The Dream of the Rood: The earliest Christian poem in English

The Dream of the Rood: The earliest Christian poem in English

From The Dream of the Rood:
The earliest Christian poem in English
Rood (cross of Christ) speaks:
“It was long past – I still remember it – that I was cut down at the copse’s end, moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me, told me to hold aloft their criminals, made me a spectacle. Men carried me upon their shoulders, set me on a hill, a host of enemies there fastened me.
“And then I saw the Lord of all mankind hasten with eager zeal that he might mount upon me. I durst not against God’s word bend down or break, when I saw tremble all the surface of the earth. Although I might have struck down all the foes, yet stood I fast.
“Then the young hero (who was God almighty) got ready, resolute and strong in heart. He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree, bold in the sight of many watching men, when he intended to redeem mankind. I trembled as the warrior embraced me. But still I dared not bend down to the earth, fall to the ground, upright I had to stand.
“A rood I was raised up; and I held high the noble King, the Lord of Heaven above. I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails; the scars can still be clearly seen on me,
“The open wounds of malice. Yet might I not harm them. They reviled us both together. I was made wet all over with the blood which poured out from his side, after he had sent forth his spirit. And I underwent full many a dire experience on that hill. I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out. Darkness covered the ruler’s corpse with clouds his shining beauty; shadows passed across, black in the darkness. All creation wept, bewailed the King’s death; Christ was on the cross….
“Now you may understand, dear warrior, that I have suffered deeds of wicked men and grievous sorrows. Now the time has come that far and wide on earth men honour me, and all this great and glorious creation, and to this beacon offers prayers. On me the Son of God once suffered; therefore now I tower mighty underneath the heavens, and I may heal all those in awe of me. Once I became the cruellest of tortures, most hateful to all nations, till the time I opened the right way of life for men.”
Anglo-Saxon, 8th century, trans. Richard Hammer (1970)



Anglo-Saxon, 8th century, trans. Richard Hammer (1970)

Faith Magazine

March/ April 2020