EASTER POEM: THE DREAM OF THE ROOD

Posted: March 26, 2016 in Chat
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This is my own line-for-line literal translation of the whole Vercelli ms of the poem. I miss all the metrical tautness and alliteration. I hope, however, that it does give some impression of the period tone of the poem.

THE DREAM OF THE ROOD

     Hwaet! Ic swefna cyst   seegan wylle

h(w)aet me gematte   to midre nihte

   sythan reordberend   reste wunedon.

Listen, I had the best of dreams – I will tell you
well I dreamed this middle night,
when word-bearers had won their rest.
I thought that I saw a wonderful tree
in the air raised, light wrapped around it
bright shining. All of that symbol was
sprinkled with gold; gems stood
fair on the earth surface, and five there were
on the tree’s axlespan. Gazed on there by angels, the Lords’ all,
fair in creation. Nor was this a felon’s gallows
but beheld there by the holy spirit
in men upon the earth and all this great creation.
Marvellous was that sign of victory, and I a guilty sinner
stained with sins. I saw glory’s tree
dressed in honour, beautifully shining
covered with gold, gems it had on it
covered magnificently, this forest tree.
However by virtue of that gold I perceived the mighty
wretched former struggle earlier, as it began
to bleed on the right-hand side. I was all with sorrow distressed
a friend I was for that beautiful vision. I saw that dressed symbol
change covering and colour; at times it was with wetness bestreamed
soaked with blood flow, at times with treasure adorned.
However I long lay there, a long while
beholding the sorrowing of the Saviour’s tree,
until, I understood, I heard it speak.
To begin with the words spoken by the wood were great:

“That was very long ago ( I still remember)
When I was hewn, at the end of the wood,
Removed from my root. Taken away by strong foes
To become then on show, bid me to bear their felon.
Bearing me on their shoulders, until on a hill they set me
Fastened on me foes. I beheld the Lord of mankind
Made haste with great strength on me to mount.
There I then durst not over the word of the Lord
Bend or break, there I saw shake
The earth surface. I might have
Struck  foes down, however I stood fast.
Stripped then they the man (that was God almighty)
Strong and resolute; he ascended the gallows
Brave in many man’s sight, that he redeem the mocked.
Trembling I was embraced by the man, nor dust I bend to earth,
Or fall to earth’s surface. But I was obliged to stand fast.
Rood was I raised up. I lifted the powerful king,
Heaven’s Lord; bend I durst not.                 45
Piercing he and me with dark nails;
on me the wounds are visible,
Open malicious wounds. Nor durst I injure no one.
Mocked were we both together. I all with blood wet
Covered the sky altogether. The Lord’s corpse
Its bright radiance, overcome,
dark in shadow. All creation wept
lamenting the King’s fall. Christ was on the rood.
However, there hastened from afar coming
Sore I was with sorrow distressed, bent down to their hands
Humbled by their mighty courage.  They took away the great almighty,
The followers lifted off the heavy torment, left me a sorrowful warrior
Standing moisture drenched, as if all with arrows wounded.
They lay down the weary limbs, standing at the body’s head;
Beheld him their heaven’s Lord, then to his brief rest,
Exhausted after the mighty struggle.  They began a grave to make.
Warriors of the slain vision; cut down the bright stone,
Set him therein, the triumphant Lord. There began to sing the lament
Wretched in the evening time; then would afterwards depart
Exhausted from great joining, rested with followers.
However, they wept there a good while
Stood in position, afterwards they up and departed
Their warrior, the corpse grown cold,
Fair body. Then men cut me down again
All to earth;  that was a terrible fate!
I was buried as a man in a deep pit. Nevertheless the Lord’s followers,
His friends found me , ………………………..
Girded me with gold and silver.
Now thou might adorn, bend dearly to me
That am honoured far and wide
By men over the earth and all this great creation
Worship they my beacon. On me God’s Son
Suffered for a time. Therefore I am glorious to you
I rise up to heaven, and I may heal
Everyone who alone is in awe of me.
Evil people were before in life’s path,
The right way of is for speech-bearers.
Listen to me in this, honour the world’s Lord
On the wood on the hill, heaven’s Guardian
And there his mother, Mary herself,                                                              92
Of almighty God, for all men
And on behalf of all woman-kind.
Now, I who make these dear comments to you,
That this vision tell to mankind,
Disclose these words of a glorious tree,
Who saw almighty God as he suffered
For mankind, for people’s sins
And Adam’s former act.
Death he tasted; but afterwards the Lord arose
With his great might to help man.
He then to heaven ascended. Here afterwards to come
To this middle earth mankind to seek
On doomsday the Lord himself,
Almighty God, and with his angels
In judgement, with the power to judge the wretched
Every one , for what he earlier here
In this transitory life deserved.
Not able anymore to be afraid
Because of the word of the Lord’s lament.
He asked for many where he saw men
So in the Lord’s name would die
Tasting bitterness as He had formerly died.
Who had been afraid, and feared to think
He to Christ is to begin to declare.
No need then anymore to be afraid
He who before his heart bears this good symbol.
But he who durst the rood see reaching the kingdom
From earth each soul
With the Ruler dwells henceforth.”

Biding then by the tree made joyful
much strength there I alone strove
I of a small company. Strong  in spirit
urged on to depart, endured
a time of longing. I beheld now life’s hope
that of the tree of victory may he seek out
often alone, by all men
to be fully honoured. It was my desire though
the great heart, and protection as well,
I directed to the rood.  I possessed no great power
nor friends on earth. They were away from here
departed from the delight of the world,
they sought the glorious King,
a new life in heaven with God the Father,
to dwell in glory; and I hoped for
every day when I to the Lord’s rood,
which I here on earth formerly saw,
on this transitory life I fetched upon
that I bring from there great bliss,
joy of heaven,  of the Lord’s folk
a place at the feast, there I afterwards may
live in glory, fully with the holy
in joy partaking . To be the Lord’s friend.
he who here on earth before suffered
on the gallows tree for every man’s sins.
He us redeemed and our lives granted,
is home in heaven.  Gladness is to be renewed
with blessedness and bliss for they that endure suffering
the Son triumphant on his journey,
mighty and successful, then he among many came,
a multitude of spirits, on God’s ascent,
Lord Almighty, angels of bliss
besides all the holy, besides they in heaven before
dwelling in glory – to the Ruler came
almighty God, there his abode was.

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Comments
  1. This must have taken ages to translate. Really good stuff. Plus, ‘durst’ is such a great word!

    • I durst say it did, and it is.
      I bought the book in a library sale from Bolton: it has just the full anglo-saxon version.
      Loved doing it; it’s one way of really getting to know a language.

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