so much for themselves but precisely for the transformation of the defeated warrior-Dreamer. Another way of stating this would be to say that the outer frame contains earthy, Adamic man, sunk in sin and evil deeds, asleep or dead, and in need of radical transformation. This objective outer frame is united with the subjective center—Cross and Christ as redemptive forces—through a dramatic participation of the Dreamer in the Eucharistic vision that takes place in his own sleeping mind as a kind of internal illumination. Personal, subjective, psychic, but sacramental, this process transforms the spirit of the Dreamer because the cohesive battle metaphors consistently reveal his identity with the fallen Adam, the paradoxical destructive-creative Cross, and the resurrected Christ.

Some seventy lines after the battle metaphor is apparently suspended, it is resumed. Reinforcements come to the wounded warrior-Dreamer with orders for salvation: Nu ic þe hate, hæleð min se leofa, / þæet ðu þas gesyhðe secge mannum 'now, my dear man, I order you to tell this vision to men' (95-96). Upon hearing this, the Dreamer is revived:

Gebæd ic me þa to þan beame    bliðe mode,
 elne mycle,    þæer ic ana wæs
 mæte werede.

There I prayed to the Cross with great zeal, happy in mind, there where I was alone with little company.

Like his Lord, he is exiled and must rice gesecan / of eorðwege 'seek the kingdom away from earth' (119b-20a) and return to his homeland: Wæs modsefa / afysed on forðwege 'the heart was ready for departure' (124b-25a). In anticipation of his return the Dreamer looks, as he says:

daga gehwylce    hwænne me dryhtnes rod,
þe ic her on eorðan    ær sceawode,
on þysson lænan    life gefetige …

for the time when the Cross of the Lord, which I formerly saw here on earth, will fetch me from this transitory life …

Finally, the battle completed and victory won, the Dreamer will join in celebrating the feast of victory in his true homeland:

ond me þonne gebringe    þær is blis mycel,
dream on heofonum,    þær is dryhtnes folc
geseted to symle,    þær is singal blis,
ond me þonne asette     þær ic siþþan mot
wunian on wuldre …

and then bring me where there is great joy, happiness in heaven, where the Lord's people are placed at the feast, where [there] is perpetual happiness, and will set me where I can afterwards live in glory …

The Dreamer now transformed in spirit and ransomed from the enemy, the price having been the suffering of Christ, the suffering of the Cross, and his own suffering and awakening, returns successfully to his native land and is given heofonlicne ham 'a heavenly home' (148a).

Formerly the poet emphasized the suffering and death of the protagonists, Christ and Cross. Now, in the case of the Dreamer, he places the emphasis on "cleansing" and "lifting," because Christ and Cross, by means of their dramas, have in a large measure carried the burden of agony for the Dreamer, though that is not to imply that he has not shared their pain. He may even have suffered it three times over if we judge the dramas to be purely mental. Strongly emerging imagery of resurrection thrusts itself prominently into the foreground, especially after the Dreamer has participated in the double dramas of Cross and Christ, until ultimately that imagery becomes apocalyptic vision. In describing the act of crucifixion, the poet's images are such that they evoke overtones of resurrection or ascension: Gestah he on gealgan heanne 'he ascended on the high gallows' (40b), says the Cross of Christ. Ahof ic ricne cyning 'I lifted up the powerful king' (44b); and by implication the Cross will lift up the fallen warrior-Dreamer. Rod wæs ic aræred 'I was set up a cross' (44a). Ahofon hine of ðam hefian wite 'they raised him from that heavy torture' (6la). Prefiguring the voice of the penitent Dreamer, who because of the ritualistic purification will not only go up but, obeying the commands of the Cross, will go out to all men, stefn up gewat / hilderinca 'the cry of warriors went up' (7lb-72a). Because of the former agony the Cross will now hlifige under heofenum 'tower under heaven' (85a), moved on lyft 'on high' (5a). The dryhten aras 'Lord arose' (101b), and He ða on heofenas astag 'he then ascended into heaven' (103a). The imagery of resurrection (ascended, lifted, set up, raised, went up, towers on high, arose, and ascended) is then applied to the Dreamer when the Cross enjoins him to rice gesecan / of eorðwege 'seek the kingdom away from earth' (119b-20a). Displaying an emotional state consonant with resurrection, the Dreamer is bliðe mode 'happy in mind' (122b); the Cross will gebringe þær is blis mycel, dream on heofonum 'bring me where there is great gladness, joy in heaven' (139-40a). Likewise, his friends lifiaþ nu on heofenum mid heahfædere 'live now with God the Father in heaven' (134). And finally, Christ mid manigeo com 'came with a multitude' (151b). 'Seek,' 'happy,' 'bring,' 'arrive,' and 'live in heaven' are words and phrases that approximate emotionally the resurrection imagery and shadow forth the Dreamer's hopes for future life.

Christ offered himself in a voluntary act of love, but in the actual sacrifice he suffered an agonizing and bloody death. The division of God into divine being and human being and his return to himself in the sacrificial act (symbolized in his stripping off his earthly garments and embracing the Cross) hold out the comforting doctrine that in the center of the Dreamer's own darkness there lies a hidden light (symbolized by the structural frames, the movement from Dreamer to Cross to Christ, the evoked memories of Mary and Adam, and then by a reversal from Christ to Cross to Dreamer) which will once again be ignited by its source. The poet makes us see that this light (variously symbolized in the bright, shining Cross, but specifically in the body of Christ, 'that bright splendor,' whose tomb is of 'shining stone') actually wished to descend into darkness in order to deliver the 'stained' one who languished there, hidden in the gloomy underworld of his manifold sins and mortal enemies, and lead him to the source of light: Hiht wæs geniwad / mid bledum ond mid blisse þamþe þær bryne þolodan 'hope was renewed with blessedness and with joy to those who had earlier suffered from fire' (148b-49).

The Christ of Revelation cautions mankind to "Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it" (Rev. 2:16-17). Because the poet previously evoked Adam and his misdeeds, the stumbling block for all mankind is the old Adam in the flesh; but specifically for the Dreamer who lies 'stained with sins, … wounded with evil deeds,' is this true. Though the poet evokes this stumbling block only through implication—by linking the fallen Adam with the stained and recumbent Dreamer—the evocation of the 'shining stone' of the tomb of Christ might help us understand the accomplishment of the poet. Stone, earth, matter, and indeed, flesh pull man down and drag him into the underworld. Only when Christ as Spirit enters that base matter, that stained and sleeping flesh, only then does that rock tomb of man's body become spiritualized, become 'shining stone.' After all, the entire drama is one man's spiritual crisis. Thus the significantly charged symbol, the 'shining stone' that the Spirit enters, serves as the vehicle for the apocalyptic vision at the end of the poem, the great feast expected to usher in the messianic kingdom, where the Cross will:

       … gebringe    þær is blis mycel,
dream on heofonum,    þær is dryhtnes folc
geseted to symle …
(139- 41a)

And Christ says in Rev. 2:17, "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna." The victorious spiritualized Dreamer will join the chosen at the eschatological feast and partake of the hidden bread, Jesus Christ. The white stone signed with the name of the Lord will, like the Cross signed with the body of Jesus and adorned with shining stones, gold, and silver, assure his passage to the land of glory, where he, the Dreamer, will enjoy pleasure fully with the saints.

If the splendor of Christ's sacrifice reveals the way out of darkness, if the Virgin Mother opened that way, if the shining Cross becomes that way, now the Dreamer will also show the way by rehearsing the grand vision and singing the glory of the Son to other men:

onwreoh wordum    þæt hit is wuldres beam,
 se ðe ælmihtig god    on þrowode
 for mancynnes   …synnum …

make clear with words that this is the tree [wood, ship] on which God Almighty suffered for the sins of mankind …

His transformation accomplished, the Dreamer fuses with the Cross and Christ. Through his new devotion and willingness to sacrifice his stained ego, the Dreamer, transfigured into a ministering instrument of glory, becomes one with Christ in the mysterious metamorphic process of the poem.

In The Dream of the Rood the three dramatic battle metaphors become symbolic means of redemption; they help delineate the purification, consecration, and exaltation of the Dreamer; they serve as centers of organization, cohesion, and wholeness. By emotionally participating in the two dramatic experiences during a dream in the depths of the night, the Dreamer unites himself with the Cross and Christ, is purified and strengthened. He then reveals to us that the thrice-repeated metaphor is essentially one profound drama of self-transcendence.

The poet found the precise means for expressing transformation in this dramatic metaphor of battle, defeat, capture, death, and sudden and climactic metanoia, a turning of the dry bones of death into glorious rebirth. This vivid metaphor reproduces the Passion of Christ and dramatizes those means by which a man saves his life: the poet's rehearsal and amplification of the metaphor to include the lowly tree-Cross serves as an example to the benighted Dreamer that not only the good but also the despised, the evil, the fallen and stained may find salvation through an imitation of Christ. The third rehearsal of the transformative metaphor dramatizes the process of redemption on the human level, the miraculous purification, elevation, and spiritualization of the Dreamer.

The Rood poet supports, broadens, and strengthens his consistent and cohesive metaphors of battle with a multitude of other images to describe both poles of the transformative process, the initial condition of man suffering from the fires of hell and the final goal of man dwelling in glory. Variously figured, these incidental metaphors appear as fall/ascend, bow down/rise up, tremble/strengthen, transitory/permanent, dark of clouds/bright splendor, troubled with sorrows/renewed in hope, afraid/brave, sorrowful/joyful, spectacle/ritual, criminals' gallows/glorified Cross, enemies that mock/angels that gaze and adore, tree/Cross, blood and wounds/gold and silver, stained/cleansed, no friends on earth/company of saints in heaven, wounding/healing, ignored ritual/celebrated ritual, sing a dirge/tell a vision, and sinners carrying the Cross on their shoulders/Cross carrying the redeemed sinners to the kingdom of heaven. All these incidental metaphors, amplifications of the thrice-repeated cohesive one, dramatize a permanent truth, the living, dramatic, transformational paradox that a man must first lose his life to save it. This is to say that the incidental images fall into dialectical opposites that mirror the larger thematic concerns of the poem's central battle metaphors.

But in the strange metabolism of the language of The Dream of the Rood the poet has created other ways of expressing this truth. When speaking in the voice of the Cross, just before the spiritualized Dreamer awakens, the poet creates a syntactical pattern related to sin and death: Adomes ealdgewyrhtum (100), Deað he þær byrigde (lOla), deaðes wolde / biteres onbyrigan (113b-14a). However, radically contrasted with that imagery of death, when the transformed and spiritualized Dreamer begins to speak once again, all is life: Is me nu lifes hyht (126b); lifiaþ nu on heofenum (134a), on þysson lænan life gefetige (138), ond us lifforgeaf (147b), etc. The poet's genius lies precisely in his ability to force his syntactical arrangements, as well as metaphors, similes, and the like, to support, emphasize, and dramatize his themes.

In the same manner he may also create a strong thematic dialectic among various syntactical elements, for instance, those beginning with an initial on. The first of these, on lyft lædan (5a), and the final, on godes rice (152b), are symbolic formulas for the reanimation of the spirit. Moreover, within the frame of these syntactical elements at the beginning and end of the poem the thematic conflict shifts, with emphasis first on one, then on the other, pole of the theme, only to be resolved in the final lines of the poetry. Schematized, the pattern looks like this: on lyft lædan (5a); On me syndon þa dolg gesiene (46b); On me bearn godes (83); on þrowode / for mancynnes manegum synnum (98b-99); on þysne middangeard (104a); on domdæge (105a); on þyssum lænum life geearnaþ (109); on þysson lænan life gefetige (138); on þam gealgetreowe (146a); on þam siðfate (150b); on godes rice (152b). The repetition of the same unit lifts it to a kind of symbolic structure expressive of the vicissitudes of the regenerative process.

Transformation animates the heart and spirit of the poem and the Dreamer. Christ, the second Adam, is transformed into man, into criminal, and then once again into spiritual being. The Rood, transformed from tree to gallows, to torture instrument, to dead and buried object, and finally to adorned Cross and enlightened messenger, towers above the fallen Adam in everyman, as a sign, a way, a vehicle of salvation. The Dreamer, identified with a stained and sinning Adam, changes into a cleansed and spiritualized human being, from grief-stricken man to joyous man, into an announcer of the good news and glad tidings of salvation to other men; and finally he assumes the form of a man hopeful of joining his Lord at the messianic victory banquet and in the company of all the saints.

Faith H. Patten (essay date 1968)

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Faith H. Patten (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: "Structure and Meaning in The Dream of the Rood, " in English Studies, Netherlands, Vol. 49, No. 1, 1968, pp. 385-401.

[Here, Patten explores the analogies between the Dreamer and the Cross, the Cross and Christ, and Christ and the Dreamer. She also analyzes the allegorical and historical aspects of The Dream of the Rood.]

The existence in The Dream of The Rood of two speakers and two points of view, the cross and the dreamer, appears at first aesthetically disturbing, by seeming to imperil the poem's unity. But, on the contrary, the two points of view provide the backbone of the poem's structure which, at once complex and unified, both creates and reveals the poem's meaning.

This structure divides into three parts (11. 1-27, 28-121, 122-end), each governed by the relation between its own subject and the rood. The cross is the one element common and central to all three parts; it provides the poem's chief means of unification. The first of these three parts, the introduction (through 1. 27), consists of the speaker's description of the rood's appearance to him in a dream. Its subject is the dreamer; its significance, the meaning of the cross to and for him. This meaning is indicated by those visible attributes of the cross that the dreamer immediately sees, but neither the dreamer nor the reader can, at this early point, grasp their full significance; they are symbols whose meanings are developed by the rest of the poem.

The rood has two opposing sets of attributes: it first appears wondrous, glorious, covered with gold and jewels, and surrounded with light (11. 4-17), but presently, underneath the gold ornamentation, the dreamer perceives suffering and evil:

Hwæðre ic þurh þæet gold    ongytan meahte
earmra ærgewin …

He also perceives that the rood sweats blood from its right side:

             … þæt hit ærest ongan
swætan on þa swiðran healfe.

These two entirely different appearances of the cross have two effects on the dreamer. The first, one of contrast, occurs in 1. 13:

Syllic wæs se sigebeam,    ond ic synnum fah,
 forwunded mid wommum.…

This juxtaposition suggests that the dreamer recognizes his guilt and sin because the cross is a 'wondrous victory- beam'. The metrical, alliterative, and echoic characteristics of the line ('syllic … sigebeam … synnum') reinforce this hint. The dream-vision of the exalted rood has awakened him, while the rest of the world sleeps, to his own sins. But, since 'wommum' literally means 'scars' or 'stains' and figuratively 'defilement' or 'sin', the curious phrase 'forwunded mid wommum' is descriptive also of Christ. This phrase constitutes the first link in the analogy the poet develops between the dreamer and Christ. Christ's 'wommum' are visible, physical wounds, caused by human sins—both of mankind generally and of his crucifiers particularly—and hence become the symbol of human sins. Clearly, we are dealing with a poet who uses his rich language in a sophisticated and subtle manner, not in a primitive one: in a single image, he suggests, first, one of the main technical devices of the poem, the analogy between Christ and the dreamer; and, second, the cause and the theological significance of that relationship and analogy.

The dreamer's second reaction to the cross occurs in 11. 20b and 21a:

             Eall ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed,
forht ic wæs for þære fægran gesyhðe.

This reaction immediately follows the dreamer's perception of the rood's flowing blood, and of the misery beneath its gold (11. 18-20a). The causal relationship here is even clearer than in the dreamer's first reaction: he is sorrowful and fearful because of the rood's agony and blood.

The cross's two different appearances are summed up in 11. 21b-23:

             Geseah ic þæt fuse beacen
wendan wædum ond bleom;     hwilum hit
  wæs mid wætan bestemed,
beswyled mid swates gange,     hwilum mid
  since gegyrwed.

The effect of these two contrasting appearances, and of the respective contrasting reactions of the dreamer, is to suggest two of the symbolic values of the cross. A literal, nonsymbolic cross could not alternate between two different appearances, nor could it influence the emotional state of the beholder. As Professors B. F. Huppé and D. W. Robertson, Jr., remark [in Fruyt and Chaf: Studies in Chaucer's Allegories, 1963]:

In such [dream] visions the sense level is dependent on the underlying meaning [i. e. the physical on the symbolic, or the literal on the allegorical]. Characters [the cross] act in accordance with the demands of meaning, not in accordance with the logic of external events.

Why and how the meanings of the cross influence the dreamer are the burden of the rest of the poem. We learn from this first part the causal nature of the relationship between the dreamer and the dream-cross, as the dream opens: the exalted and glorified cross calls attention to the abased and sinful condition of the dreamer, and the agonized and bleeding cross awakens the dreamer's fear and sorrow.

The second part of the poem (11. 28-121) relates the story that embodies the relationship between Christ and the cross: the crucifixion. The meaning of this section inheres in the relationship of the cross to Christ, plus, in turn, the meaning of that relationship to the dreamer. The first two parts of the poem are thus structurally analogous: the cross is the central symbol in each, and from the relationship of the cross to its persona derives the meaning of each. This structural analogy casting Christ and the dreamer in parallel positions strengthens the parallel between them already suggested by 'wommum'. Further, as the dreamer in part one describes the cross, so the cross in part two describes Christ, suggesting through their similar functions an analogy between the dreamer and the cross, and between the cross and Christ. The symbolic significance of this set of analogies accumulates as the poem progresses and will be discussed later; I shall now examine the mechanics of the last one.

The description of Christ in the second part, like the description of the cross in the first part, reveals that he has two distinct natures. The first of these appears in the cross's first description of Christ:

                 Geseah ic þa frean mancynnes
 efstan elne mycle     þæt he me wolde on gestigan.

This nature of Christ prevails throughout the crucifixion:

Ongyrede hine þa geong hæleð,    (þæt wæs
  god ælmihtig),
strang ond stiðmod.     Gestah he on gealgan
modig on manigra gesyhðe,    þa he wolde
  mancyn lysan.

               Geseah ic weruda god
þearle þenian.     Þystro hæfdon
bewrigen mid wolcnum wealdendes hræw, …

             … Weop eal gesceaft,
cwiðdon cyninges fyll.    Crist wæs on rode.
Hwæðere þær fuse     feorran cwoman
to þam æðelinge.…

Genamon hie þær ælmihtigne god,

beheoldon hie ðær heofenes dryhten.

These passages, all from the second part, all spoken by the cross, establish the divine, victorious, heroic nature of Christ. He is the 'lord of mankind', 'the young hero' or 'warrior', and He approaches the cross with eagerness, as though it were His bride, and the crucifixion with resolution, as though it were a battle. Indeed, it is called a 'mighty struggle'—'miclan gewinne' (1. 65a)—which, recalling the 'ærgewin' (1. 19a) that the dreamer perceived underneath the cross's decoration, adds to that obvious reference to the 'wickedness' of the crucifiers, the further meaning of the agony or struggle of the crucifixion itself.

After the crucifixion, the delineation of this nature of Christ is complete, and He is referred to at the moment of his burial as the 'lord of victories': 'gesetton hie ðæron sigora wealdend' (1. 67a). The poet thus chooses the moment of Christ's greatest apparent defeat to point out that He is actually supremely victorious: by means of the battle of crucifixion, the warrior has conquered death—indeed, His death is something too mysterious and holy to be spoken of without euphemism: 'ond he hine ðær hwile reste, / meðe æfter ðam miclan gewinne' (11. 64b-65a).

Like the rood's, the first presentation of Christ has emphasized his valiant and superhuman qualities which enable Him to triumph over evil, pain, and death. But He was also a real human being, who suffered, died, and was buried. The first, and strongest, evidence of Christ's humanity is the blood that gushes from His side when He is on the cross; He is here called 'guma' (1. 49a), the Anglo-Saxon word for man which has probably the fewest connotations of anything other than human (cp. æðelinge, hæleð, monn). After His mighty struggle and the descent from the cross, Christ is described as 'limbweary' (1. 63a), a movingly human term, and then as 'worn out' (1. 65a). A subsequent phrase indicates at once Christ's humanity and divinity, and the distinction between them: 'Hræw colode, / fæger feorgbold' (11. 72b-73a).

At least one critic, Rosemary Woolf, thinks that these two opposing but reconciled natures of Christ import the central meaning of the poem, which she ascribes to the historical situation:

At the time when the poet wrote, the Church insisted on the co-existence of these two elements in Christ, divine supremacy and human suffering, with a vehemence and rigidity deriving from more than two centuries of heretical Christological dispute.

Miss Woolf traces through the poem this dichotomy between the heresy of the Monophysites, who held Christ's divine nature more important than His human, and the heresy of the Nestorians, who held the reverse; she consequently contends that the point of the poem is the reconciliation or balancing of these views. This is only initially convincing. There are too many elements, both of structure and of meaning, that are neglected and unexplained by this interpretation. An attempt to take all these elements into account reveals a much greater meaning that transcends, though it does not contradict, Miss Woolf 's interpretation.

In part two the cross, which narrates the story, also has two natures. These result from the rood's selfidentification with Christ, an identification which is the logical extreme of the main traditional symbolic referent of the cross. The double appearance that the cross presents to the dreamer in part one is then a preparation for its two natures and for their identification with Christ's two natures in the second part. From this symbolic value added in part two, meaning accrues incrementally to part one. The cross's initial appearance as the jewelled, luminous battle-standard and tree of glory we now recognize to be analogous to the warrior-king, the triumphant and victorious Christ. The rood's description of its glorification suggests Christ's ascension:

        Hwæðre me þær dryhtnes þegnas,
freondas gefrunon,
ond gyredon me    golde ond seolfre.

Then in explaining the reason it is worshipped, the cross makes explicit its analogy with Christ:

            Is nu sæl cumen
þæt me weorðiað    wide ond side
menn    ofer    moldan,    ond eall  þeos mære
gebiddaþ him to þyssum beacne.    On me
  bearn godes
þrowode hwile.    Forþan ic þrymfæst nu
hlifige under heofenum,    ond ic hælan mæg
æghwylcne anra,    þara þe him bið egesa to

Line 82b repeats exactly line 12b, providing a clue to the incremental nature of the symbols and structure. We now know why 'all this glorious creation' in part one worships the cross: because 'on me bearn godes / prowode hwile' (83b-84a). This also explains the dreamer's feeling (in part one) of sinfulness and sorrow—he is there reacting to the symbolic meaning of the cross though he does not know consciously until part two (and neither do we) what that meaning is.

But, perhaps both to compensate for the greater emphasis in part two on Christ's lordliness and divinity rather than on his humanity, and to avoid the risks either of idolatry or blasphemy, the cross stops short of identifying its glorified self with the victorious Christ, and leaves the relationship one of analogy and symbol. The purpose of specifying the symbolic meaning of the jewelled cross is achieved anyway. But, on the other hand, the cross fully identifies itself with Christ's human nature, and thus extends our knowledge of it. As His death was related euphemistically, so what is mortal and weak in Him is narrated by means of a surrogate, the cross, in order to sustain His sacredness; whereas His divine nature can be fully and directly described, without surrogate.

The relationship between the degraded Christ and the cross, like that between the triumphant Christ and the cross, was foreshadowed in part one through the dreamer's perception of the agony beneath the gold, followed by his expression of sorrow (19-21). In part two the identification is completed by the cross's descriptions of its actions and feelings in phrases which personify the cross even more and are equally applicable to Christ. First, the cross is carried to the hill where 'gefæstnodon me þær feondas genoge' (33a). Next, after Christ has ascended the cross, it says: 'Ealle ic mihte / feondas gefyllan, hwære ic fæste stod' (37b-38). This assertion is a kind of metonymy for the power of Christ: it is He who could destroy His enemies, and prevent their destroying Him, but He chooses not to. This identification, extending our knowledge of Christ's humanity, thus strengthens the implication of lines 33b-34 that the crucifixion was an act of Christ's free will. The rood 'stands fast' in its triply agonizing office of bearing Christ: as persona, it feels its own pain; as the surrogate of Christ, it feels His pain; and as the instrument of His torture, it feels the pain of guilt. The cross reiterates its Christ-like resolution in line 43b: 'ac ic sceolde fæste standan', a phrase similar in tone to the description of Christ's ascent of the cross (40b-41a).

The identification of the cross with the suffering, human Christ is completed at the moment when Christ is most mortal, His divine spirit having departed:

Þurhdrifan hi me mid deorcan næglum.    On
  me syndon þa dolg gesiene,
opene inwidhlemmas.…
Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere.    Eall ic
  wæs mid blode bestemed,
begoten of æs guman siden,    siððan he
  hæfde his gast onsended.

Notable here is the use of the word 'begoten' to describe the blood pouring from Christ, in ironic contrast to its use in line 7a to describe the victorious rood's gold covering. This suggests that the gold of the cross is analogous to Christ's baptismal blood. Also important is the contrast between the 'dark nails' and the gemmed, shining cross in part one and later in part two (77). The same contrast of imagery recurs at the moment of Christ's mortal death:

               Þystro hæfdon
bewrigen mid wolcnum    wealdendes hræw,
scirne sciman,    sceadu forðeode,
wann under wolcnum.

Immediately after the climax of the poem ('Crist wæs on rode') and before Christ's descent from the cross, the rood prepares us for the next stage of the Passion:

    hnag ic hwæðre þam secgum to handa,
eaðmod elne mycle.

Line 60a recalls ironically Christ's eager approach to the cross: 'efstan elne mycel' (34a); here, line 59 confirms the rood's zealous Christ-like submission mentioned first in 37b. Both Christ and the cross choose throughout the crucifixion to obey with zeal the dictates of sinful men.

After relating Christ's descent from the cross and His burial, the cross describes its own fate, still parallel to Christ's:

                 Þa us man fyllan ongan
ealle to eorðan.    Þæt wæs egeslic wyrd!
Bedealf us man on deopan seaþe.

This passage, ostensibly about the cross, actually tells us more about Christ. When the cross describes Christ directly, the tone is elegiac and gentle, deliberately calculated to de-emphasize the degradation of Christ's burial, and to soften the reader's despair. This has the result of sanctifying Christ: He clearly has a mortal aspect, but it must not be so described as to impair His necessary remoteness. But the bitter degradation of Christ in His death and burial is theologically important, and must not be omitted. The cross, as Christ's surrogate, necessarily feels this, and as narrator of the crucifixion tells it to the dreamer, hence to us. Sanctification and the presentation of degradation are both achieved, simultaneously, by the rood's relation of its own story, analogous to Christ's:

Nu ðu miht gehyran,    hæleð min se leofa,
þæt ic bealuwara weorc    gebiden hæbbe,
sarra sorga.

Both the cross and Christ ultimately triumph, are resurrected from their degradation, and ascend to heavenly supremacy (80-85). The account of the crucifixion in part two, then, establishes an analogy between the glorified and divine aspects of Christ and the cross, and a symbolic identification between their mortal aspects. The second relationship suggests another analogy, that between the dreamer and the human aspects of both the cross and Christ, which is introduced by the device of the rood's personification and its narration of the crucifixion, a function parallel to the dreamer's narration of his vision. Each narrates and thus testifies to a great scene he has witnessed. We have already noticed signs of this analogy: (1) the effect of the word 'wommum' in linking the dreamer to Christ, imagistically equating the dreamer's sins with Christ's wounds and reminding us that Christ deliberately assumed the burden of human sins to save man; (2) the imagistic parallel between the dreamer's and Christ's 'wommum' and the cross's 'dolg gesiene' or 'opene inwidhlemmas', caused by the 'deorcan næglum'; (3) the parallel functions of Christ and the dreamer as subjects of their respective parts. There are at least three more elements in this third analogy. First, in line 59a, the cross describes its emotions toward the crucified Christ in a phrase almost identical to the dreamer's description of his emotions toward the bleeding cross:

Dreamer: Eall ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed …

Cross: Sare ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed …

This parallel in phrase and in function suggests an equivalence between the dreamer and the cross that works reciprocally: the dreamer's reaction helps to humanize the cross; the cross's reaction, by repeating the dreamer's, generalizes it into everyman's. Second, the rood uses the same term in reference to the dreamer and to Christ: it describes Christ when approaching the cross as 'þa geong hæleð' (39a); it begins its exhortation to the dreamer by calling him 'hæleð min se leofa' (78b); and it concludes its exhortation to the dreamer with the same phrase (95a). Third, the cross describes itself as 'mid strælum forwundod' (62b) recalling the dreamer's 'forwunded mid wommum' (14a). The relationship is quite close, since it is the 'wommum' (as human sins) which, by means of the arrows ('strælum'), are responsible for the rood's (and Christ's) wounds, and these in turn become the symbolic scars. At this point in the poem, then (up to line 84), analogies have been established between the cross and Christ, the cross and the dreamer, and the dreamer and Christ. The cross has become representative of three persons: the victorious and immortal Christ, who exists in eternity; the mortal, necessarily defeated Christ, who existed in history; and the dreamer, everyman, who, existing also in history, must follow the pattern of faith shown by Christ's life on earth, to achieve life in eternity.

The remainder (84-121) of the rood's speech strengthens these significations. The cross and Christ are again described as victorious (84-85, lOlb-102), as mortal and subject to death (lOla, 97b, 98a), and the dreamer is addressed as a representative of mankind (95b, 96) who, we learn (127-128b), is one who would 'taste bitter death as He did' (113b-1 14). But as the first part foreshadowed the symbolic meaning of the cross developed in the second part, so the end of the second part foreshadows the additional symbolic signification of the cross conveyed by the third part. Lines 84b and 85a recall the heavenly position of the cross in the beginning of the poem, analogous to the cross's location of Christ at the end of its story of the crucifixion: 'He ða on heofenas astag' (103a), followed immediately by the rood's account of the Second Coming and the Last Judgment (103b-109). The Christ of these lines is not the historical Christ of the Crucifixion, but rather the atemporal and eternal Christ. This difference in ontological status suggests the difference in symbolic value between the two Christs of the poem. The cross relates all this in order to make its final point:

ac ðurh ða rode sceal    rice gesecan
of eorðwege    æghwylc sawl,
seo þe mid wealdende    wunian þenceð.

The cross then goes on to associate itself with heaven and the life after death, suggesting that it, like Christ, has undergone an ontological change. We now see that the cross which appears to the dreamer is, ontologically, eternal and atemporal; but the cross it tells us about existed historically. Its appearance to the dreamer pledges a similar ontological change from mortality to immortality for those individuals who, like him, seek Christ by worshipping the cross.

The ultimate Christian goal of heaven and the means of achieving it, are the subject of the third part of the poem (122-end), in which the dreamer returns as direct speaker. His first words, 'Gebæd ic me þa to ban beame bliðe mode, / elne mycle' (122-123a), recall the rood's description of its own and Christ's zeal, thus adding another link in the analogy between the dreamer, and the cross and Christ. In lines 124 to 135a, the dreamer elaborates this desire, instigated by the vision, to be equally zealous in his worship of the cross in order to achieve heaven, and thus to provide an example for his fellow man. There follows (135b-144a) a full description of heaven, in its relation to the dreamer. The identification of the cross and Christ is echoed for the last time by the dreamer's verbally parallel statements about the cross, 'þe ic her [the cross] on eorþan ær sceawode' (137), and about Christ:

              Si me dryhten freond,
se ðe her on eorþan    ær þrowode
on þam gealgtreowe    for guman synnum.

The dreamer concludes with a picture of Christ's triumphal arrival in heaven 'where his home was' (156b) with the spirits He redeemed in the Harrowing of Hell:

Se sunu wæs sigorfæst    on þam siðfate,
mihtig ond spedig,    þa he mid manigeo com,
gasta weorode,    on godes rice …

In this last section, then, the cross is associated with heaven and the Last Judgment.

Now that the poem's internal structure has been examined, it is possible to see the significance of its sections. Its incremental structure operates on the four levels familiar from patristic scriptural exegesis: the structure, imagery, and meaning of the first part are tropological; of the second part, allegorical and historical; of the third part, anagogical. By the very nature of this scheme, the three structural blocks of the poem cannot and should not be kept entirely discrete. Each successive level incorporates the meaning established by the preceding level, and preceding levels tend to foreshadow the succeeding, thereby enriching the poem's meaning while ensuring its unity.

The relationship in the first part of the poem between the cross and the dreamer creates the tropological meaning. The dreamer's reactions to the two different appearances of the cross show that he understands only their tropological significance: they awaken him, the individual human being, to moral consciousness; he sorrows for his sins. Tropologically, the cross is that 'syllicre treow' (4b)—a significant word, meaning both 'tree' and 'faith'—by which each Christian soul must guide its earthly behavior. Now we can see the effect of the intricately established parallel between the dreamer, and the human natures of Christ and the cross. The cross makes this tropological meaning overt in the second part of the poem:

Frineð he for þære mænige    hwær se man
se ðe for dryhtnes naman    deaðes wolde
biteres onbyrigan,    swa he ær on ðam beame

Ne þearf ðær þonne ænig    anforht wesan
þe him ær in breostum bereð    beacna selest.

The pattern established by the mortal Christ must be imitated by each individual who would be a true Christian: as Christ is a 'hæleð' who overcomes sin and death in the battle of crucifixion, so must the dreamer become a 'hæleð' and conquer his own sin. As it is the cross which in lines 112-118 (quoted above) and in the use of the word 'hæleð' verbally draws the parallel between the dreamer and Christ, so it is the cross which, by identifying with both the dreamer and Christ, implies the central link by which the dreamer and Christ are paralleled. The rood, having suffered like Christ, comes in part one as Christ's surrogate to show the human being his own sins. But not until part two does the cross set forth, through its narration of the crucifixion, the way for each individual to conquer sin; and not until part three does the dreamer show us that he has learned 'to carry the beacon in his breast' (118), that is, to follow Christ's conduct:

              Is me nu lifes hyht
þæt ic þone sigebeam    secan mote
ana oftor    þonne ealle men,
well weorþian.    Me is willa to ðam
mycel on mode,    ond min mundbyrd is
geriht to þære rode.
(126b-13 la)

The tropology, thus, operates in each section: in part one, it is the individual's recognition of his sinfulness; in part two, the establishing of a pattern for the individual life; in part three, the individual's acknowledgement of that pattern. But parts two and three emphasize, respectively, the other two levels more strongly than the tropological, and though part one includes images which later acquire allegorical and anagogical meaning, they have those meanings only in retrospect, thus making the poem's structure at once cyclic and incremental.

Though the second section foreshadows the description of heaven in the third, and helps to show the dreamer the Christian way of life, it is primarily allegorical, concerned with the faith of Christianity ('quid credas') institutionalized in the Church, and with the historical event from which that faith derives, the crucifixion. The two aspects of the cross described in the first part of the poem, and the two aspects of the cross and of Christ in the second part, create these two allegorical meanings. Christ the victorious hero, and the analogous 'victory-cross', symbolize the church militant, the church here on earth which conquers the infidel and in whom all who wish to be saved must believe. The appellative 'hæleð' for both Christ and the dreamer thus has ecclesiological as well as moral significance: each is a soldier in the service of the church militant. St. Ambrose in his commentary on the Gospels and St. Augustine in a sermon ascribed to him both provide authority for the metaphor of Christ as victor, and for the cross as the symbol of his victory; the Blickling Homily says: 'we ought to honor the holy victory sign of Christ's cross … '; and the vision of Constan tine confirms the interpretation of the ornamented cross as symbolic of that faith which men must follow and of its institutionalization in the chuch militant; according to Eusebius, Constantine said

that about mid-day, when the sun was beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, CONQUER BY THIS. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which happened to be following him on some expedition, and witnessed the miracle … And while he continued to ponder and reason on its meaning, night imperceptibly drew on; and in his sleep the Christ of God appeared to him with the same sign which he had seen in the heavens, and commanded him to procure a standard made in the likeness of that sign, and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies. At dawn of day he arose, and communicated the secret to his friends: and then, calling together the workers in gold and precious stones, he sat in the midst of them, and described to them the figure of the sign he had seen, bidding them represent it in gold and precious stones. And this representation I myself have had an opportunity of seeing.… The emperor constantly made use of this salutary sign as a safeguard against every adverse and hostile power, and commanded that others similar to it should be carried at the head of all his armies.… he sent for those who were acquainted with the mysteries of His doctrines, and inquired who that God was, and what was intended by the sign of the vision he had seen.

They affirmed that He was God, the only begotten Son of the one and only God: that the sign which had appeared was the symbol of immortality, and the trophy of that victory over death which He had gained in time past when sojourning on earth.

There is strong precedent here for the tradition of the cross as symbolic of Christ's victory on earth, and consequently as the token of spiritual conquest by the church. W. O. Stevens points out the importance for Anglo-Saxon England of the vision of Constantine and his subsequent victory over Maxentius in the name of Christianity by noting its similarity to the victory of Oswald over Cadwalla in 633:

it is not likely that the influence of this victory upon the national feeling for the cross can be overestimated. The cross had delivered the Angles from their enemies in the hour of greatest need. It was the victory of Constantine repeated in England, and probably the obvious points of similarity in the two stories helped to make the legend of Constantine as popular as it evidently was. This victory of Oswald, as well as that of Constantine, formed the associations with the cross that made appropriate the familiar Old English epithet sige-beacn, the 'banner of victory.'

This signification of the cross as the emblem of the militant and institutionalized faith of Christianity emerges explicitly at the end of part two, the conclusion of the rood's speech:

ac ðurh ða rode sceal    rice gesecan
of eorðwege    æghwylc sawl,
seo þe mid wealdende    wunian þenceð.

These lines mean both that the individual must pattern his conduct on the cross, that is, on Christ's life, and that mankind must believe in the faith represented by the cross, and institutionalized by Christ in the church.

Another element contributing to the identification of the cross with the church is the cross's sex, which seems to be female. The first of two passages in which the rood assumes femininity is this:

Hwæt, me þa geweorðode    wuldres ealdor
ofer holmwudu,    heofonrices weard!
Swylce swa he his modor eac, Marian sylfe,
ælmihtig god    for ealle menn
geweorðode    ofer eall wifa cynn.

As Mary is the bride of God, so the cross is the bride of Christ, a traditional metaphor for the church. An indirect confirmation of this occurs by means of the parallel set up between Christ and Adam (100), in conjunction with the passage in which the cross describes itself as wet with the blood from Christ's side (48b-49). As woman was born from the side of Adam while he slept, so, says Augustine in his commentary on St. John, was the church born from the side of Christ in his flowing blood as he slept on the cross:

Propter hoc prima mulier facta est de latere viri dormientis ([Gen.] II, 22), et appellata est vita materque vivorum (Id. III, 20). Magnum quippe significavit bonum, ante magnum proevaricationis malum. Hic secundus Adam inclinato capite in cruce dormivit, ut inde formaretur ei conjux, quod de latere dormientis effluxit. O mors unde mortui reviviscunt! Quid isto sanguine mundius? quid vulnere isto salubrius?

The second passage suggesting the femininity of the cross is the sexual imagery in lines 39-42:

Ongyrede hine þa geong hæleð, …
strang ond stiðmod.…
Bifode ic þa me se beorn ymbclypte.

Again, the cross is imaged as the bride of Christ, or the Church, which, allegorically, is born from the union of Christ and the cross, that is, from the crucifixion.

The effect that the jewelled cross has on the dreamer in part one now acquires additional meaning, ecclesiological and redemptive: it is not just the contrast between himself and the radiant goodness of the cross, it is also the Church, represented by the cross, which awakens the dreamer to his sinfulness. The allegory thus determines the tropology: the church, the organizer of society and the embodiment of Christian faith, determines the conduct of the individual:

            … ic him lifes weg
rihtne gerymde,    reordberendum.

The human, suffering nature of Christ and the cross indicates the historical level. The cross that speaks is the very cross that crucified the mortal Christ:

þæt ic wæs aheawen    holtes on ende,
astyred of stefne minum.

Rod wæs ic aræred.    Ahof ic ricne cyning.

Hwæt, me þa geweorðode    wuldres ealdor
ofer holmwudu.

As Christ chose this particular tree, so that tree as cross chooses the dreamer to hear and to relate its story, a parallel which extends the tropology by reaffirming the link between the cross and the dreamer. Again, the allegory provides the pattern for the tropology.

The poem also suggests directly and indirectly the standard patristic allegorical interpretation of Christ as the fulfillment of Adam. The direct suggestion occurs in a passage that also reiterates the preceding point:

onwreoh wordum    þæt hit is wuldres beam,
se ðe ælmihtig god    on þrowode
for mancynnes    manegum synnum
ond Adomes    ealdgewyrhtum.

As Adam was responsible for man's original sin and fall, so Christ is responsible for man's redemption. We have already noted one of the indirect links between Adam and Christ, the blood that gushed from Christ's side, analogous to the birth of Eve from Adam. Another is the stripping of Christ. St. Ambrose describes Christ as a regal victor removing his clothes, and draws a parallel with Adam: as Adam defeated by sin sought to clothe himself, so Christ victorious over sin stripped himself:

Nudum video: talis ergo ascendat qui socculum vincere parat; ut sæculi adjumenta non quaerat. Victus est Adam qui vestimenta quaesivit: vicit ille qui tegumenta deposuit.

If Christ is the second Adam, the cross is allegorically the second tree, the redemptive fulfillment of the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. Stevens points out that identification of the cross as the tree of life is common in Anglo-Saxon literature, and quotes Bede's hymn on the Passion of St. Andrew in which he refers to Christ's being raised on the cross as 'Levatur in vitae arborem'. In his commentary on Psalm I, Bede asserts: 'Christ is called therefore the tree of life'. Stevens also quotes Bede's interpretation of the cross as parallel to the tree of knowledge:

Doubtless in the same hour in which the first man touched the tree of prevarication, the second man ascended the tree of redemption, and that hour of the day which expelled the prevaricators from Paradise led the Confessor to Paradise.

Through this system of typology, the poem shows the 'fortunate' result made possible by the fall of man: the redemption of man by Christ's sacrifice and through Mary's intercession; both acts—sacrifice and intercession—being, in the poem, adumbrated through the versatile symbol of the cross's personification.

By the end of the second part of the poem the cross has explained to the dreamer the meaning of all its initial visible characteristics: its position in the heavens portends the anagogical apocalyptic cross that announces the Second Coming and the Last Judgment, which it then announces to the dreamer (11. 101-109); its ornamentation and exaltation recall Constantine's vision and suggest, allegorically, the historical and ecclesiastical development of the faith of Christianity; its dampness and bloodiness suggest the history of the crucifixion, which, when told to the dreamer, has the tropological effect of awakening him to his sins, and the anagogical effect of directing him to eventual immortality in heaven. The poem exploits the cross as a symbol central to, and capable of expressing, all the levels of meaning which Christianity comprehends.

The ultimate symbolic value of the cross, foreshadowed by its appearance in the heavens in part one, and by the cross's assertion at the end of part two that it is the way to heaven (119-121), is anagogical, and is developed at length in part three. There are two aspects of the anagogical meaning. In the first, the cross is a symbol of the divine, eternal Christ, whose intercession leads man to God. The ultimate anagoge, 'dream on heofonum', is described in lines 135-144:

                 ond ic wene me
daga gehwylce    hwænne me dryhtnes rod,
þe ic her on eorðan    ær sceawode,
on þysson lænan    life gefetige
ond me þonne gebringe    þær is blis mycel,
dream on heofonum,    þær is dryhtnes folc

geseted to symle,     þær is singal blis,
ond me þonne asette    þær ic syþþan mot
wunian on wuldre,    well mid þam halgum
dreames brucan.

This value of the cross subsumes the previous two: the anagogical Christ and thus the anagogical cross indicate the translation of the individual to heaven and the transformation of the church militant into the church triumphant, both of which are changes in ontological status analogous to the ontological change undergone by Christ and the cross. This repeated pattern implies the second nature of the dreamer, an equivalence to the divine and immortal aspects of Christ and the cross: by patterning his mortal life on Christ's, each individual will be analogously saved, and will achieve immortality. Thus the tropological and the allegorical are directed by the anagogical.

The second element of the cross's anagogical meaning is its description of the Second Coming and the Last Judgment:

               Hider eft fundaþ
on þysne middangeard    mancynn secan
on domdæge    dryhten sylfa,
ælmihtig god,    ond his englas mid,
þæt he þonne wile deman,    se ah domes geweald,
anra gehwylcum    swa he him ærur her
on þyssum lænum    life geearnaþ.

The cross, announcing the Last Judgment to the dreamer and thereby to mankind, sets it as the ultimate test for which we must prepare ourselves. The rood's final purpose in appearing to the dreamer, attainable technically only by means of the first person point of view, is to bear witness of heaven. The anagogical meaning of part two foreshadows the central meaning of part three.

In the final part, the dreamer does for the reader what in the second part the cross has done for the dreamer: by carrying out the command of the cross, the dreamer conveys to all mankind the meanings he himself has learned, and in expressing his desire for physical death and spiritual life with God, he sets the pattern for the Christian. His return as first-person narrator reinforces his parallel with the cross, and his desire for heaven reinforces his parallel with Christ. The subject of the last section is the dreamer (everyman) in relation to heaven, and is thus predominantly anagogical. The cross and Christ have already ascended to heaven, and become immortal; since he is analogous to them, the dreamer expects—and predicts—a similar change for himself (124b-125a, 135b-140a), and thus for all believers.

These ascensions, one potential and two actual, begin to show the poem's pattern of analogous action. The three levels parallel and imply each other. The story of Christ involves all three: in His incarnation He is the pattern of moralia for the individual; in His crucifixion He conquers original sin and its consequence of death, and this victory becomes that faith 'quid credas' and is institutionalized in the church militant; and after death, He harrowed Hell, ascended to Heaven, and will return on the Day of Judgment to lead the faithful to Heaven. This pattern is repeated in the poem first through the persona of the cross, which, crucified with Christ, is buried (75), 'resurrected' (76-77), and symbolically ascends triumphantly to heaven (80b-83, 85) whence it announces the Second Coming and the Last Judgment (103b-105). This progress of the cross, recounted factually in the poem, symbolizes allegorically the course of the Christian church: at first persecuted and forced underground, or 'buried', it was eventually 'resurrected', and became victorious as God's kingdom here on earth, the earthly counterpart of the atemporal church triumphant in heaven.

The dreamer also repeats the pattern: he is first sinful man, then he recognizes the meanings of the cross, and finally he envisions his future ascension to heaven. He understandably dwells on this aspect of the imitation of Christ, rather than predict the painful struggles, death, and burial, analogous to the crucifixion, attendant on following Christ. The life of the individual (the tropology), and the life of the church and of the historical Christ (the allegory), both follow the same course and are analogous. Furthermore, in The Dream of The Rood, the tropology—the cross in relation to the moral life of everyman—is central to the first part, but developed by the second and completed by the third; the allegory—the cross in relation to the church and to its history—is central to the second part, but is foreshadowed by the visible characteristics of the cross in the first part, and is directed by the anagogical values of the third; the anagoge—the cross in relation to heaven, when united to God—is central to the third part, but it subsumes the first two: the rood's position in the heavens in part one is anagogical, as is its prediction of the Last Judgment in part two.

The cross, literally by speaking the poem and figuratively by the meanings the poet develops in it, teaches the dreamer the way of Christian life and salvation. Structurally and symbolically the cross reveals incrementally all four levels. It is the literal, historical cross on which Christ was crucified; it is the sign that each Christian must bear in his heart and live by; it is the symbol of the faith, of all those crosses throughout the earth which symbolize the church militant; and it is the heavenly symbol of the church triumphant, of Christ's return from Hell to God; and because it is all these things, it is the instrument which leads man to God, and the pledge of life everlasting.

Much of the poem's complexity and emotional force derive from its use of the four levels, and from its genre, the dream vision. Indispensable to this genre is the persona who both acts and relates his experience. Through the very poem which narrates the dreamer's vision, the dreamer carries out the command presented by the dream: to bear witness to all mankind of the Christian faith by relating to men what he has learned. The persona's experience consequently becomes archetypal and propagandistic. The aim of the poem is to express a religious truth indirectly, by means of symbol and figure, so that through the intellectual exertion necessary to discover it, the reader will be both more aware of its value and more convinced of its truth.

This analysis has barely touched the richness and beauty of The Dream of The Rood, and it has not considered many of its sophisticated poetic devices. But, even from this examination of its language and philosophy, we can see that the Rood poet forged a complex, moving, and profound poem, one of the great monuments of English literature. The Dream of The Rood is the furthest thing imaginable from the patchwork, primitive effort it has frequently been considered.

John Canuteson (essay date 1969)

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John Canuteson (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: "The Crucifixion and the Second Coming in The Dream of the Rood," in Modern Philology, Vol. 66, No. 4, May, 1969, pp. 293-97.

[In the following essay, Canuteson compares the Crucifixion as portrayed in The Dream of the Rood with the Biblical descriptions of Christ's second coming.]

Praise for The Dream of the Rood has been uniformly generous. Charles W. Kennedy [The Earliest English Poetry, 1943] declares that it deserves "pre-eminent distinction as a superb lyric presentation of a religious adoration which finds its symbol in the Cross." In discussing possible sources for the poem, [Bruce] Dickins and [Alan S.C.] Ross mention [in The Dream of the Rood, 1966] the beautiful imagery, and Margaret Schlauch has pointed out [in "The Dream of the Rood as Prosopopoeia," in Essays and Studies in Honor of Carleton Brown, 1940] the uniqueness in Old English literature of The Dream of the Rood by virtue of the poet's technique of prosopopoeia: "To endow the cross with power of locution was to use a device of unexampled effectiveness in making vivid an event about which, for all devout Christians, the entire history of the world revolved."

The "effectiveness," then, of the poem has been beyond dispute. Some scholars have tried to determine influences on the poem, most notably H. R. Patch [in his "Liturgical Influence in The Dream of the Rood," PMLA XXIV (1919)], who has found parallels in Latin liturgical hymns, Miss Schlauch, who has pointed out Latin poems using prosopopoeia, and most recently John V. Fleming ["The Dream of the Rood and Anglo-Saxon Monasticism," Traditio XXII (1966)], who finds in the poem "a figurative statement of the main principles of early Benedictine asceticism and a typically monastic view of salvation." But against all source studies of this poem we have the warning by Dickins and Ross that the probable source for the poem was the poet's own emotion.

We must agree with Miss Schlauch that one of the things that make the poem so vivid is the personification of the Cross. But the poet seems also to have another way of making the moment of the crucifixion—or the meaning of the Cross—vivid, and a way which is much more immediate than personification derived from Latin poetry. The poet connects the crucifixion with the second coming of Christ and eternal life. By examining several passages in the Bible dealing with eschatology, particularly the new Jerusalem and the bride of Christ passages, we can see that the poet is able to underscore the significance of the crucifixion by looking forward to the Day of Judgment and the mystical marriage of Christ and the Church.

It is noteworthy that the poet's vision occurs at night, when other men are at rest (11. 1-3). Writing of the second coming of Christ, Paul tells the Thessalonians to be watchful, since "the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night" (I Thess. 5:2). He also reminds them that they are "children of the light," not of darkness:

  1. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
  2. For they that sleep sleep in the night.

In the vision the Cross is seen in the air, enveloped in light—brightness is its most startling characteristic—and visible at the corners of the earth, which the Cross reaches as it stretches across the sky. Moreover, the Cross is beheld by the host of angels and by men throughout the world. In Matthew, the disciples press Christ for more information about the last days, particularly for the sign of the end (24:3). He replies that temporal signs will be tribulation on earth, and he adds:

  1. For as lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. …
  2. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
  3. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

If one substitutes Christ for the Cross in lines 4-12, he will see how closely this vision follows that of the second coming. The gold and the gems with which the cross is adorned (11. 7, 16) may have their origin in another ac-count of the second coming, the description of the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21. The city, descending from heaven with brilliant light "like unto a stone most precious" (vss. 10-11), is of "pure gold," and its twelve foundations are each of a different gem. The difference between the Cross of Calvary and the Cross "begoten mid golde" or between the old and the new Jerusalem is one of glorification, the transmutation which takes place on Judgment Day.

The Rood not only reminds us of the new Jerusalem but also of the bride of Christ, as the poet develops his imagery along familiar scriptural lines. Throughout the Old Testament, the allegorical use of marriage was to indicate the relationship of God with his people, for example, Isaiah 54:5, Jeremiah 3:14, and Hosea 2:19. In the New Testament, however, Christ replaces Jehovah as the bridegroom, and the Church replaces the Israelites as the bride. Christ refers to himself and to the fact that he will be taken away by the metaphor of the bridegroom in Matthew 9:15; John the Baptist denies that he is the expected savior and mentions Christ as the bridegroom in John 3:28-29. The notion that the Church was the bride of Christ was established by the time that Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians: "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (11:2).

When Revelation was written, the bridegroom-bride metaphor had been fully developed in terms of the return of Christ and his marriage to the Church. The writer of Revelation uses it twice, the first time, in Revelation 19, rather simply:

  1. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
  2. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
  3. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of the Lord.

When he uses it the second time, in Revelation 21, the bride is the new Jerusalem: "And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (vs. 21).

That the personification of the Cross is amenable to interpretation as representing the Church seems possible on several grounds, not the least of which is the complete passivity of the Cross. It is angry and afraid—it wants to fell Christ's enemies, and it shakes when Christ mounts it—but in everything it exhibits a feminine submission. This passivity is dictated by submission to God's will (11. 35-36); nevertheless, one feels that he is witnessing feminine behavior. By line 90, the Cross can compare its/her prominence to that of Mary herself:

Hwæt, me ka geweorðode wuldres Ealdor
ofer holtwudu, heofonrices Weard,
swylce swa he his modor eac, Marian sylfe,
ælmihtig God, for ealle menn
geweorðode ofer eall wifa cynn.

In addition to this feminine passivity, other details seem to call attention to the Church as the bride of Christ. Dickins and Ross admit perplexity concerning the meaning of wœdum in "Geseah ic wuldres treow/wædum geweorðod wynnum scinan" (11. 14-15). They consider streamers, but state, "It is not at all clear what these are." By translating this passage, "I saw the cross of glory adorned with weeds shine with joys," and by taking the usual meaning of weeds as clothes, could not the sense be lifted from the description of the bride, "arrayed in fine linen," the joys being the heavenly bliss which awaits the faithful? Weeds in the sense of clothes must be the meaning in line 22 in which the cross changes from a covering of sweat to a covering of treasure:

         Geseah ic þæt fuse beacen
wendan wætan 7 bleom: hwilum hit wæs
    mid wætan bestemed,
beswyled mid swates gange, Hwilum mid
    since gegyrwed.

When the Cross begins to speak, it relates how it was cut down at the edge of the woods (1. 29) and commanded to bear criminals (1. 31). It was then set on a (different?) hill(1. 32), from which it saw the Lord of mankind "hasten, very much" toward it (11. 33-34). Miss [Rosemary] Woolf has noted [in her "Doctrinal Influences on The Dream of the Rood," Medium Aevum XXVII (1958)] a series of departures from scriptural accounts of the crucifixion in the Cross's speech, the first being that neither Christ nor Simon of Cyrene carries the cross: "That the cross is already in position and watches Christ advancing to it seems to be the poet's own variation." Other curious details follow.

Ongyred ehine þa geong Hæleð, (þæt wæs
  God ælmihtig),
strang 7 stiðmod. Gestah he on gealgan
modig on manigra gesyhðe, þa he wolde
  mancyn lysan.
Bifode ic þa me se Beorn ymbclypte; ne
  dorste ic hwæðre bugan to eorðan,
feallan to foldan sceatum. Ac ic sceolde
  fæste standan.
[ll. 39-43]

The stripping and the ascent onto the cross are also not found in the scriptures. These three distinct departures from biblical accounts of the crucifixion are interpreted by Miss Woolf as emphasizing "the confidence of divine victory and the voluntariness of Christ's undertaking the Crucifixion."

For the second of the details, the stripping, Miss Woolf maintains that the author "was following a patristic tradition, to be found, for instance, in Ambrose's commentary on Luke, of Christ as Kingly victor removing his clothes.… In The Dream of the Rood Christ is very clearly a hero stripping himself for battle." For the third detail, the poet has, she suggests, directly translated crucem ascendere, one of two "conventional expressions" of Latin hymnody, the result being that "the young hero's advance, and ascent of the Cross, is at once painless and heroic, and is therefore a most admirable symbol of the divine nature of Christ." My quibble with Miss Woolf would be that the crucifixion could hardly be considered painless with all the references to swat and blod, and the understatement, "þurhdrifan hi me mid deorcan næglum" (l. 46). While the account does show Christ's willingness, indeed his eagerness, to embrace his fate, it also reveals the physical details of what happens to a man, rather than a god, on the Cross.

The pattern of the details in lines 33-43 indicates a purpose on the part of the poet which would not exclude Christ's willingness to die. He is seen "efstan elne mycle, þæt he me wolde on gestigan." Then he takes off his clothes and embraces the Cross. Christ is strang as well as stiðmod; he is also modig—all the things that a woman would see and appreciate in a husband. The Cross, moreover, is demure—she trembles when she is embraced. This whole passage is simply a logical extension of the implications of the marriage of Christ and the Church.

The two have now become one. The dark nails are driven through the Cross, and on it are the wounds visible (ll. 46-47). "Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere." Miss Woolf observes: "The cross shares in all the sufferings of Christ, so that it seems to endure a compassion, in the sense in which that word was used in the Middle Ages to describe the Virgin's identification of her feelings with those of her Son in His Passion."

The Cross has reached a nearness to Christ that rivals that of Mary. The interesting statement follows, "Eall ic woes mid blode bestemed, / begoten of þæs Guman sidan" (ll. 48-49). This passage may have a reference to the origin of the Church in it, since Augustine had observed:

At the beginning of the human race the woman was made of a rib taken from the side of the man while he slept; for it seemed fit that even Christ and His Church should be foreshadowed in this event. For that sleep of the man was the death of Christ, whose side, as He hung lifeless upon the cross, was pierced with a spear, and there flowed from it blood and water, and these we know to be the sacraments by which the Church is "built up."

The vision of the Cross therefore is formulated in terms of the imagery of the second coming of Christ and the new Jerusalem, and a kind of marriage consummation takes place on the Cross. Lines 50-77 are taken up with more or less matter-of-fact details from the universal darkness on the day of the crucifixion to the finding of the buried Cross. In lines 78-94, the Cross points out her present state of veneration, and in lines 95 and following the Cross directs the poet to tell the vision to men:

onwreoh wordum  þæt hit is wuldres beam,
se ðe aelmihtig God  on þrowode
for mancynnes  manegum synnum
7 Adomes  ealdgewyrhtum.
Deað he þær byrigde.
[ll. 97-101]

But the Cross does not stop with the crucifixion. Instead, she goes on to relate the resurrection and the ascension, and to outline the second coming, as if these things were included by implication in the account of the crucifixion.

                    Hider eft fundaþ
on þsne middangeard  mancynn secan
on domdæge  Dryhten sylfa,
æmihtig God  7 his englas mid,
þaet he þonne wile deman,  se ah domes
[ll. 103-7]

Furthermore, the question Christ will ask will involve the Cross: "Hwær se man sie, / se ðe for Dryhtnes naman deaðes wolde / biteres onbyrigan, swa he ar on ðam beame dyde" (ll. 112-14). At lines 117 and following we learn that no one needs to be afraid who before bears the "beacna selest" in his breast. The last words that the Cross speaks connect most clearly the Cross to eternal life:

Ac ðþurh ða rode sceal  rice gesecan
of eorðwege  æghwylc sawl,
seo þe mid Wealdende  wunian þenceð.

The poet begins to speak again at line 122, reporting that he prayed to the Cross. His life apparently has been redirected by the vision, since

           Is me nu lifes hyht
þæet ic bone sigebeam  secan mote…
            min mundbyrd is
geriht to þære rode.
[ll. 126-31]

He thinks of his friends briefly, who "lifiað nu on heofenum mid Heahædere," and longs for the day when the Cross will bring him to heaven:

                   þær is blis mycel,
dream on heofonum,  þær is Dryhtnes folc
geseted to symle [i.e. the wedding feast].
[ll. 139-41]

For the poet there is an undeniable connection between the Cross of Calvary and heavenly life.

                     Si me Dryhten freond,
se ðe her on eorþan  ær þrowode
on þam gealgtreowe  for guman synnum:
he us onlysde,  7 us lif forgeaf,
heofonlicne ham.
[ll. 144-48]

O. D. Macrae-Gibson (essay date 1969)

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O. D. Macrae-Gibson (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: "Christ the Victor-Vanquished in The Dream of the Rood, " in Neuphilologische Mitteilungen: Bulletin de la Société Né'ophilologique, Vol. LXX, 1969, pp. 667-72.

[In the excerpt below, Macrae-Gibson focuses on the transformations of the Christ-figure in The Dream of the Rood.]

Since Rosemary Woolf's well-known article ["Doctrinal Influence on The Dream of the Rood, "Medium Aevum 27 (1958)] it has been a commonplace of criticism of the poem that the active principle in Christ's approach to the crucifixion, that springing from his Godhead, is given by the poet to the figure of Christ; the passive principle, springing from his manhood, to that of the Cross. The way in which the Cross acts as surrogate for Christ in respect of "what is mortal and weak in Him" has recently been very fully examined by F. H. Patten [in her "Structure and Meaning in The Dream of the Rood, " English Studies 49 (1968)]. This does not mean that the images of Christ and of the Cross are unchanging in their significances through the poem; another recent article, ["The Dream of the Rood: Patterns of Transformation," Old English Poetry: Fifteen Essays, 1967] by L. H. Leiter, should be an effective counter to any such suggestion. The image of Christ, in particular, moves between the figures of the defeated and of the triumphant warrior.

Leiter, however, in his concern to demonstrate a parallel change of status in the three "characters" of the poem (Christ, Cross, and Dreamer) seems to me to have gone somewhat astray in his detailed analysis of the transformations which the Christ-figure undergoes. For Leiter the young hero Christ appears first as one who "has been defeated in battle. This defeat the Cross points up by saying heton me heora wergas hebban" (31b). Though "the defeated hero… still has the hero's ellen (34a)…, he is tortured, pierced with deorcan nœglum (46a)", and only after his death does he rise to the quality of the victorious hero. The intention of the present article is to examine closely just what transformations in his Christ-figure the poet in fact works, and how he manages them.

First, then, the figure does not come on the scene as a warrior defeated in battle. The fact that those who set up the Cross heton me heora wergas hebban merely expresses their intention for it. The intention was not realised; the Cross did not become fracodes gealga (10b). The poet could not have meant the term werg to apply to Christ; it would have made of him not a heroic though defeated warrior but an accursed evil-doer. The Christ-figure appears as an active hero eagerly approaching for battle. The first six verbs used of Christ, in lines 34-42, all attribute action to him (efstan, wolde gestigan, ongyrede, gestah, wolde lysan, ymbclypte). The descriptions of him in the same passage, as strang, stiðmod, modig, and coming elne mycle, are not those of a defeated warrior, but of the mighty king (ricne cyning) of 44b. Active himself, he can command passivity in the Cross (35ff.). The Cross, on the other hand, attracts references using passives and negatives—ic ne dorste (35a), wœs ic arœred (44a), ne dorste (45b), þurhdrifan hi me (46a). Even where the Cross is the subject of an active verb the sense is not of outgoing action—ic fœste stod (38b), bifode ic (42a), ic sceolde fœste standan (43b). It is the Cross-figure, not the Christ-figure, which is made the object of the blows, wounds, and shame of lines 46-47a (a fact oddly passed over by Leiter, who treats them as helping to establish the defeated status of Christ on his entry into the poem).

The active image of Christ the Warrior being thus established, the transformations can begin. The first sign of a shift to passivity has already appeared in line 44b; then in line 48 the shame is extended to Christ in close linkage with the Cross, an extension bound to the first reference to Christ's death by the alliterative linking between their joint shame and the blood from his side. The transformation to a suffering, passive, "defeated" Christ is not yet complete, however: his death is here made active on his part; he "sent out his spirit" (49b). A further stage in the transformation follows in lines 51b-55a. The reference to Christ is unfortunately uncertain both syntactically and semantically. If þenian means "stretch out" it may have Christ as its object or subject, in the latter case with "himself " or "his hands" as understood objects; alternatively it may be held to mean simply "exert himself". Moreover þearle may be taken as retaining the sense "cruelly" or as a simple intensive. The alliterative association, however, of þearle þenian with the darkness which covered Christ's body strongly suggests that the image is one of suffering rather than action; the bright radiance (whether this be taken as actually Christ's body or as the Sun which so familiarly represents the glory of the Son) disappears in dark shadow. This leads on to the final stage of this first transformation (though not without a hint of the reversal which is to come, for cloud and shadow can cover light, but not extinguish it), the direct presentation of the defeated warrior. Christ has suffered fyll (56a), after hefig wite (61a). He is dead, or he could not have a bana (66a); the tomb and the dirge are just (65b, 67b); the cold of death is on him (72b). The simple physicality of the fact is emphasised by the third-person reference to the cross in line 56b, not at this point the actor in the drama but the bare wood.

Patten, while agreeing that it is "the divine, victorious, heroic nature of Christ" which is first established, considers that "this nature of Christ prevails throughout the crucifixion" up to the point where "He is referred to at the moment of his burial as the 'lord of victories' "; her analysis, however, concentrates almost exclusively on the titles used to describe Christ, and takes no account of the other signs of a transformation of attitude to him which I have dealt with above. In keeping with this view, while accepting that the human aspect of the Christ-figure appears in the poem at the Deposition (notably in the description of him "as 'limbweary' (1. 63a), a movingly human term, and then as 'worn out' (1. 65a)"), she cannot accept that this extends to a direct, clear presentation of him as dead: "the tone is… deliberately calculated to de-emphasize the degradation of Christ's burial … This has the result of sanctifying Christ: He clearly has a mortal aspect, but it must not be so described as to impair His necessary remoteness." "…indeed, His death is something too mysterious and holy to be spoken of without euphemism: 'and he hine ðær hwile reste… .' ". I can see nothing remote about hrœw colode (72b), and the image of the warrior's "rest" is rather set in deliberate contrast to that of his death than introduced as a softening euphemism.

It is, in fact, one of three ways in which the image of the dead and defeated is modified. First, the incredible paradox that the passive figure is in fact Almighty, the figure lying low so that one looks down on it is the Lord of high heaven, the defeated figure is the Ruler of all victories, is stressed in the juxtaposition (to which Woolf has drawn attention) of these titles of the Divine Victor and descriptions of the human victim (lines 60b, 64a, 67a). The device in fact appeared as soon as the transformation of the Christ-figure began to appear. The first real action assigned to the Cross and the first suffered by Christ appear in the double paradox of line 44, in which a thing itself so passive as to be lifted up by men is yet so active as to lift up one who could need no lifting, since his domain is in the Highest. And then the solitary figure cruelly stretched out in line 52a (if that is the correct rendering) is the God of Hosts. Second, the point already mentioned, alongside the image of the dead and defeated warrior runs that of the warrior resting, after victory one would have said (lines 64b-65a and 69b); resting only for a while—the metrical stress on hwile (64b) is important. Third, it is three times indicated that what lay dead was body only. Two of the three indications are relatively unemphatic (hrœw in lines 53b and 72b), but the remaining one is striking; the ordinary construction one might have expected in line 63b would be him œt pœm heafdum, but the poet brings in, and gives a main metrical stress to, his lices.

This last modification of the simple image of the dead looks forward to the resolution of the paradox of the victor-vanquished. The body appears vanquished; the spirit is engaged in victorious battle with Satan before the gates of Hell. The resolution is explicit, and the transformations of the Christ-figure are completed, in the conclusion of the poem as Christ comes victorious from that expedition with the host of spirits which, as weruda God, he properly leads. His divine titles are no longer set gainst his human sufferings; Almighty God is home, in his own eðel (156). For the purpose of the poet's transformation of his Christ-figure to this conclusion Christ's bodily resurrection would be intrusive; it is referred to in low key in the doctrinal passage of lines 98 ff., but it is not dramatically presented. Rather the emphasis is on the raising up of the Cross, to whom the power of God on earth is largely assigned in the later parts of the poem.

Carol Jean Wolf (essay date 1970)

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Carol Jean Wolf (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: "Christ as Hero in The Dream of the Rood," in Neuphilologische Mitteilungen: Bulletin de la Société Néophilologique, Vol. LXXI, No. 3, 1970, pp. 202-10.

[In the following essay, Wolf examines the poet's 'presentation of the Crucifixion as a battle" in The Dream of the Rood, focusing on theme and diction.]

The unlettered singer who attempts to create songs embodying thematic material novel to his tradition encounters severe and sometimes insurmountable difficulties. With the option of creating original formulas virtually denied him, the artist must find the means of expressing these new ideas in the traditional verses developed slowly by generations of his predecessors in their treatment of stories long familiar both to themselves and to their audiences. That he does not always succeed in the task is clear from the failure of Yugoslavian bards to cope with the socio-political themes of Marxism. Problems similar to those faced by the Yugoslavian singers must have confronted the Anglo-Saxon scop who sought to express within his songs the novel subjects and themes brought to his island by Christianity, for he, too, worked within a tradition which, if not necessarily oral, at least utilized formulaic techniques surviving from an earlier epoch. Of the extant Old English verses, few offer greater testimony to the ability of these poets to effect a fruitful wedding of their heroic tradition to a Christian subject than those describing the crucifixion of Christ (33b-76a) in The Dream of the Rood.

Throughout the crucifixion passage, the Roodpoet uses the traditional language of Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry to depict Christ as a hero valiantly engaging in conflict. He emphasizes the Redeemer's heroism by describing Him as a warrior-lord, explicitly calling Him a young hero (39a), a warrior (42a), and a powerful king (44b). Christ appears, moreover, as the prince (58a) and the illustrious ruler (69a), titles which, as Robert E. Diamond has observed [in his "Heroic Diction in The Dream of the Rood," in Studies in Honor of John Wilcox, 1958] are frequently applied to the heroes of Beowulf Accordingly, when the Rood-poet uses such phrases to describe Christ he invests Him with the aura surrounding the traditional heroic figure.

However, the Christ of The Dream of the Rood is not a warrior-lord in name only, for the poet surrounds Him with the retainers who accompany the lord in the Germanic comitatus. When he describes Christ's ascent to the cross as an embrace ("me se beorn ymbclypte," 42a), the Rood-poet employs a verb strongly reminiscent of that used in The Wanderer to describe the lord-thane relationship: "þinced him on mode þaet he his mondryhten/clyþþe ond cysse," (41-42a, my emphasis). Throughout the passage he repeatedly indicates that the cross is indeed the thane of Christ. It does not dare to fall to the earth when Christ ascends it because to do so would be to disobey its lord's command (35-36a). Like a good thane, the cross would defend the prince but it must again restrain itself because of the master's word (37b-38). When the apostles come to care for the body of Christ, the cross bows down meekly with great zeal to deliver the corpse into their hands:

Sare ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed,    hnag ic
  hwæðre þam secgum to handa,
eaðmod elne mycle.    Genamon hie pær
  ælmihtigne god,
ahofon hine of ðam hefian wite.

The similarity of the phrase "eaðmod elne mycle" to the one utilized by the poet to describe Christ's hastening to the cross, "efstan elne mycle" (34a), serves to link the Lord and the cross. One might suspect, moreover, that the Anglo-Saxon audience would have been alert to the contrast suggested by the first words of each of the formulas. Christ, the lord, is actively hastening to the crucifixion, while the cross, after the conflict, is still obedient to the lord's command, passively submitting to being handled by the apostles, but submitting with zeal because he fulfills Christ's wishes by so doing.

The apostles who come to remove Christ's body from the cross also appear as retainers. The poet describes them as soldiers (59b) and as battle-warriors (61b). According to Albert S. Cook [in The Dream of the Rood, 1905], this term "hilderincas" appears only in four other poems in the entire corpus of Old English poetry, all war poems. Later in the passage, the "friends" who discover the cross (their relation to Christ is relatively comparable to that of the apostles) are specifically called thanes of the Lord (75b). By standing firm during the crucifixion, the cross obeys his lord's command and renders his proper service as a retainer to the prince. Similarly, the apostles who remove the corpse from the cross, prepare the sepulchre for their prince, and sing a dirge lamenting his death fulfill the retainer's duty of attending to the burial of his dead lord.

Just as the poet presents Christ as a warrior-lord, he trans-forms the crucifixion into a heroic conflict. With his use of "ðam miclan gewinne" (65a) to describe the crucifixion, he evokes a military aura, for "gewin" can mean "battle," "strife," and "contest" in addition to "agony." Similarly, the cross refers to the men who preside at the crucifixion as foes (38a) and describes itself as being wounded with arrows (62b). These "arrows" are most probably the nails with which Christ was fastened to the tree. However, by referring to them with the military "strælum," the poet greatly enhances his presentation of the crucifixion as a battle. Moreover, Christ moves toward the cross as a hero preparing himself for conflict. Throughout the passage, He is an active, even eager agent:

                 Geseah ic þa frean mancynnes
efstan elne mycle    þæt he me wolde on gestigan.
Þær ic þa ne dorste    ofer dryhtnes word
bugan oððe berstan,    þa ic bifian geseah
eorðan sceatas.    Ealle ic mihte
feondas gefyllan,    hwæðre ic fæste stod.
  Ongyrede hine þa geong hæleð,    (þæt wæs
  god ælmihtig),
strang ond stiðmod.    Gestah he on gealgan
modig on manigra gesyhðe,    þa he wolde
  mancyn lysan.

The Christ of The Dream of the Rood is not crucified; rather, He willingly ascends the cross, exhibiting as He does so the traditional heroic qualities of strength, resolution, and boldness. All the verb constructions describing the movement toward the cross are active with Christ as their subject. Moreover, the verb "ongyrede" which the poet uses to describe Christ's stripping is similar to the "gyrede" which appears in numerous descriptions of warriors arming themselves for battle. Consequently, the phrase, although it ironically describes Christ's stripping, strongly suggests that Christ is indeed a hero preparing himself for an impending conflict.

The discussion thus far has centered on the diction of The Dream of the Rood, the picture of Christ as a hero engaging in a heroic conflict created by the poet's use of a multitude of individual heroic or military details in his description of the crucifixion. The formulaic poet has available to him, however, not only a traditional diction but also certain larger formulaic structures which he may use as the basis of his narrative. In a recent article, "Old English Formulaic Themes and Type-Scenes," Donald K. Fry defines two such formulaic structures as they appear in Anglo-Saxon narrative poetry:

A type-scene in Old English formulaic poetry may be defined … as a recurring stereotyped presentation of conventional details used to describe a certain narrative event, requiring neither verbatim repetition nor a specific formula content; and a theme may be defined as a recurring concatenation of details and ideas, not restricted to a specific event, verbatim repetition, or certain formulas, which forms an underlying structure for an action or description.

Typical examples of type-scenes are banquets, seavoyages, councils, approaches to battle, and battles. Examples of themes include the "hero on the beach" and exile. Two such formulaic structures appear in the Rood, the "approach to battle" and the "hero on the beach." By using these to describe the crucifixion and burial of Christ, respectively, the poet effectively reinforces his presentation of Christ as a hero and the crucifixion as a heroic encounter.

In another discussion of the "approach to battle" typescene, Fry lists nine details which frequently recur in various combinations and orders in the descriptions of such scenes. These include the assembly and preparation of the troops for battle, the issuing of the leader's command, the advance of the forces to the battle-ground, their bearing of equipment, the presence of the beasts of battle, the combatants' haste to enter the fighting, their attitude, and their objectives or intent. Fry notes, however, that no one of the seventeen passages he analysed "includes all nine details [nor] does any one detail occur in all seventeen passages."

The description of Christ's movement to the cross in The Dream of the Rood (33b-41) contains many of these elements characteristic of the "approach to battle" typescene. The whole passage is an advance to the conflict of the crucifixion depicting Christ's progress from when He is first seen by the cross to His actual embrace of the tree. As He approaches the hill, Christ is hastening with great zeal (34a). He intends to climb up onto the cross so that He might redeem mankind (34b, 41b). The cross's comment that he did not dare to bow or burst in disregard of the Lord's word (35-36a) implies that he has been commanded by Christ to stand firm. "Ongyrede hine ta geong hæleð" (39a) suggests preparation for battle, as was discussed above. In His approach to the cross, moreover, the Redeemer exhibits the heroic attitudes of resolution (40a) and boldness (41a).

In the earlier discussion of this passage, these features were considered merely as independent elements of the poet's heroic diction. The similarity of these details to the elements of advance, haste, intent, command, preparation, and attitude which appear in many "approach to battle" type-scenes suggests, however, that the poet's concatenation of these details may also be of significance. By paralleling his description of Christ's movement to the cross to the pattern of the "approach to battle" type-scene, the Rood-poet brings all the associations accruing to such scenes from their use in the traditional songs to bear upon this passage, revealing by structure as well as diction his conception of the crucifixion as a heroic conflict.

His use of the theme of the "hero on the beach" in his description of the burial of Christ operates similarly to heighten the heroic tone of the passage. David K. Crowne ["The Hero on the Beach: an Example of Composition by Theme in Anglo-Saxon Poetry," Neuphilologishe Mitteilungen LXI (1960)] was the first to isolate the "hero on the beach" theme, which he defines as a "stereotyped way of describing (1) a hero on the beach (2) with his retainers (3) in the presence of a flashing light (4) as a journey is completed (or begun)." Subsequent studies by Alain Renoir and Donald Fry have demonstrated that the hero need not be on a beach but may also be in a doorway, the essential condition being, according to Renoir, not his specific location but his position, as it were, between two worlds.

In The Dream of the Rood, the hero is neither a warrior on the beach nor one in a doorway but rather Christ in the sepulchre:

Aledon hie ðær limwerigne,    gestodon him
  æt his lices heafdum,
beheoldon hie ðær heofenes dryhten,    ond he
  hine ðær hwile reste,
meðe after ðam miclan gewinne.    Ongunon
  him þa moldern wyrcan
beornas on banan gesyhðe;    curfon hie ðæt
  of beorhtan stane,
gesetton    hie    ðæron    sigora    wealdend.
  him þa sorhleoð galan
earme on þa æfentide,    þa hie woldon eft
meðe fram þam mæran þeodne.    Reste he
  ðær mæte weorode.

Resting as He is between the crucifixion and the resurrection, the Lord is clearly between two worlds, life and death. This rather tenuous connection of the sepulchre to the beach or doorway would hardly be sufficient to justify calling this a "hero on the beach" theme if the remaining elements did not correspond so closely to those isolated by Crowne. Most telling is the presence of the extraneous light in the bright stone of the sepulchre. The retainers are the apostles who remove the body of Christ from the cross and subsequently fashion the grave. Two sets of journeys center around the burial. Christ himself has just journied to the cross to redeem mankind. The apostles have completed one journey to Christ (they came hastening from afar), and they depart on another after singing a dirge for their Lord.

While the "approach to battle" type-scene enhances the Rood-poet's presentation of the crucifixion as a battle, the "hero on the beach" theme specifically reflects the heroism of Christ both by emphasizing His position as a warrior-lord and by associating Him once more with the heroic figures of the traditional stories. That the poet should choose to use this theme as the underlying structure for his description of the burial of Christ suggests that the Lord remains a hero even though He is apparently defeated in His battle, and, moreover, since Christ is soon to embark on another journey in His harrowing of hell (Rood 148a-156), that His death as man is merely the transition between the two journeys which He is making as God.

The Rood-poet's presentation of Christ as a hero valiantly engaging in combat has been severely criticized by Robert Diamond who finds the spirit of the poem inappropriate to the crucifixion and can only attribute the poet's use of heroic language to his being a prisoner of his tradition:

There are not an infinite number of ways to express an idea in correct verses; there are only the traditional ways. While the poet can rely on the traditional diction to help him out of tight places in composing, he is also caught in the net of tradition, so to speak—he cannot compose in any other way. This applies not only to his actual choice of words, but to the themes and narrative techniques of his work.

Diamond errs, however, in assuming that an Anglo-Saxon formulaic poet treating the subject of the crucifixion had no alternative but to present it as a heroic encounter. Indeed, in the Christ, a work roughly contemporary with The Dream of the Rood, the Redeemer appears not as a hero but rather as a sacrificial victim.

The descriptions of the crucifixion in Christ 1090-1127 and 1428-1468 are strikingly devoid of the heroic material found in the Rood. Christ appears only as ruler (1096a) and lord (1108). These titles are so frequently used to refer to God in Anglo-Saxon religious poetry that unless they are surrounded as in The Dream of the Rood by a plethora of elements characterizing God as a warrior-lord, they lose their heroic significance entirely. Similarly, the crucifixion in Christ is a sacrifice rather than a battle. The cross is merely the holy tree (1093a). On it Christ suffers gloryless body-pain (1429b) and evil affliction (1452a). Moreover, the poet extensively describes the nature of these afflictions, the spectators' mockery of Christ, His being given a drink of vinegar and gall, and the crowning with thorns (1433-1445). Far from being an eager hero, the Redeemer appears as a victim. In both passages, He is hanged upon the cross (1093, 1446); He does not actively climb up onto it as in the Rood. He rather than the cross is meek-minded (1442a). Three verbs summarize the activity of Christ; He receives insults ("onfeng," 1436a, 1439a), suffers ("geþolade," 1434b, 1442b; "þolade," 1451b), and endures ("þrowade," 1117b, 1433b). This suffering, passive Lord is the antithesis of the mighty warrior presented by the Rood-poet. He is not fighting for mankind, but rather buying (1095b, 1462b) eternal life for man at the price of His own life.

If the tradition which fostered the poets of both Christ and The Dream of the Rood can permit such disparate descriptions of the crucifixion, the critic must hesitate before attributing the heroic diction of the Rood to the tyranny of this tradition. Assuredly the poet's presentation of Christ as a warrior-lord and the crucifixion as a battle strikingly transforms the Gospel narratives. He is not, however, the first to describe the event in heroic terms, for to Saint Paul Christ was not only the sacrificial lamb, but also the "captain of [our] salvation" who took upon Himself flesh and blood so that "through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2.10,14). Moreover, like Saint Paul, the Rood-poet presents Christ as a hero who emerges victorious from the conflict of the crucifixion.

Throughout the crucifixion passage, the Rood-poet minimizes the agonies endured by Christ. His transformation of the slayer-cross into a retainer of the Lord emphasizes its aiding Christ in the conflict rather than its being an instrument of His death. Similarly, this speaking cross describes the humiliations and agonies of the crucifixion as he, rather than Christ, endured them. He tells the dreamer that he, not Christ, endured many cruel fates on Calvary (50-51a). Describing the fastening of Christ to the tree, he explains how he himself was pierced with nails (46a). The mockery of the soldiers, the cross says, both he and Christ endured together (48a). When the Lord's side is pierced, the poet concentrates on the blood's covering the cross rather than on the Redeemer's wound (48-49a). While the poet of the Christ emphasizes the sacrificial nature of the crucifixion by vividly describing Christ's agonies, the Rood-poet attributes these sufferings to the cross, thus minimizing the sacrifice of Christ and preparing the way for his presentation of the crucifixion as a victory.

In his description of the death of Christ, the Rood-poet reveals that the apparent defeat of the crucifixion was, in reality, a divine triumph. He has called the crucifixion a conflict ("gewinne," 65a), using a term which in addition to connoting strife and agony can also mean "fruit of labors," "gain," or "profit." When he depicts the death of Christ, the poet presents all creation weeping for the fall of the King (55b-56a); yet he describes the Christ whom the apostles remove from the cross not as dead but rather as weary. He calls Him the limb-weary one (63a), one who is tired (65a), and presents Him as resting both before and after He is actually placed in the sepulchre (64b, 69b). Although such descriptions appear to be typical examples of Anglo-Saxon understatement, their use does permit the suggestion that what in human terms is burial becomes in divine merely repose for a time before the harrowing of hell and the resurrection. The "hero on the beach" theme carries with it, moreover, strong associations of victory. Almost invariably, the journey of the hero is either the prelude or the sequel to a triumph. Accordingly, when the poet uses this theme in his description of the burial of Christ, he reveals once more that the crucifixion which he presents is a glorious triumph rather than a sacrifice. The Christ whom the apostles place in the tomb is truly, as he declares, the ruler of victories (67a).

The Christian's knowledge of Christ's resurrection enables him to perceive that the sufferings and humiliations of the crucifixion are the occasion of Christ's victory over Satan and the death which he first brought into the world. By utilizing the formulaic techniques of Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry to present Christ as a conquering hero, the Rood-poet creates a work which embodies this vision of the significance of the crucifixion. In his skillful hands, the heroic and Christian tradition are so united as to produce one of the finest religious poems in the English language.

Edward B. Irving, Jr. (essay date 1986)

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Edward B. Irving, Jr. (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: "Crucifixion Witnessed, or Dramatic Interaction in The Dream of the Rood," in Modes of Interpretation in Old English Literature: Essays in Honour of Stanley B. Greenfield, Phyllis Rugg Brown, Georgia Ronan Crampton, Fred C. Robinson, eds., University of Toronto Press, 1986, pp. 101-13.

[In the following essay, Irving describes the treatment of the Crucifixion from the perspectives of the poem's two main characters, the Dreamer and the Rood.]

Very few of the countless artistic representations of the Crucifixion in the Middle Ages have the capacity to seize our imaginations like the Old English poem we call The Dream of the Rood. Probably it is rivalled only in the visual arts. Other literary attempts in English to express the complex experience of suffering and witnessing that dominates the event seem to fall short of The Dream of the Rood's special intensity. I think specifically of the later religious lyrics where the listener or reader is urged to meditate on the catalogued afflictions of Christ; or the more dramatic renditions where the listener or reader, taken into the scene as spectator or passer-by, is movingly addressed directly by a reproachful Christ from the cross (particularly in the 'O vos omnes' theme), or where pain is inflicted on Christ's passive body by a squad of irritable soldiers (York Crucifixion play) or (a close analogue) literary or dramatic works where the listener or reader is invited to share the helpless agony of Mary on Golgotha—this last often a dialogue between Christ's two natures, with Mary representing the suffering human and the majestic son on the cross the divine.

This essay will explore the process of dramatization and the psychology of the two main characters in the poem, especially in the first half of it, trying to isolate more clearly what, despite many excellent critical attempts, have never yet been quite satisfactorily defined: the operative elements in The Dream of the Rood's massive emotional power. This attempt will not be quite satisfactory either, it goes without saying, but I hope it may advance our understanding and appreciation a small way by taking a slightly different approach; in any encounter with such a masterpiece, that may be worth doing.

From the very beginning of the poem and all the way on to its ending, we can see a clear process under way, a development away from confusion, or even from downright befuddlement, towards clarity, confidence, and certainty. A poem of progressive enlightenment must begin in the dark. It should be noted that this vision-poem starts with total non-vision, the blackness of sleep and midnight, though the enthusiastic tone of the opening lines in itself hints strongly at the prospect of ultimate success.

Hwæt! Ic swefna cyst    secgan wylle
h[w]æt me gemætte    to midre nihte,
syðpan reordberend    reste wunedon.

Listen to me, I wish to tell the very best of visions, what I dreamed at midnight, when speech-bearers dwelt in their beds.

At once this darkness becomes semi-darkness, the dubious and impeded vision of the subjunctive: 'Þuhte me þæt ic gesawe / syllicre treow' ('it seemed to me that I might have seen a very strange tree'). This subjunctive form of the verb 'to see' later clarifies itself, as the features of the objects seen become more distinct, into the firmer indicatives of lines 14 and 21: 'geseah ic' ('I clearly saw') (giving the perfective prefix 'ge-' full value). There is still much paradox here, of course, since the more plainly the object is seen, the more details are made out, the less its nature seems tobe understood.

It is a very strange Tree that the character I will henceforth call simply Dreamer thinks he might have seen, a Tree first perceived as an almost formless upward surge of light and power into the air, becoming some kind of signalling object, a 'beacen,' covered with brightly radiant gold and gems. That Dreamer does not yet know himself what this object is is implied by the very fact that he is at once contrasted with, and feels himself inferior to, certain others who do know—who identify it and show their reverence towards it. Hosts of angels behold it and know it, angels we see only after his (and our) eyes have been steadily guided upward to the cross-beam and then above. The angels thus seem to appear in that 'heavenly' space above the cross-bar where we see them depicted in early Christian art, bending towards or cradling Christ's serene and divine head, while below the cross-beam, in the mortal or 'earthly' space, blood flows from Christ's wounds or his legs may be twisted in pain.

This tree is then a public sight, drawing the attentive gaze of many. Yet it is not the most common kind of public sight that it might at first superficially resemble, the gallows of an ordinary criminal. Like Anglo-Saxon poets elsewhere, Dreamer proceeds in his definition of what he is looking at by first eliminating what the thing is not. If it were a mere gallows, it could never be the cynosure of the admiring gaze of the fair and the holy, and of all men and all nature.

But repetition of the word 'syllic' ('strange') in line 13 recalls us to the state of mind of the puzzled Dreamer who cannot view the tree as the rest of the universe apparently does; they know something he does not yet know. The tree's uncomfortable strangeness takes on new meaning through the way it now makes impact on Dreamer (an impact reinforced effectively by the alliteration of 'syllic' and 'synnum'):

Syllic wæs se sigebeam,    ond ic synnum fah,
forwundod mid wommum.

Strange was that potent tree and I stained with sins, desperately wounded with corruptions.

All that we have so far been told is that Dreamer sees the glorious beauty of the tree. Why then, from where, does he get this sudden overwhelming sense of sin? One might call it an abrupt and startling sense of self, as if the object of his vision had turned without warning into a mirror of blinding clarity. It would be much too rational to say flatly that he thinks along such lines as these: 'Because I'm not able to see what those angels are obviously looking at, since I don't know what it can be, I must be stained and sick with sin.' But that connection of ideas must be some part of it. Part of it too is his apparent intuition that beneath all that gold and glory is hidden something uglier, blood and wounds like his own, an ugliness he seems to sense the presence of even before we are told that he actually sees it. I am fumbling without much success after something important here. Perhaps Dreamer's puzzlement, and insight, and the flickering ambivalence of what he is straining so hard to see clearly (yet perhaps also resisting the implications of ) are all better reflected in strictly poetic form resistant to paraphrase: for example, in pun-like turns on words and paradoxical echoes that bring out both positive and negative meanings, in 'fah' ('bright-coloured') and 'fag' ('marked with evil'), or in 'bewunden' ('wound about, adorned') and 'forwundod' ('desperately wounded'). Despite the difficulties of vision, or because of the effort they demand, or because of Dreamer's new self-knowledge, it is at this point, as I remarked earlier, that he shifts fully into the indicative and can analyse with more assurance the mysteries before him, or at least take them more firmly into his range of vision.

He looks hard at the object. He sees a tree of glory, covered with clothing (can it then be a human figure, somehow?), shining with joys (emotionally electrifying and positive), drenched in the light and jewels of honour and reverence. Words wrenched slightly askew from their expected meanings (like 'wædum,' 'clothing') keep telling us that this is a riddle-object before us, and that there are rules to the guessing-game one must play in identifying it. One rule is that the object is not to be called by its proper name, Rood, until the Rood itself, in lofty heroic style, names itself proudly, at the very moment when it ceases entirely to be a forest-tree and rises symbolically to become a cross, The Cross: 'Rod wæs ic aræred' ('Rood was I raised up '44). It reminds us of how, at the appropriate stage in his advance into Denmark to take on the task of fighting the monster Grendel, another riddling heroic figure proclaims his identity: 'Beowulf is min nama' (Beowulf 343).

Now, though still far from being able to guess the riddle, Dreamer peers and scrutinizes anxiously, and not altogether in vain. His vision penetrates some distance.

                             Gimmas hæfdon
bewrigene weorðlice    weald[end]es treow.
Hwæðbre ic 'þurh þæt gold    ongytan meahte
earmra ærgewin,    þæt hit ærest ongan
swætan on þa swiðran healfe.

Jewels had covered beautifully the tree of the ruler. But still I could perceive through that gold the ancient agony of wretched men, could perceive that it first began to bleed on the right side.

Dreamer speaks almost as if he had solved the riddle, breaking through a deceptive facade (jewels) to the bitter and ugly truth within. Not only does he seem to see through this mask of outward beauty in space, he seems also to peer back through time to some past history of suffering, as if the very past began to betray itself by bleeding, at the very moment when he saw it. The intense effort of perception has its immediate effect. His intuition forces him to confront himself in this glimpse of blood and agony. He is now, as he must be, paradoxically terrified of the beautiful sight: 'forht ic wæs for þære fægran gesyhðe' (21a).

Yet at this point he must stop. Without other help, he can see no more and can go no further inunderstanding either what is in front of him or the obscure emotions seething inside him. He can only lie passively watching the glimmering rapid transmutations of the lovely/hideous riddle-object before him: its changing of clothes and colours (hinting, though Dreamer does not yet know this, at Christ's garments, bruised skin, streaming blood); its abrupt shift from being soaked in blood-wetness to gleaming with treasure (with perhaps some constant quality of shininess as a common visual ground); its state of being 'fus,' restlessly unstable and always ready to be converted into something else at any moment.

To have the Rood itself (or, to name and personify our second character, Rood himself) furnish the needed help by explaining his own meaning to Dreamer seems to require, theologically speaking, that Dreamer first be in a state of repentance, as Robert Burlin has pointed out, citing the word 'hreowcearig' in line 25 as meaning 'repentant.' Such repentance involves complex feelings: Dreamer's bafflement, and his anxiety about his lack of understanding; his admiration for the Tree's remote and dazzling beauty; his flinching back from what hedoes partly discover about what is in front of him and what is within him; his silent childlike waiting in hope of some further guidance.

There is a clear and important transition from Dreamer's confused state to the beginning of Rood's autobiographical narrative, one that links the two characters. Rood seems at the outset of his story more than a little like Dreamer, unable to make full sense of the ironies and paradoxes of his own experience—or at least telling his story in a way to give that impression, for Rood always speaks in the present dramatic moment and without retrospective and authoritative understanding of the full meaning of the events in which he participates.

The first lines of Rood's speech place him in a somewhat misleading context:

Dæt was geara iu,    (ic þæet gyta geman),
þæt ic wæs aheawen    holtes on ende,
astyred of stefne minum.

That was very long ago—I still remember it—that I was hewn down at the forest's edge, moved from my trunk.

The first line is formulaic in an old tradition of heroic poetry. It is reminiscent, for example, of the opening of Beowulf's long speech before his doomed fight with the dragon, where the hero falls back on his early memories to strengthen himself for present action:

Fela ic giogoðe    guðræsa genæs,
orleghwila;    ic þæt eall gemon.

I survived many warlike encounters in youth, times of fighting. I remember all that.

The associations of such a formula might prepare us to think of Rood as a heroic figure but, as he tells what happened to him, we wonder whether he indeed plays any heroic role at all, for he seems disturbingly passive for a hero, allowing others to cut him down (warriors are 'hewn down' in Old English poetry just as trees are), carry him, make evil use of him. His history thus is a close parallel to the preceding vision, where the glorious (heroic) Tree as Dreamer sees it is half the time scarred and blurred by marks of defeat and bloody agony. The placing of verbs at the crucial beginnings of verses in lines 30-3 ('astyred,' 'genamon,' 'geworhton,' 'heton,' 'bæron,' 'gefæstnodon') relentlessly stresses the series of brutal actions carried out on him, ironically reminding us of the many actions this hero is not carrying out himself. When Rood at last sees Christ approaching him to be crucified, the exertion of heroic will is largely transferred from the passive Rood to Christ ('he me wolde on gestigan,' 'he wanted to climb up on me' 34).

But it is important to see that, if Rood begins in some sense from where Dreamer is, there is almost immediately a movement in his case from merely inert passivity towards a tense and deliberate willing of such inaction, a willing so strong as to be a kind of action, as Rood comes to understand the incredible situation in which he has been placed. To the extent (a large extent) that he partakes of the role of hero, he must now endure the hardest fate a hero can suffer: to be blocked completely from taking any action. Action is the natural mode of the hero's being and his essential definition. To be thus blocked from it is to feel great pain. Familiar examples from Beowulf are King Hrothgar seething with helpless anger under Grendel's unrelenting attacks on his hall, or Hengest enduring the long winter in a foreign hall, prevented for a time by complex circumstances from avenging his king's death. Rood can neither defend his king nor avenge his death. Worse yet, unimaginably terrible, God his king has ordered him to be an accomplice, chief agent even, in the very torture and murder of God: Rood is given the technical term 'bana' ('bane,' or 'slayer') in line 66. Though Rood now feels this pain, he does not yet fully understand that what he now suffers is the new Christian heroism of the martyr rather than the old Germanic heroism. Literally uprooted Tree—a hero not allowed to be a hero—and figuratively uprooted Dreamer thus share a sense of disorientation.

Such a parallel between Rood and Dreamer seems a compelling one. The way Rood speaks at first shows full sympathy with Dreamer's confusion, as if he were implying something like: 'Even though I myself actually went through this experience, at first I couldn't understand it.' In Dreamer's original vision, the same paradox of blood and glory was laid out in spatial terms, side by side, or so nearly simultaneous as to seem to overlap in time; this is now matched by the more clearly temporal, step-by-step experience of Rood himself. Possibly there is a further parallel to Dreamer's humiliating sense of being stained by sins in Rood's compulsive returning to the topic of what he feels as his 'heroic sin,' that is, his failure to act to protect or avenge his lord. One might imagine Rood saying: 'I too have felt miserably guilty, just as you are feeling now.' Though Rood's narrative now moves rapidly into the heart of mystery, it must not move so rapidly that the merely human Dreamer cannot follow.

Although up till now I have been doggedly insisting on viewing the interaction between these two fictional characters on the level of literal drama and assuming that this level is of primary importance in the poem's effect on its audience, this artificially limited way of looking at the poem is bound to become intolerably strained, for obviously we cannot go on pretending that we really do not know anything about the symbolic (that is, 'real') meaning of the text. This is only to say, to put it in theatrical terms, that the dramatic irony of the scene is too highly developed to be ignored. If Dreamer and Rood donot know—or do not know clearly and fully at this point in the narrative time-line of the poem—we know, although it is not easy to state discursively and explicitly all that we know when we begin to lay out all the complexities the dramatic situation implies within a new and 'proper' framework of theological meaning. What does the Rood stand for? We can enumerate some things: Christ as man, a human sufferer pierced by dark nails and racked by conflicts and doubts; as son (an Isaac type dumbly obedient to the inexplicable demands of a father who seems to have forsaken him); as the innocent Paradisal world of non-human nature (the Tree as Peaceable Kingdom), violated and appalled by man's cruelty and forced, against nature, to torture nature's own creator; as a dignified and proud participant and witness/martyr; as an apostle-preacher giving us the most literally 'inside' version of the Crucifixion we could imagine; as an object-lesson in how this pride and this new kind of heroic achievement can grow precisely out of the enduring of abasement and humiliation. As has come to be generally recognized, making the figure of the Rood represent chiefly the passively suffering human dimension of Christ allows the actual character of Christ who appears in the poem to be one of pure heroic will, in part human courage but chiefly God's intense will to save mankind. Yet the theological information the poem provides is nothing Christians do not already know. In that sense they hardly need the poem. What makes the poem needed is the way it leads to understanding not through ideas but through feelings about ideas as they are acted out in dramatic time. The knowledge we gain must be experiential: like Dreamer and Rood, we come to know through sharing in suffering and suspense.

One chief way the nature, duration, and intensity of Rood's suffering is brought out is by the stylistic feature that is most striking in the first part of Rood's speech (28-73): extraordinarily heavy repetitions of certain words and phrases. Use of so rigorously limited a setof words in itself creates a feeling of psychological entrapment. As part of a spoken utterance, the repetitions vividly imitate the obsessive and reiterative mumblings of a shock-victim. 'I saw… but I didn'tdare … I could have… but I didn't…I trembled… but I couldn't…they hurt me… but I couldn't hurt them.' Four times in only 13 lines the phrase 'ic ne dorste' (with minor variations) appears; each time it does, we are brought back from some new detail of horror and outrage to the small prison of paralysed action, Rood's tormented inability to take vengeance. Rood's every wish to act is blocked by the stern adversatives of necessity, 'hwæðre,' 'ac,' in a way at least vaguely analogous to the frustration of Dreamer's attempts to seize on the security of a single meaning for his vision of the Tree. However Rood feels, whatever occurs, he must remain fixed in his standing position. He cannot bow, or break, or use his strength to crush the insolent 'enemies' who torment him and his beloved king. He must always stand fast, his only movement an anguished trembling in resonance with the anguished trembling of the earth itself convulsed in earthquake. The movements that surround Rood emphasize his immobility: Christ hurries to climb up and embrace him; dark nails are driven into him; blood streams down. Only at the end he moves just a little, bowing forward to let the disciples lift Christ's body down from the remorseful clutch of its wretched murderer and most faithful retainer.

Enduring physical and emotional pain is only part of Rood's role in this scene. He must also play the important role of eyewitness. Here again the repetitions are many: not only the 'geseah ic' of lines 33 and 51 and the 'ic þæt eall beheold' of 58, but Rood's showing forth of his deep wounds, still there to be inspected as evidence by Dreamer (here briefly playing the part of doubting Thomas to the resurrected Christ); the witnessing crowdof 'many' who observe Christ's courage in mounting the 'high gallows'; the watch or wake of the mourning disciples over Christ's cooling body; Rood's own witnessing (and this is surely an original detail) of the carving of the sepulchre from 'bright stone.' At all points, the event of the Crucifixion experience must be fully attested and publicly authenticated.

And its implications must be understood. Like Dreamer (as I have been arguing), Rood seems to move gradually towards such understanding, first from frightened passivity to violent conflict and horror, which reaches a climax in lines 46-9 describing the nailing, wounding, mocking, bleeding of Rood and King together, and then on towards summary statement, a stage that may begin in line 50:

Feala ic on þam beorge    gebiden hæbbe
wraðra wyrda.    Geseah ic weruda God
þearle 'þenian.

I have experienced many angry fates on that hill. I saw the God of Hosts stretched out in agony.

Such verses suggest at least some small measure of distance from the immediate pain, and a clearer and calmer view of what has been happening. As Rood looks about him in the lines that follow—is now able to look about him and beyond his own pain—he sees that darkness has fallen and that all Creation weeps, lamenting the King's fall. We recognize the 'cosmic' setting in which Rood first appeared in Dreamer's vision. Now Rood is able to name Christ for the first time in the poem, seeing and naming this scene as we ourselves see it: 'Crist wæs on rode' ('Christ was on the cross' 56). This same phrase is, incidentally, given special prominence in the runic verses from the poem selected to be carved on the Ruthwell Cross: it appears at the top of the west face. We should recall that that great stone cross is personified; all the passages on it come from Rood's speech.

Now the narrative slows down markedly in pace and intensity. Rood watches gravely as the disciples come to remove, mourn over, and bury Christ's body. Since they fill our field of vision while this goes on, they shift our attention away from Rood's vivid experiences towards what he is watching. After singing their own sorrow-song, the three personified crosses stand alone in a weeping group reminiscent of the three Marys of many pictures of the Crucifixion scene and of the later religious drama. Like Christ, the crosses are then brought to ground and buried; like Christ, Rood undergoes later resurrection and receives great honour. The actions here are spaced out and fewer; feelings are given more leisure for expression. We are moving towards Rood's calm interpretation of his own passionate story and his application of it to Dreamer, as the poem shifts down very noticeably from the intense narrative mode to the discursive and hortatory. Both modes would certainly have seemed equally important to the original poet and audience, but for many modem readers the interesting part of the poem is over at this point. Older editors often tried to jettison the last half as inept later addition or interpolation. But the poem cannot truly be over until Dreamer's questions are concretely answered, the dialogue is completed, and Dreamer's own response to the explanation made to him is registered. And so, point by point, the mysteries of the initial vision are explicitly made clear.

The experience undergone by Rood himself in being first lowered (humiliated, wounded, buried) and then raised to glory is first summarized for Dreamer as a 'personal' experience before it is explicitly extended to the experience of Christ and combined with it:

               On me Bearn Godes
þrowode hwile.    Forban ic brymfæst nu
hlifige under heofenum,    ond ic hælan mæg
æghwylcne anra    þara þe him bið egesa to

On me God's son suffered for a time, and so now glorious I tower under the heavens, and I can heal everyone who is in awe of me.

Here the Tree we saw in the earlier vision towering towards heaven and worshipped by all Creation reappears, but now we can see and understand why it soars so high—because God's son went so low. The suffering is exactly what brings the glory; there is no way pain can be separated from the splendour that inheres in the Incarnation. The rhythms of the pattern are compelling. I fell, I rose; I was tormented, I am worshipped, with the alliteration strongly marking this contrast of pain and glory in 'þrowode'/'þrymfæaest' (84) and in 'leodum laðost'/'lifes weg' (88). The wounded and bewildered Rood has now become, despite and because of his own suffering, a healer and a guide for all men who seek him, enlightened and able to give enlightenment through his own ordeal. He makes his final reference to his natural origin in the forest in a crucial identification of himself with Mary, the natural member of the race of women who was, like him, elected by God to be 'theotokos,' God-bearer. Three strong epithets for God ('wuldres, Ealdor,' 'heofonrices Weard,' 'ælmihtig God') are massed in the sentence to emphasize the divine power that fused itself with these two earthly beings, woman and tree, in the Incarnation and in the Crucifixion.

The parallel with Mary seems to bring the Rood down closer to the world of men. Certainly for the rest of his speech his attention is entirely human-directed. Dreamer is instructed to describe the vision he has had to men and to identify to them the object of his vision ('þæt hit is wuldres beam,' 'that it is the tree of glory' 97) in explicit terms. God suffered on the rood expressly for the many sins of 'manncyn' and of Adam (98-100). God rose from death to help men, and he will return on Doomsday to seek mankind. He will search out and he will find each individual man on that day. Then the normal response of each person willbe fear, exactly like—now we understand it!—the fear felt by Dreamer in the vision as he became conscious that his sins were exposed to God's view. In the new context we see such anxiety as an experience all must go through. Yet the scene of Judgment is put in consoling terms. Such fear is not to be feared. There will be no person there who will not be afraid, because every man was afraid to volunteer to die on the Cross. Against this background, the Rood's courage stands out absolutely. He has managed to transcend and vanquish the fear inherent in all ordinary beings, and has thus now become the true source of courage for all, worn as a crucifix on each man's breast at Judgment Day. Every soul can seek heaven through that symbol. The whole immense story, as in Paradise Lost, has now been internalized. Cosmic narrative and myth are contracted into one small but all-powerful talisman, the Rood as the Key to the Kingdom.

Dreamer's final lines can best be seen, in contrast with his profound disorientation at the opening, as a new orientation, a repointing and redirection of himself. As God's (and the Rood's) full attention is now blazingly directed upon the Dreamer, he is at once pulled magnetically towards the Rood, and continues to point towards it:

Gebæd ic me þa to þan beame    bliðe mode,
elne mycle,    þaer ic ana wæs
mæte werede.    Wæs modsefa
afysed on forðwege;    feala ealra gebad

I prayed earnestly towards that tree with happy heart and great zeal, where I was alone with a tiny band. My mind was ready for the journey outward; I had lived through a great many times of misery.

It should be noted that Dreamer not only prays to and towards Rood but he is also 'imitating,' that is, he is using language that recalls Rood's story. The body of Christ was also abandoned by its friends, as Dreamer says he is, and left 'with a tiny band' (69); Rood too told us what he had lived through ('gebiden' 79). Dreamer is now intent on seeking the fulfilment of his life's hope in the 'sigebeam' and realizes that his protection depends entirely on the Rood ('geriht to þære rode' 131). His friends having already passed on to heaven, Dreamer waits for the time his friend Rood will return in reality, not merely in the mists of dream as before, and will bring him back to the great feast in God's hall. By viewing the Rood as rescuer, the Dreamer can place himself appropriately among those fabled waiters-in-hell, the Old Testament patriarchs who expect the arrival of Christ on the great day of the Harrowing of Hell. To those so long in burning and darkness (and Dreamer's painful experience during his vision may include him among these), the heroic Son appears to open up hell and lead them all in triumph back to his native land. That same young hero Rood once saw hastening fearlessly towards his execution is now the young king assuming his birthright in his own kingdom and sharing that birthright in glory with his ecstatic followers. All the elements of the initial vision are now in place and fully lighted. The poem ends here on a satisfactorily resolving chord.

I have tried to show that The Dream of the Rood differs from the common medieval lecture-dialogue of Platonic ancestry (Lady Philosophy explaining the universe to the prisoner Boethius, or Beatrice instructing Dante, or—in parody—the Eagle suffocating the hapless Chaucer in verbiage in The House of Fame) in that the lecturer is entitled to speak with ultimate authority only when he has first shared with his listener similar acute bewilderment and pain. In this poem the essential experience, the Crucifixion, is thus seen from two angles that meet in a single image of unparalleled spiritual and psychological richness.

Monica Brzezinski (essay date 1988)

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Monica Brzezinski (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: "The Harrowing of Hell, the Last Judgment, and The Dream of the Rood," in Neuphilologische Mitteilungen: Bulletin de la Socieété Néophilologique, Vol. LXXXIX, No. 3, 1988, pp. 252-65.

[Below, Brzezinski contends that the last few lines of The Dream of the Rood refer to the Last Judgment rather than to the Harrowing of Hell.]

The narrative structure of The Dream of the Rood has been described as a Chinese box-like arrangement in which the Dreamer's first-person report of his vision frames the speech of the Rood, which in turn encloses a description of the passion of Christ. This neat equation of the Dream's structure with that of a Russian doll is, however, inadequate, as it neglects the concluding lines of the poem: the nested narratives are followed by a puzzling eight-and-a-half line coda which has been traditionally identified as "a brief and oblique allusion to the Harrowing of Hell." The interpretation of this passage as the Harrowing of Hell has presented a major obstacle to seeing The Dream of the Rood as a unified whole, an obstacle so great that some critics have termed the coda a later addition to the original poem, following [Albert S.] Cook's suggestion [in The Dream of the Rood: An Old English Poem Attributed to Cynewulf 1905] that the last section "has either come here by accident, or that the poet's judgment was at fault. The poem should have ended with 148a, or perhaps better with 146." While more recent critics have judged the coda to be part of the original poem, and indeed integral to its meaning, they have not been able to define precisely what function the reference to the Harrowing performs in the poem as a whole. [J.A.] Burrow ["An Approach to The Dream of the Rood, " Neophilologus 43 (1959)] sees the Harrowing as "an amplification of Christ's 'releasing power'" and "convincing in the general economy of the poem." [John V.] Fleming concurs [in "The Dream of the Rood and Anglo-Saxon Monasticism", Traditio 22 (1966)], fitting the end of the poem into the "thematic unity" of the whole. [N.A.] Lee speaks eloquently [in his "The Unity of The Dream of the Rood," Neophilologus 56 (1972)] for the unity of the Dream, but is not sure what lines 151b-156 refer to, and thus leaves "the interpretation of the remaining lines open for the present." Such attempts to argue for the unity of the poem, while well meant, are too general to convincingly include the coda in the overall structure of the poem. We are left with the questions any critic begins with: Why does the reference to the Harrowing occur here, at the end of the poem, and not where one might expect it, within the Rood's speech? Why does the poet not follow Cook's suggestion and end the poem at line 146, with the Dreamer's prophetic vision of eternal bliss? And why, instead of ending with this vision, as would seem appropriate, do we instead conclude with this flashback to Christ's life? By placing the "Harrowing of Hell" episode at the end of the poem, the poet has created a flaw in the chronological order of the poem, a warp in the temporal structure. I suggest that this time-warp was intended by the poet, and furthermore that The Dream of the Rood's coda refers not to one event in salvation history, but to several; in addition, its main reference is not to the Harrowing of Hell, but to the Last Judgment. It alludes as well to the Harrowing, and to Adam's fall, and to the Ascension, and through these multiple references it acts as a frame for the entire poem, positioning the events described in the Dreamer's account within the larger frame of salvation history by pointing to both the beginning and to the end of temporal existence. By its multiple references, the coda also acts as a contrast to the chronological structure of the first 148 lines, in which events in salvation history are told in the order in which they occured in time. By contrasting two different narrative techniques, the chronological narrative of the major part of the poem with the "oblique" narrative of the coda, the poet compares two views of time, man's and God's.

While the last lines of the Dream traditionally have been interpreted, with some disagreement, as referring to the Harrowing of Hell, there is no firm evidence for this identification. There is no specific reference to Hell nor to a prison in which the devil keeps souls; there is no mention of Old Testament patriarchs who are allowed to enter heaven as a result of Christ's victory at the Crucifixion. The coda speaks of þam-þe þœr þryne þolodan "those who there endured fire" (1. 149) and says of Christ that þa he mid manigeo com, / gasta weorode, on godes rice "then he came with many, with a company of souls, into God's realm" (11. 151b-52), and therefore does bear some resemblance to traditional descriptions of the Harrowing. But while the Dream's description does have these points in common with the traditional story, there is one major point at which the poem's version of the "Harrowing" departs from tradition. The primary importance of the Harrowing was that it was the first occasion when the Gates of Heaven were open to men, having been closed against mankind since Adam had fallen. The souls of the just who died before Christ's redemptive act were compelled to wait for Him before they could enter heaven, either in Hell itself or in Limbo. Yet the Dream portrays a number of saints already dwelling in heaven who are on hand to greet Christ on His triumphal entry. Christ's entrance acts as:

…englum to blisse,
ond eallum ðam halgum þam-þe on heofonum
wunedon on wuldre, …
(ll. 153b-54a)

If saints ær wunedon on wuldre "formerly dwelt in glory," the coda of The Dream of the Rood cannot refer literally and primarily to the Harrowing of Hell, asat that time only God and His angels lived in the eternal paradise. Lee recognizes this problem and attempts to solve it by saying eallum ðam halgum refers to the two Old Testament figures, Enoch and Elijah, who meet Christ on His return to heaven after the Harrowing in the Gospel of Nichodemus, Chapter IX; never having died, they are not subject to captivity by the devil and are permitted into heaven. [Robert Emmet] Finnegan more recently has suggested a similar solution [in "The Gospel of Nicodemus and The Dream of the Rood," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 84 (1983)], stating that the phrase refers to the two patriarchs and to the Good Thief as well, since these three figures greet Christ in the Gospel of Nicodemus. Lee, however, admits that eallum ðam halgum is "rather an over-enthusiastic way" of referring to the two men (or even to three), and as an alternative suggests that halgum does not refer to saints at all, but to "holy spirits," i. e., to angels. It would seem, however, that this is not the case, as angels are specifically referred to in their own right, and eallum ðam halgum does not seem to be a variation on englum. As [A.D.] Horgan has recently pointed out [in his "The Dream of the Rood and Christian Tradition," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 79 (1978)] in questioning the reference of eallum, the presence of and rules out the possibility of variation. The passage is thus a clear description of many saints on hand to welcome Christ back to heaven, and cannot refer to the Harrowing.

Because these lines in the coda cannot refer to the Harrowing of Hell, I suggest that the same details which seem to point toward the Harrowing in fact refer to another primary event in salvation history which has already been shown to be central to any understanding of the poem: the Last Judgment. A number of critics have concluded that an apocalyptic vision informs the whole poem and especially the concluding lines. Fleming, for example, says that the "whole poem reverberates with eschatological echoes," and [Fay] Patton ["Structure and Meaning in The Dream of the Rood," English Studies 49 (1968)] believes that in the last lines "the cross is associated with heaven and the Last Judgment." Lee, in a detailed study, analyzes the importance of the Last Judgment theme to the poem as a whole, showing that the Crucifixion and Last Judgment are connected with each other in the service of the Adoration of the Cross of Good Friday, specifically in an invocation that appears in the Regularis Concordia; there the Crucifixion is associated with the Deposition in the Tomb, the Harrowing of Hell, the Resurrectionand Ascension, and finally with the Second Coming. Lee finds additional connections between the Last Judgment and the Crucifixion in the liturgy for two feasts associated with the Cross, the Invention of the Cross and the Exaltation of the Cross, in homiletic literature, in other Anglo-Saxon poems, and in iconography, as in the Ruthwell Cross. He concludes that the connection between Christ's death and "seeming defeat" at the Crucifixion and His final "actual victory" at the Last Judgment is a natural one. While Lee's work focuses on the central portion of the poem, Payne has demonstrated that the opening scenes of the Dream, the Dreamer's first vision of the Rood's approach, is in fact a vision of the approach of the Last Judgment, described with motifs borrowed from traditional depictions of the last days, such as that by Ephraem the Syrian. [Richard C.] Payne further suggests [in his "Convention and Originality in the Vision Framework of The Dream of the Rood," Modern Philology 73 (1976)] that the key to the meaning of The Dream of the Rood is not the Crucifixion scene, as has been traditionally thought, but instead the first scene, the Last Judgment.

Payne's suggestion appears to be well-founded. The theme of the Last Judgment is central to the meaning of the poem, which opens with one judgment scene and has another in the middle (ll. 103b-21). I suggest that there is in addition a third depiction of the Last Judgment in the poem, in the last eight-and-a-half lines. The three judgment scenes together create one unified movement within the poem. The Dream of the Rood opens with the Dreamer fearful for the state of his soul in the face of approaching judgment heralded by the Rood; it is in this fear that he imagines the horror of the Last Judgment as described in the middle section of the poem. This horror is described not in terms of his own individual fear, but rather in terms of the fear of any man at Doomsday: Ac hie þonne forhtiaþ ond fea þencaþ / hwœt hie to Criste cweðan onginnen "But they then fear, and little think of what they might begin to say to Christ" (ll. 115-16). But as soon as the Rood comforts the Dreamer by telling him that anyone who trusts in the Cross has little to fear, his terror is gone and instead he looks forward to death. Immediately after the Rood finishes speaking, he prays to it bliðe mode and then imagines, not the dread of Doomsday, but the joy of his own arrival in heaven at the end of his life:

…ond ic wene me
daga gehwylce hwænne me dryhtnes rod,
þe ic her on eorðan ær sceawode,
on bysson lænan life gefetige
ond me þonne gebringe þaer is blis mycel,
dream on heofonum, þær is dryhtnes folc
geseted to symle, þær is singal blis,
ond me þonne asette þær ic syþþan mot
wunian on wuldre, well mid þam halgum
dreames brucan …
(ll. 135b-44a)

Thus comforted and assured of his own salvation, the Dreamer in his last description of Judgment presents, not Judgment itself, but its results for those like himself who have already merited salvation and who have been admitted to heaven at their death. Reunited with their bodies at Judgment, they now re-enter heaven with Christ to enjoy unending bliss. The Dreamer's description in the coda of saints who œr wunedon on wuldre (ll. 154b-55) is virtually a repetition of his prior description of his own arrival in heaven, where he might wunian on wuldre, well mid þam halgum (1. 143). The verbal repetition would seem to show that the Dreamer includes himself in the number of those saints who "dwelled already in glory." Because the Last Judgment for him and for his fellow saints is simply a break in their eternal bliss, he does notfear it, and thus he does not describe it; instead his description of the Last Judgment in the coda focuses on the triumph of Christ and His saints.

There are several objections to the suggestion that the last lines of The Dream of the Rood refer not to the triumph of Christ at the Harrowing of Hell but to His final triumph at the Last Judgment; the most obvious objection is that there is no actual judgment described in these lines. Yet while there is no explicit mention of any judgment here, there is no real need for one. The judging itself has already been described in the poem, in the middle section dealing with the Last Judgment, when Christ appears and questions the assembled masses concerning their lives. The third and last description of Judgment is a continuation of that action, and thus the actual judging need not be described again. In addition, by omitting the actual judging from the description in the coda, the poet is following a tradition which holds that there will be no judgment in the last days for those who have already been pronounced as just; the decision regarding a soul's consignment to either heaven or hell at the time of his death is a final one which will not be overturned at the end of the world. Accordingly, those admitted into heaven at the time of their particular judgment will not be included in the general, or Last, Judgment.

Augustine, in De Civitate Dei, Book XX, discusses the Last Judgment and various traditional beliefs concerning it in great detail. Before dealing expressly with the Last Judgment, he differentiates between the particular judgment God makes concerning each man, either during his life or at the moment of his death, and the general judgment that will occur at the end of the world:

ludicat etiam non solum universaliter de genere daemonum atque hominum, ut miseri sint propter primorum meritum peccatorum, sed etiam de singulorum operibus propriis quae gerunt arbitrio voluntatis … et homines plerumque aperte, semper occulte, luunt pro suis factis divinitus poenas sive in hac vita sive post mortem … Non igitur in hoc libro de illis primis nec de istis mediis Dei iudiciis, sed de ipso novissimo, quantum ipse tribuerit, disputabo, quando Christus de caelo venturus est vivos iudicaturus et mortuos.

Augustine then goes on to explain that those who have proved themselves in this life to be among the just will not take part in the Last Judgment, for that judgment is reserved for those condemned to eternal punishment. While the condemned will rise from the dead at the end of the world for judgment, the just need not do this because they have already been resurrected metaphorically inthis life from the death of sin to a life of grace in Christ. Augustine develops his argument as acommentary on John 5:27-29:

Ac deinde subiungens unde agimus: "Nolite," inquit, "mirari hoc, quia veniet hora in qua omnes qui in monumentis sunt audient vocem eius et procedent, qui bona fecerunt in resurrectionem vitae, qui vero mala egerunt in resurrectionem iudicii." Hoc est illud iudicium quod paulo ante, sicut nunc, pro damnatione posuerat dicens: "Qui verbum meum audit et credit ei qui misit me habet vitam aeternam et in iudicium non veniet, sed transiit a morte in vitam," id est, pertinendo ad primam resurrectionem, qua nunc transitur a morte ad vitam, in damnationem non veniet, quam significavit appellatione iudicii, sicut etiam hoc loco ubi ait: "Qui vero mala egerunt in resurrectionem iudicii," id est damnationis. Resurgat ergo in prima qui non vult in seconda resurrectione damnari.

The Dreamer in The Dream of the Rood appears to be a textbook case of one such as Augustine describes, one who has risen from sin to life by putting his faith in God or, as in the poem, specifically in the Cross. The Dreamer's moment of particular judgment in this life is that described in the poem; it is the moment in which the Rood approaches him and speaks to him of Christ's death, resurrection, and Last Judgment. The question that the Rood puts in Christ's mouth at the Judgment is not just a rhetorical question but is rather the question which the Rood, as Judge, puts to the Dreamer:

Frineð he for þære mænige hwær se man sie,
se ðe for dryhtnes naman deaðes wolde
biteres onbyrigan, swa he ær on þam became
Ac hie þonne forhtiaþ, and fea þencaþ
hwaæt hie to Criste cweðan onginnen.
Ne þearf ðær þonne ænig anforht wesan
þe him ær in breostum bereð beacna selest
(ll. 112-18)

While the Dreamer is imagining the Last Judgment, the moment is for him one of particular judgment: is he that man who would taste death for the Lord's name? Apparently he is; he also bears the best of signs on his breast. For it is clear that after this moment of judgment the Dreamer is no longer fearful of the Rood but instead finds all of his joy in it: Is me nu lifes hyht / þœet ic þone sigebeam secan mote (ll. 126b-27). Having placed his trust in the Rood and so having risen to everlasting life, he is confident that he will not be among those condemned at the Last Judgment.

The poet's emphasis on particular judgment rather than on the Last Judgment itself is not unusual in Old English poetry. [Graham D.] Caie, in his study The Judgment Day Theme in Old English Poetry, points out that in many Old English poems ostensibly dealing with the Last Judgment there is no scene describing the actual judging. Instead, the poems use the general context and metaphors of the Last Judgment to make the point that a man's fate depends not so much on the outcome of the Last Judgment as on the morality of his deeds, so that the act of judgment is not the operation of a single day but rather a "continual process during life." Caie's analysis of Christ III is especially relevant to a discussion of The Dream of the Rood, for the two poems share a number of important parallels: both open with the advent of the Last Judgment, which comes to surprise men asleep at midnight, and (as I argue) end with a scene of the Last Judgment which contains no actual description of judging. Caie observes, "The most interesting aspect of the poem is that, as is mentioned before (and in other Judgment poems), there is no actual judgment, no weighing of the souls and consultation in ledgers. For the judgment has already taken place and is taking place, the poet implies, in the present moment." This emphasis on the present moment would seem to be another parallel that Christ III shares with The Dream of the Rood. In the Dream, the focus of the whole poem, including the Rood's speech and its detailing of the Passion as well as the three Last Judgment scenes, is on the Dreamer and for his benefit. He must realize that the power of condemnation lies not with Christ nor with the Rood, but in himself. That one's fate is self-determined by one's actions is also shown in the middle Judgment scene in the Dream. Here too there is no actual judgment represented. Instead, Christ asks a question: He does not condemn but asks men, in the passage quoted above (11. 112-18) if they will follow His example in their own actions. Their fate depends not on Christ's pronouncements but on their own deeds.

While Old English poetry does not describe the Last Judgment in terms of judging, the poems usually do employ a number of common motifs to depict the event, one of which is prominent in the last lines of The Dream of the Rood: the function of fire at the Last Judgment. While there are different traditions for representing the last days—and the Dream employs several of those traditions—almost all of them make use of the fire motif. Fire was one of the "Signs of Doom" which would herald the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ; as one of the Signs of Doom it can be found in the psalms, the prophets, the New Testament, and of course in Revelation. But in the Old English tradition, fire would not only be a sign of the approach of Judgment Day, but it would also be the means through which judgment would be accomplished. Fire coming down from heaven would at once be the agent of punishment for the wicked, akin to the fires of hell, yet would also be a purifying agent to perfect the just—a purgatorial fire. It would cleanse the righteous yet flawed so that they would be worthy of eternal life. Augustine in his discussion of the Last Judgment develops the idea of a purifying fire in his commentary on Malachi 3:1-6:

Ex his quae dicta sunt videtur evidentius apparere in illo iudicio quasdam quorundam purgatorias poenas futuras. Ubi enim dicitur: "Quis sustinebit diem introitus eius, aut quis ferre poterit, ut aspiciat eum? Quia ipse ingreditur quasi ignis conflatorii et quasi herba lavantium; et sedebit conflans et emundans sicut argentum et sicut aurum" … Nisi forte sic eos dicendum est emundari a sordibus et eliquari quodam modo, cum ab eis mali per poenale iudicium separantur, ut illorum segregatio atque damnatio purgatio sit istorum, quia sine talium de cetero permixtione victuri sunt. Sed cum dicit: "Et emundabit filios Levi et fundet eos sicut aurum et argentum; et erunt Domino offerentes hostias in iustitia, et placebit Domino sacrificium Iudae et Hierusalem," utique ostendit eos ipsos qui emundabuntur deinceps in sacrificiis iustitiae Domino esse placituros. … Filios autem Levi et Iudam et Hierusalem ipsam Dei ecclesiam debemusaccipere…qualistuncerit…eis quoque igne mundatis quibus talis mundatio necessaria est, ita ut nullus omnino sit qui offerat sacrificium pro peccatis suis.

The motif of fire as purifying agent appears to be a popular one in Old English poetry. In many poems the fire of Doomsday has a dual function, punishing the damned and purifying the saved. In Judgment Day II, for example, the fire that burns on the last day appears to fulfill both these functions at the same time, so that, as Augustine explained, the purification is actually a punishment:

ne se wrecenda bryne wile forbugan
oððe ænigum þaer are gefremman,
buton he horwum sy her afeormad,
and þonne þider cume, þearle aclænsed.
(ll. 155-58)

This same motif of fire acting as an agent both of purification and of punishment also seems to be found in The Dream of the Rood, in the coda which follows the Dreamer's description of his joy in heaven after his death. After the Dreamer has described his arrival in heaven and the singal blis (1. 141) of the feast of the "Lord's folk," the poem shifts into its enigmatic last lines with the reference to fire:

… Hiht wæs geniwad
mid bledum ond mid blisse þam-þe þær bryne
(ll. 148b-49)

While the reference to "those who endured the fire there" has usually been interpreted, following Cook, as an allusion to "the spirits in prison who were released by the Harrowing of Hell," these lines contain a clue that this is not the real reference. The poet states that "bliss is renewed" for those who endured the fire. Yet the souls of the just consigned to Hell to wait for Christ had never experienced bliss; their first entry into heaven at the Harrowing is not a "renewal" at all but their first experience of the heavenly feast. The lines must therefore refer to souls which had previously experienced the beatific vision, then suffered in flames, and then been granted re-entry into the presence of God in heaven. These would then be the souls of the just admitted to heaven on the basis of their particular judgment, who then are re-united with their bodies at the Last Judgment. At that time both bodies and souls experience a final cleansing in purgatorial fire, and now being perfect re-enter heaven together with a triumphant Christ who has vanquished His demonic foe forever. The Dreamer imagines himself to be one of these privileged souls who endure the flames for a moment in order to become perfect. He does not dwell on the flames, any pain they may cause, or the imperfections they do away with, for these are not his concerns here; rather his theme is the triumph of Christ along with His Church, and so the poet's emphasis is on Christ's triumphal mission.

The reference to the Last Judgment in the coda of The Dream of the Rood creates several complex temporal relationships within the poem which together work to bind it into a unified whole. On a purely literal level, this description of the Last Judgment is a simple continuation of the previous narrative. The Dreamer has completed the section of the poem in which he contemplates the state of his own soul by looking forward to his own reward in heaven. His inmost thoughts are afysed on forðwege (1. 125) and he looks forward in happy expectation to the time when the Rood will carry him off to dwell in glory. He caps his expectations with a description of the joys that he expects to partake of in heaven. Thus it is only in keeping with this chronological structure that the Dreamer's mind should look forward beyond his own death and reward to a time still further in the future in which he will be one of the saints present at Christ's triumphant return from His final victory. Because at this time the Dreamer will be just one of many saints united in the Communion of the Blessed, he describes this final triumph in an objective third-person, and not in the emotional first-person style of the rest of the poem. The reward here is not a personal one for his deeds as an individual, as it was after his particular judgment, but instead reflects on the glory of Christ united with all His saints. Thus the Dreamer does not appear here as an individual at all, but as one of many. As the logical fulfillment to the Dreamer's moment of particular judgment in the poem, and as a reference to the last event in salvation history, the Last Judgment is a fitting ending to the poem.

The use of the Last Judgment as the ending point of the poem also creates a frame for the whole of The Dream of the Rood, for this passage is parallel to and yet thematically different from the opening passage of the poem. That opening scene, in which the Rood first appears to the Dreamer, is, as Payne has shown, a vision of the approach of the Last Judgment; many of the motifs here, including the presence of adoring angels, are used in descriptions of the Last Judgment. The motif of the Rood itself, a cross extending into the air and covered with jewels and blood, is used in representations of the Judgment by other Old English poets, who picture a gigantic cross covered with blood and gore but still shining magnificently. The fact that the Dreamer's vision of the Rood is a signal of the Second Coming would explain his terror at the sign of the cross; he is not merely awed but thoroughly frightened, and for the specific reason that he is intensely aware of his own sinfulness: Eall ic waes mid sorgum gedrefed; / forht ic wæs for þære fægran gesyhðe (11. 20b-21a) Clearly his state of terror is the same as that of those who in the Rood's description of Doomsday fear the word of the Lordoem—of the Rood from gallows to sign of victory; of Christ from defeated criminal to victorious hero; of the Dreamer from fallen Adam to a triumphant follower of Christ—but the major transformation is the change in the Dreamer's attitude toward the last days; he no longer fears damnation, for the Rood has come to tell him that, despite his sins, he will be saved if he in breostum bereþ beacna selest (1. 118). The Dream of the Rood fittingly ends where it began, with the Dreamer's fears for his own soul, but with those fears having been put to rest.

While the coda section has these narrative and thematic connections to the beginning and end of the "nested narratives" of the Dreamer's vision and the Rood's speech, it also contains within itself an even more complex set of temporal relationships. By referring to the Last Judgment, these lines point to the end of temporal existence. But the lines are ambiguous; they can also be interpreted as referring to several other events in salvation history. It is not without reason that they have been traditionally interpreted as referring to the Harrowing of Hell and that Fleming sees them as an allusion to the Ascension; these three events had usually been grouped together by Biblical exegetes as similar manifestations of Christ's power over the forces of sin and death. Through these ambiguous references to Christ's saving power, the poet has also created a reference to the time of Adam, the beginning of temporality, when Adam's fall created the necessity for salvation. The fall of Adam was especially connected with the Harrowing in tradition, for Christ at that time paid forever the wages due to the devil for original sin. The Gospel of Nicodemus illustrates the relationship between the two events by showing Adam as the first of the Old Testament figures to follow Christ out of Hell:

Et extendens Dominus manum suam fecit signum crucis super Adam et super omnes sanctos suos, et tenens dexteram Adae ascendit ab inferis et omnes sancti secuti sunt Dominum.

and into Heaven:

Dominus autem tenens manum Adae tradidit Michaeli archangelo, et omnes sancti sequebanter Michaelim archangelum, et introduxit omnes in paradysi gratiam gloriosam.

Thus by making this section purposefully ambiguous so that it can refer at once to the Last Judgment and to Adam's fall, the poet is able to refer at the same time to the two limits of temporal existence and to the central event of salvation history, Christ's redemption of mankind from Hell at the Harrowing. In a few economical lines he is able to sum up the important events of salvation: man's fall into sin, his redemption from punishment, and his final reward.

The economical narrative technique of the coda starkly contrasts with the expanding technique used in the main section of the poem. The Dreamer's momentary vision opens up to include the Rood's "biography," which in turn opens up to include a description of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, and a prophecy of the Second Coming. Through this structural technique of embedding the poet shows that the story of the Rood and the life of Christ are central to the Dreamer's experience; they are at the center of the poem and are also central in importance. The Dreamer's life contains all of the elements of salvation history described by the Rood, in the sense that he has been directly influenced by them: through his participation in original sin he is prey to individual failings; he is saved by Christ's death but must undergo an individual judgment and a general purification before he can enter the reopened paradise. As the main portion of the poem is directed at the Dreamer, its purpose is homiletic. Its expanding structure is designed to drive home the point that the Dreamer need not fear the Last Judgment if he has faith in the Cross. The Rood's speech and the Passion narrative are embedded within the Dreamer's visionary experience; in this way the Dreamer's life is expanded to show how even a single moment in his life partakes of the entire expanse of salvation history.

The expanding structure of the poem, however, is quickly overturned once we get to the coda. Here the poem collapses in on itself; time, instead of expanding, becomes a vortex in which events separated by millenia seem to occur simultaneously. There is no longer any specific point in time to which we may refer, only a melange of past, present, and future expectation. The individual life of the Dreamer is no longer celebrated but is absorbed into the shared eternal reward of nameless saints. As such, the coda attempts to create the impression of the beatific vision. We view time not as man sees it, linearly, horizontally, but perhaps as God sees it—all of earthly time is a mere eight lines within the limitlessness of eternity, an infinity which frames temporal existence in the same way that the descriptions of the Last Judgment frame the Dream and yet remain at its heart. While the first 148 lines are a vision of time, the last eight are a vision of timelessness. Uniting time and infinity, past and future, expectation and reward, is the figure of the Rood. Just as the Rood's speech acts as intermediary between the Dream's consciousness and the Passion of Christ, it also acts as intermediary between time and eternity, as the herald of the end of the ages and the beginning of agelessness.


Principal English Editions


Further Reading