Translation: The Dream of the Rood (repost)

Time to reclaim some of my old work. First up, a translation (circa 1991) I made of the Anglo-Saxon poem “The Dream of the Rood”. Strangely, I’ve recently found out that this translation is still being used in Anglo-Saxon literature classes, 20 some years after I wrote it.The Wikipedia entry for this work can be found here.

Also included is a prose version of the verse translation. I don’t believe that version has ever been posted to the ‘net. I forget why I did it, although I seem to recall that at one time I had delusions of trying to translate all of the Anglo-Saxon poetic corpus with the intention of perhaps submitting it for publication.  Of these two translation versions, I think I prefer the verse translation, although the prose translation may be a little easier to understand.

PERMISSION IS HEREBY GRANTED to reproduce this translation, so long as the following conditions are met: 1) It is to be used for classroom or other educational purposes; 2) That it is not to be reproduced for profit; and 3) That the translation be properly credited to its translator, namely me (Douglas B. Killings). If you have any questions about reproducing this work, you may contact me at DeTroyes@sbcglobal.net.  Thank you!

—DBK

*****

Originally written in Anglo-Saxon, circa 8th to 9th Century A.D.

Author unknown, although the work is sometimes attributed to the Anglo-Saxon poet Cynewulf, of whom nothing is known except his name.

Certain lines of the poem are also inscribed on an Anglo-Saxon runic cross, known as the Ruthwell Cross. The cross (about nine feet tall and made of stone) is thought to date from about the middle of the 7th century. It is not known if the poet was quoting the cross inscription, vice versa, or even if both are quoting from an unknown (and now lost) third source.

This work survives only in a codex known as The Vercelli Book, so-called because it was found in a monestary in Vercelli, Italy.

This translation is based on the edition of B. Dickens and A.S.C. Ross, (eds.), The Dream of the Rood (Methuen, London, 1937).

The Dream of the Rood

Verse Translation

Behold! The best of dreams I shall tell,
what I drempt in the midnight,
after mortal men upon couches dwell.
It seem to me that I perceived a rare and wondrous tree
extending on high a surrounding light
alit the wood brightly. All that beacon was
covered with gold; jewels studded
lovingly at its Earthan base, while likewise there were five
upon that shoulder-span. Behold there the Angel of God,
lovely through-out eternity. There was not an evil criminal on the gallows,
but it was at He there gazed the Holy Spirits,
men throughout Earth and all this glorious creation.
Wondrous was that Victory Tree, and I the sinner guilty
and badly wounded with stain. There I observed the glorious wood
adorned with garment that beautifully beamed,
garnished with gold; with it gems stood
covering splendidly the Lord’s tree.
But nevertheless through that gold I understood
the wretched ancient struggle, when it first began
bleeding on the right side. I was with sorrow disturbed,
frightened for this stunning vision. Saw I that brilliant beacon
then change garment and color: sometimes with moisture soaked,
drenched in flowing blood, sometimes with treasure still adorned.
But nevertheless I there lay a long time I took
sorrowfully gazing at the Saviour’s tree,
until then I drempt that it spoke;
beginning with these words the tree did decree:
“A long time ago– yet still I remember–
that I was cut down from the edge of the timber,
and removed from my roots. Powerful fiends there held me off,
for a spectacle to make, command me a criminal to aloft.
I on their shoulders these men bore up the top of a hill to plant;
fastened there amid enemies aplenty. Then I saw the Lord of mankind
hasten with great zeal that he would on me climb.
There I did not dare to break God’s word
and bend down or break, though I felt the tremble
of the Earthan surface. I might have been able
upon those fiends to fall, yet I stood stable.
“Then the young hero did disrobe — that was God Almighty –,
strong and resolute; on the wretched gallows he did ascend,
bold and courageous as many observed for mankind’s past he would amend.
Tremble did I as the hero embraced me; but yet I dared not bend,
and fall to the Earth’s surface, therefore I stood firm.
A cross I became; lifted up with the mighty King,
the Heavenly Master; but yet I dared not bend.
With dark nails they pierced me: on me the scars are visible,
the open and malicious wounds. For him I dared not, so
no one did I injure. Mocked they us
both together. I was all with blood sodden
from the side of the Hero after his spirit was ceded.
Much ridicule on that hill did I experience
with this cruel event: The God of Hosts
hideously stretched out. Darkness had now
covered with clouds the Lord’s corpse,
and its shining radiance; A darkness went forth,
black under the clouds. Weep all creation,
lament the King’s fall: Christ was on the Cross.
“But then there hastened many from afar
to that Prince: I beheld it all.
I was with sorrow troubled, so bowed I did to the hands of men,
with great humility. They then took the almighty God,
and removed him from that bitter punishment. Left me then those warriors
sprinkled with blood; all badly wounded with spears.
They laid him down weary of limb, and at his head they stood;
gazing there at Heaven’s Lord, as He there rested,
exhausted from his bitter struggle. A sepulcher they began to build
before the eyes of His tormenters, carved out of the brightest of stone,
there the Victorious Lord was placed; then they began a sorrowful dirge,
as evening time came. Afterwards they went
wearily from the glorious Prince; there he rested alone.
Even so there we wept a good while
standing afixed, after which departed
the warrior. His corpse grew cold,
that lovely body. Then men chopped us down
to the Earth; that was such a terrible event!
They buried us in a deep pit; but there the Lord’s servants,
discovered us, [raised us from the grave,?]
and girded me with gold and silver.
“Now you may have heard, my dear beloved man,
of the deeds of evil men I have experienced,
sore and grievous they are. But now is the time
that I be revered far and wide
by men throughout the Earth and all this glorious creation,
should pray to this beacon. On me the Son of God
did suffer; for that I gloriously now
tower under heaven, that I might heal
each and everyone that shows awe of me.
Of old I was once the most bitter of tortures,
hated by people, until I showed him life’s path
properly opened, before mortal man.
Behold, me the honored glorious lord
above all the trees of the forest, the Guardian of Heaven,
just as His mother, Mary herself,
almighty God all men
honor above all of womankind.
Now I do command, my dear beloved one,
that you this vision tell to man:
reveal the word that it is this glorious tree,
on which almighty God did suffer
for mankind’s many sins
and Adam’s misdeeds of old.
Death he there tasted; yet the Lord arose again
with his great power to help man.
He then to Heaven ascended. To here again
on this Middle Earth shall come to mankind
on Doomsday the Lord himself,
almighty God, and with his Angels,
that we will adjudge, using that power of judgment,
upon each individual as to their past lives here
in this fleeting life to prepare.
Nor may there any be not afraid
for the words that the Lord may say:
He shall ask before the multitude where is that man,
who in the Lord’s name would take death’s
bitter taste, just as He did before on the tree.
But they then shall be afraid and few will imagine
what to Christ they can begin to say.
Of no benefit then for anyone to be very frightened
if Him in their breast they carry this select of beacons,
and by virtue of the Cross shall come to the Kingdom
of Earth each and every soul,
to with the Lord desire to dwell.”
Prayed I then to the tree in joyful spirit,
with great zeal, and then there I was alone
in small company. It was by my heart
urging on forward, the many experiences
do I long for. It is now my life’s joyous hope
that I the Victory Tree may be allowed to seek
and moreover that all men,
eagerly honor it thus: it is my desire that
I grow great in spirit and that my hope of protection
is proper to the Cross.
Although I do not have many powerful
friends in this world, for they have left from here
and departed the worldly joys, and sought the wondrous King,
who lives now in Heaven with the Heavenly Father,
where they dwell in glory, so I look forward
each day to the time when my Lord’s Cross,
which here on Earth I had earlier beheld,
will from this fleeting life carry me off
and bring me then there with great bliss,
the heavenly dream, there with the Lord’s people
to be with always, there in perpetual bliss,
and I then shall live there ever after and allowed to
dwell in glory, with the Saints
and in joyful bliss. I shall be the Lord’s friend,
who here on Earth did suffer once
on that gallows tree for man’s sins:
He redeemed us and gave us life,
and a heavenly home. Hope has been renewed
with blessings and with bliss for those who endured the fire;
the Son was victorious on that journey,
powerful and successful, that he left with a large
army of souls to God’s kingdom,
the Ruler almighty, to angelic bliss
he brought all the souls and came to Heaven
to dwell in glory, and that the Lord came,
the almighty God, there to his homeland went.

Prose Translation

(Lines 1-12) Behold! The best of dreams I shall tell, that I drempt at midnight, after mortal men where asleep in their beds. It seemed to me that I saw a rare and wondrous tree, which extended on high and surrounded by a light which lit the wood brightly. All of that beacon was covered in gold; jewels studded lovingly at its Earthan base, while likewise there were five upon the shoulder-span. Beheld there the Angel of God, being lovely through-out eternity. They did not behold an evil criminal on the gallows, but it was at Him did gaze the Holy Spirits, as well as men throughout the Earth and all of this glorious creation.

(Lines 13-17) Wondrous was that Victory Tree, and I the sinner guilty and badly wounded with the stain of sin. There I observed the glorious wood adorned with garments that beautifully beamed; it stood garnished with gold and gems covering splendidly the Lord’s tree.

(Lines 18-23) But nevertheless through that gold I could perceive the ancient struggle of the wretched ones, as it first began bleeding on the right side. I was disturbed by sorrow, frightened by this stunning vision. I then saw that brilliant beacon change garment and color: sometimes with moisture soaked, drenched in flowing blood, sometimes with treasure [still] adorned.

(Lines 24-27) Nevertheless, I laid there a long time, gazing at the Saviour’s tree, until I drempt that it talked. Beginning with these words the tree spoke:

(Lines 28-34) “It was a long time ago (yet I still remember) that I was cut down from the edge of the forest and removed from my roots. Powerful fiends there took me off to make of me a spectacle, commanding a criminal to loft into the air. On their shoulders these men bore me up to the top of a hill; fastened there amid enemies plenty. Then I saw the Lord of mankind come to me with great zeal, so that he would climb on to me.

(Lines 35-38) There I did not dare to break God’s1 word, so I did not bend down or break, though I felt the Earth’s surface tremble. I might have been able to fell2 those fiends, but I stood my ground.

(Lines 39-56) “Then the young hero disrobed (this was God Almighty); strong and resolute, to the wretched gallows he ascended. Beings bold and courageous as the many observed, he would redeem mankind’s past. Tremble did I as the hero embraced me; yet I dared not bend and fall to the Earth’s surface, so therefore I stood firm. A cross I became, lifted up with the mighty King, the Heavenly Master; but yet I still dared not bend. With dark nails they pierced me: on me the scars, the open and malicious wounds, are still visible. For Him I dared not break, so I did not injure anyone. They mocked us both together. After his spirit left the body, I was sodden with blood from the side of the Hero. Much ridicule on that hill I experienced with this cruel event, with the God of Hosts hideously stretched out. Darkness had now covered the Lord’s corpse and its shining radiance with clouds. A darkness went forth, black under the clouds. All creation wept and lamented the King’s fall: Christ was on the Cross.

(Lines 57-77) “But then there hastened to that Prince many from afar: I beheld it all! I was troubled with sorrow, so I bowed with great humility and courage to the hands of men. They then took the almighty God, and removed him from that bitter punishment. Left me then those warriors, all sprinkled with blood and badly wounded with spears. Weary of limb, they laid him down and at his head they stood, gazing there at Heaven’s Lord as He rested there, exhausted from his bitter struggle. A sepulcher was constructed under the very eyes of His tormenters, carved out of the brightest of stone, and there the Victorious Lord was placed. Then, as evening time came, they began a sorrowful dirge. Afterwards, they went wearily away from the glorious Prince; there he rested alone. Even so many there wept a good while, afixed, after which the company departed. His corpse, that lovely body, grew cold. Then men chopped us down to the Earth; that was such a terrible event! They buried us in a deep pit; but then the Lord’s servants discovered us,  [raised us from the grave,] and girded me with gold and silver.

(Lines 78-94) “Now you may hear3, my dear beloved man, of the deeds of evil men that I have experienced, sore and grievous they are. But now is the time that I be revered far and wide by men throughout the Earth and all this glorious creation, and should pray to this beacon. On me the Son of God did suffer; for that I now gloriously tower under heaven, that I might heal each and everyone that shows reverence of me. In olden times I was once made the most bitter of tortures, hated by people — until I opened up for them life’s path properly for mortal men. Behold, me the glorious lord honored above all the trees of the forest, the Guardian of Heaven! Just as He honored His mother, Mary herself, above all of womankind for the sake of men.

(Lines 95-121) Now I do command, my dear beloved one, that you tell this vision to man: reveal in words that it is this glorious tree, on which almighty God did suffer for mankind’s many sins and Adam’s misdeeds of old. Death he there tasted, but the Lord arose again with his great power to help man. He then ascended to Heaven. To this Middle Earth again He shall come to mankind. On Doomsday the Lord himself, almighty God, with his Angels He will adjudge, using that power of judgment upon each individual as they merited in their past, fleeting lives here did prepare them for. Nor will there be any afraid for what words the Lord might say: He shall ask before the multitude where is that man who, in the Lord’s name, would take death’s bitter taste, just as He did before on the tree. They then shall be afraid and few will imagine what they can begin to say to Christ. It is of no benefit, then, for anyone to be very frightened if with Him they carry this select of beacons in their breasts; by virtue of the Cross shall come to the Kingdom of Earth each and every soul which desires to dwell with the Lord.”

(Lines 122-156) I then prayed to the tree in joyful spirit and with great zeal, and then I was alone. With my heart urging me on forward, there are many experiences I have longed for. It is now my life’s joyous hope that I may be allowed to seek the Victory Tree, more than all men, to eagerly honor it thus. It is my desire that I grow great in spirit and that my hope of protection is proper to the way of the Cross. I do not have many powerful friends in this world, for they have left here, departing the worldly joys and have sought him the wondrous King, so their lives are now in Heaven with the Heavenly Father dwelling in glory, so I look forward each day to the time when my Lord’s Cross (which here on Earth once beheld) will from this fleeting life carry me off and bring me there to great bliss, the heavenly dream, and to be with the Lord’s people always in perpetual bliss. I then shall live there ever after and allowed to dwell, along with the Saints, in glory and joyful bliss. May the Lord be my friend, who here on Earth did suffer once on that gallows tree for man’s sins. He redeemed us and gave us life and a heavenly home. Hope has been renewed, with blessings and bliss for those who endured the fire; powerful and successful, the Son was victorious on that journey and left with a large army of souls to God’s kingdom, the Ruler almighty. To angelic bliss he brought all those souls and came to Heaven to dwell in its glory, and after the Lord came, the almighty God, went to his homeland.

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