219. Dream of the Rood (8th century)

A famous poem of the eighth century. The poet is visited in a dream by the Cross on which Jesus was crucified, which speaks to him describing its life and use.

I read two versions : one included in The Earliest English Poems, translated by Michael Alexander and published by Penguin Classics (ISBN 0140441727), and the other in a massive volume titled The Complete Old English Poems, translated by Craig Williamson and published by University of Pennsylvania Press (ISBN 9780812248470)


The Cross mirrors Christ’s crucifixion, wishing to bow down to God, or fall over to crush its tormentors, yet staying straight and true to God’s plan. It phases between a holy relic sheathed in gold and inlaid with gems, surrounded by angels, and a bloodstained tree, marked with sweat and nail holes. It is buried after use, yet reclaimed and honoured, thereby getting its own resurrection.

A very clever device which is used to tell the story of the Crucifixion in a different way.

“Stained and marred, stricken with shame, I saw the Glory-Tree shine out gaily, sheathed in yellow decorous gold …. yet through the masking gold I might perceive what terrible sufferings were once sustained thereon


I shook when His arms embraced me, but I durst not bow to ground … stand I must.


I was reared up, a rood .. they drove me through with dark nails: on me are the deep wounds manifest, wide-mouthed hate-dents.

I durst not harm any of them.”


Digressions/diversions:   Lines from the poem were carved in runes into the huge stone cross from this century which can still be seen in the church at Ruthwell in Scotland, shown in the picture above.

Personal rating: 6/10

Other reading:  A reread of Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced featuring her elderly sleuth Miss Jane Marple. I could only remember reading the first chapter before, but as I went along, I had a feeling in my water who the murderer was, but the precise details of the motivation remained sketchy. There is some pride in at least getting part of the solution past Agatha, even if Marple popping out of the kitchen cupboard to accuse the killer at the end is a little unlikely.


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