The Dream of the Rood

THE DREAM OF THE ROOD.

Introduction by James M. Garnett, translator

In the middle of the night the writer beholds the vision of a cross decked with gold and jewels, but soiled with blood. Presently the cross speaks and tells how it was hewn and set up on a mount. Almighty God ascended it to redeem mankind. It bent not, but the nails made grievous wounds, and it was moistened with blood. All creation wept. The corse was placed in a sepulchre of brightest stone. The crosses were buried, but the thanes of the Lord raised it begirt with gold and silver, and it should receive honor from all mankind. The Lord of Glory honored it, who arose for help to men, and shall come again with His angels to judge each one of men. Then they will fear and know not what to say, but no one need fear who bears in his heart the best of beacons. The writer is ready for his journey, and directs his prayer to the rood. His friends now dwell in glory, and the rood of the Lord will bring him there where he may partake of joy with the saints. The Lord redeemed us, His Son was victorious, and with a band of spirits entered His heavenly home.

Lo! choicest of dreams I will relate,

What dream I dreamt in middle of night

When mortal men reposed in rest.

Methought I saw a wondrous wood

Tower aloft with light bewound,

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Brightest of trees; that beacon was all

Begirt with gold; jewels were standing

Four[1] at surface of earth, likewise were there five

Above on the shoulder-brace. All angels of God beheld it,

Fair through future ages; ’twas no criminal’s cross indeed,

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But holy spirits beheld it there,

Men upon earth, all this glorious creation.

Strange was that victor-tree, and stained with sins was I,

With foulness defiled. I saw the glorious tree

With vesture[2] adorned winsomely shine,

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Begirt with gold; bright gems had there

Worthily decked the tree of the Lord.[3]

Yet through that gold I might perceive

Old strife of the wretched, that first it gave

Blood on the stronger [right] side. With sorrows was I oppressed,

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Afraid for that fair sight; I saw the ready beacon

Change in vesture and hue; at times with moisture covered,

Soiled with course of blood; at times with treasure adorned.

Yet lying there a longer while,

Beheld I sad the Saviour’s tree

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Until I heard that words it uttered;

The best of woods gan speak these words:

“‘Twas long ago (I remember it still)

That I was hewn at end of a grove,

Stripped from off my stem; strong foes laid hold of me there,

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Wrought for themselves a show, bade felons raise me up;

Men bore me on their shoulders, till on a mount they set me;

Fiends many fixed me there. Then saw I mankind’s Lord

Hasten with mickle might, for He would sty[4] upon me.

There durst I not ‘gainst word of the Lord

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Bow down or break, when saw I tremble

The surface of earth; I might then all

My foes have felled, yet fast I stood.

The Hero young begirt[5] Himself, Almighty God was He,

Strong and stern of mind; He stied on the gallows high,

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Bold in sight of many, for man He would redeem.

I shook when the Hero clasped me, yet durst not bow to earth,

Fall to surface of earth, but firm I must there stand.

A rood was I upreared; I raised the mighty King,

The Lord of Heaven; I durst not bend me.

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They drove their dark nails through me; the wounds are seen upon me,

The open gashes of guile; I durst harm none[6] of them.

They mocked us both together; all moistened with blood was I,

Shed from side of the man, when forth He sent His spirit.

Many have I on that mount endured

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Of cruel fates; I saw the Lord of Hosts

Strongly outstretched; darkness had then

Covered with clouds the corse of the Lord,

The brilliant brightness; the shadow continued,[7]

Wan ‘neath the welkin. There wept all creation,

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Bewailed the King’s death; Christ was on the cross.

Yet hastening thither they came from afar

To the Son of the King[8]: that all I beheld.

Sorely with sorrows was I oppressed; yet I bowed ‘neath the hands of men,

Lowly with mickle might. Took they there Almighty God,

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Him raised from the heavy torture; the battle-warriors left me

To stand bedrenched with blood; all wounded with darts was I.

There laid they the weary of limb, at head of His corse they stood,

Beheld the Lord of Heaven, and He rested Him there awhile,

Worn from the mickle war. Began they an earth-house to work,

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Men in the murderers’[9] sight, carved it of brightest stone,

Placed therein victories’ Lord. Began sad songs to sing

The wretched at eventide; then would they back return

Mourning from the mighty prince; all lonely[10] rested He there.

Yet weeping[11] we then a longer while

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Stood at our station: the [voice][12] arose

Of battle-warriors; the corse grew cold,

Fair house of life. Then one gan fell

Us[13] all to earth; ’twas a fearful fate!

One buried us in deep pit, yet of me the thanes of the Lord,

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His friends, heard tell; [from earth they raised me],[14]

And me begirt with gold and silver.

Now thou mayst hear, my dearest man,

That bale of woes[15] have I endured,

Of sorrows sore. Now the time is come,

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That me shall honor both far and wide

Men upon earth, and all this mighty creation

Will pray to this beacon. On me God’s Son

Suffered awhile; so glorious now

I tower to Heaven, and I may heal

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Each one of those who reverence me;

Of old I became the hardest of pains,

Most loathsome to ledes[16] [nations], the way of life,

Right way, I prepared for mortal men.[17]

Lo! the Lord of Glory honored me then

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Above the grove,[18] the guardian of Heaven,

As He His mother, even Mary herself,

Almighty God before all men

Worthily honored above all women.

Now thee I bid, my dearest man,

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That thou this sight shalt say to men,

Reveal in words, ’tis the tree of glory,

On which once suffered Almighty God

For the many sins of all mankind,

And also for Adam’s misdeeds of old.

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a stone pillar with bas relief carvings, inside a museum

Ruthwell Cross, West Face

Death tasted He there; yet the Lord arose

With His mickle might for help to men.

Then stied He to Heaven; again shall come

Upon this mid-earth to seek mankind

At the day of doom the Lord Himself,

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Almighty God, and His angels with Him;

Then He will judge, who hath right of doom,

Each one of men as here before

In this vain life he hath deserved.

No one may there be free from fear

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In view of the word that the Judge will speak.

He will ask ‘fore the crowd, where is the man

Who for name of the Lord would bitter death

Be willing to taste, as He did on the tree.

But then they will fear, and few will bethink them

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What they to Christ may venture to say.

Then need there no one be filled with fear[19]

Who bears in his breast the best of beacons;

But through the rood a kingdom shall seek

From earthly way each single soul

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That with the Lord thinketh to dwell.”

Then I prayed to the tree with joyous heart,

With mickle might, when I was alone

With small attendance[20]; the thought of my mind

For the journey was ready; I’ve lived through many

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Hours of longing. Now ’tis hope of my life

That the victory-tree I am able to seek,

Oftener than all men I alone may

Honor it well; my will to that

Is mickle in mind, and my plea for protection

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To the rood is directed. I’ve not many mighty

Of friends on earth; but hence went they forth

From joys of the world, sought glory’s King;

Now live they in Heaven with the Father on high,

In glory dwell, and I hope for myself

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On every day when the rood of the Lord,

Which here on earth before I viewed,

In this vain life may fetch me away

And bring me then, where bliss is mickle,

Joy in the Heavens, where the folk of the Lord

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Is set at the feast, where bliss is eternal;

And may He then set me where I may hereafter

In glory dwell, and well with the saints

Of joy partake. May the Lord be my friend,

Who here on earth suffered before

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On the gallows-tree for the sins of man!

He us redeemed, and gave to us life,

A heavenly home. Hope was renewed,

With blessing and bliss, for the sufferers of burning.

The Son was victorious on that fateful journey,

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Mighty and happy,[21] when He came with a many,[22]

With a band of spirits to the kingdom of God,

The Ruler Almighty, for joy to the angels

And to all the saints, who in Heaven before

In glory dwelt, when their Ruler came,

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Almighty God, where was His home.


  1. Feowere, B.'s emendation for MS. fægere, 'fair.'
  2. Silken cords, or tassels, W.; sailyards, ropes, in Hall and Sweet.
  3. Wealdendes, S.'s emendation for MS. wealdes, 'wood'; so Kl.
  4. Sty, 'mount,' common in Middle English.
  5. Here and below W. gives the corresponding verses from the Ruthwell Cross. They will also be found in Stopford Brooke's "Early English Literature," p. 337, q.v.
  6. Gr. changes MS. nænigum to ænigum and others follow; W. as MS.
  7. Forð-eode, not for-ðeode, 'overcame,' as Sw. W.'s note is an oversight.
  8. MS. to þam æðelinge. Sw. follows Ruthwell Cross, æðele to anum.
  9. Banan must be taken as gen. pl.; B. reads banana; Sw. thinks it "a mistake for some other [word], possibly beorg," and takes banan as gen. sing. referring to the cross, though he adds, "this is very improbable." Truly so, as the cross is speaking.
  10. Maete werode, lit., 'with a small band,' but it means 'by himself.'
  11. Greotende is Gr.'s emendation for MS. reotende; B. hreotende; K. geotende; Sw. as Gr.
  12. Stefn is Kl.'s emendation to fill lacuna. W. prefers it, but does not think it convincing.
  13. Us here must refer to the three crosses, that of Christ and those of the two thieves.
  14. This half-line is Gr.'s emendation to fill lacuna in MS. Sw. and W. leave it blank.
  15. Or, 'of the wicked,' 'of criminals.'
  16. I have used this Middle English word for sake of the alliteration.
  17. Sw.'s text ends here. It was translated a few years ago in Poet-Lore as if it were the whole poem.
  18. MS. holmwudu; K. holtwudu, and so Gr. with (?).
  19. MS. unforht, but Gr.'s anforht suits the sense better.
  20. i.e., 'by myself.' See on 69.
  21. Lit., 'speedy,' 'successful.'
  22. A company, a crowd; common in Middle English.