Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Dream of the Rood: An anonymous Anglo-Saxon poem translated by Elaine Treharne

Listen, I will tell the best of visions, what came to me in the middle of the night, when voice-bearers dwelled in rest. It seemed to me that I saw a more wonderful tree, lifted in the air, wound round with light, the brightest of beams.

That beacon was entirely cased in gold; beautiful gems stood at the corners of the earth, likewise there were five upon the cross-beam. All those fair through creation gazed on the angel of the Lord there. There was certainly no gallows of the wicked but the holy spirits beheld it there, men over the earth and all this glorious creation.

Wondrous was the victory-tree and I stained with sins, wounded with guilts. I saw the tree of glory, honoured with garments, shining with joys, covered with gold; gems had covered magnificently the tree of the forest. Nevertheless, I was able to perceive through that gold the ancient hostility of wretches, so that it first began to bleed on the right side.

I was all drenched with sorrows. I was frightened by the beautiful vision; I saw that urgent beacon change its covering and colours: sometimes it was soaked with wetness, stained with the coursing of blood; sometimes adorned with treasure.

Yet as I lay there a long while, I beheld sorrowful the tree of the Saviour, until I heard it utter a sound; it began to speak words, the best of wood:

“That was very long ago, I remember it still, that I was cut down from the edge of the wood, ripped up by my roots. They seized me there, strong enemies, made me a spectacle for themselves there, commanded me to raise up their criminals. Men carried me there on their shoulders, until they set me on a hill, enemies enough fastened me there.

I saw then the Saviour of mankind hasten with great zeal, as if he wanted to climb up on me. There I did not dare, against the word of the Lord, bow or break, when I saw the corners of the earth tremble. I might have felled all the enemies; even so, I stood fast.

He stripped himself then, young hero - that was God almighty - strong and resolute; he ascended on the high gallows, brave in the sight of many, when he wanted to ransom mankind. I trembled when the warrior embraced me; even then I did not dare to bow to earth, fall to the corners of the earth but I had to stand fast. I was reared a cross.

I raised up the powerful King, the Lord of heaven; I did not dare to bend. They pierced me with dark nails; on me are the wounds visible, the open wounds of malice; I did not dare to injure any of them. They mocked us both together. I was all drenched with blood, poured out from that man's side, after he had sent forth his spirit.

I have experienced on that hillside many cruelties of fate. I saw the God of hosts violently stretched out. Darkness had covered with clouds the Ruler's corpse, the gleaming light. Shadows went forth dark under the clouds. All creation wept, lamented the King's fall. Christ was on the cross. Yet there eager ones came from afar to that noble one; I beheld all that.

I was all drenched with sorrow; nevertheless I bowed down to the hands of the men, humble, with great eagerness. There they took almighty God, lifted him from that oppressive torment. The warriors forsook me then standing covered with moisture; I was all wounded with arrows. They laid the weary-limbed one down there, they stood at the head of his body, they beheld the Lord of heaven there, and he himself rested there a while, weary after the great battle.

They began to fashion a tomb for him, warriors in the sight of the slayer; they carved that from bright stone, they set the Lord of victories in there. They began to sing the sorrow-song for him, wretched in the evening-time; then they wanted to travel again, weary from the glorious Lord. He rested there with little company.

Nevertheless, weeping, we stood there a good while in a fixed position, after the voice departed up of the warriors. The corpse grew cold,      the fair live-dwelling. Then men began to fell us all to the ground: that was a terrible fate. Men buried us in a deep pit; nevertheless the Lord's thanes, friends, discovered me there, adorned me with gold and silver.
Now you might hear, my beloved hero, that I have experienced the work of evil-doers, grievous sorrows. Now the time has come that I will be honoured far and wide by men over the earth and all this glorious creation; they will pray to this beacon. On me the Son of God suffered for a while; because of that I am glorious now, towering under the heavens, and I am able to heal each one of those who is in awe of me.

Formerly I was made the hardest of punishments, most hateful to the people, before I opened for them,  for the voice-bearers, the true way of life. Listen, the Lord of glory, the Guardian of the kingdom of heaven, then honoured me over the forest trees, just as he, almighty God, also honoured his mother, Mary herself, for all men, over all womankind.

Now I urge you my beloved man, that you tell men about this vision: reveal with words that it is the tree of glory, on which almighty God suffered for mankind's many sins and Adam's ancient deeds. Death he tasted there; nevertheless, the Lord rose again with his great might to help mankind. He ascended into heaven. He will come again to this earth to seek mankind. On doomsday, the Lord himself, almighty God and his angels with him, so that he will then judge, he who has the power of judgement, each one of them, for what they themselves have earned here earlier in this transitory life.

Nor may any of them be unafraid there, because of the words which the Saviour will speak: he will ask in front of the multitude, where the person might be who for the Lord's name, would taste bitter death. Just as he did before on that tree but then they will be fearful and little think, what they might begin to say to Christ. Then there will be no need for any of those to be very afraid, who bear before them in the breast the best of trees but by means of the Rood, each soul who thinks to dwell with the Ruler, must seek the kingdom from the earthly way.”

I prayed to the Tree with a happy spirit then, with great zeal, there where I was alone with little company. My spirit was inspired with longing for the way forward; I experienced in all many periods of longing. It is now my life's hope that I might seek the Tree of Victory, alone more often than all men, to honour it well.

My desire for that is great in my mind, and my protection is directed to the cross. I do not have many wealthy friends on earth but they have gone forward from here, passed from the joys of this world, sought for themselves the King of glory. They live now in heaven with the High Father, they dwell in glory and I myself hope each day for when the Lord's cross, that I looked at here on earth, will fetch me from this transitory life and then bring me where there is great bliss. Joy in heaven, where the Lord's people are set in feasting. Where there is unceasing bliss and then will set me, where I might afterwards dwell in glory; fully with the saints to partake of joy.

May the Lord be a friend to me, he who here on earth suffered previously on the gallows-tree for the sins of man. He redeemed us, and gave us life, a heavenly home. Hope was renewed with dignity and with joy for those who suffered burning there. The Son was victorious in that undertaking, powerful and successful, when he came with the multitudes, a troop of souls, into God's kingdom, the one Ruler almighty, to the delight of angels and all the saints who were in heaven before, who dwelled in glory, when their Ruler came, Almighty God, to where his native land was.

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