What — most choice of dreams I choose
to chatter, what dreamed me in middest night,
once other chatterers crept to couch… (1–3)

Every inch bethinks me, what eye blinks to see,
tree of your dreams borne aloft on breeze,
dragged out in dazzle, brightliest of beams. (4–6a)

Thoroughly gotten in gold, poured & pouring,
a beacon, a trace — a sign. (6b–7a)

Gems from foreign corners
faraway fairness all enfolded,
like these five found uploaded
across this sibling span. (7b–9a)

Divine creatures cradle it each & every one
beauteous promise of things to become —
No longer some gallows for the guilty,
they nourished it, these holy messengers
watched it grow for human types
across this mortal garden,
matter & mold made famous. (9b–12)

Every tree a winner, & this one most of all —
and here I was splattered with sin,
impaled on my imperfections.
I gazed upon the glorious growth,
wreathed in its worthy windings,
joyfully aglow, garnished in golden:
gemstones gladsome bandaged its scars,
the wielder’s tree. (13–17)

Yet even through dearworthy dressings
I could still look upon its traumas,
wretched & old, so that it began at once
to sweat blood along its right half.
In every part I was dredged in regret —
I was afeared for its fearful beauty. (18–21a)

I witnessed the change, the streaking beacon,
warping its own in clad & color:
sometimes it was blood steaming,
swilling in trills & rills of ruddy sweat;
sometimes it was bedazzled with richness. (21b–23)

Yet I, couching there many long whens,
cradled that healing tree, raw in cares,
until I picked up on it echoing, resounding.
Most fabulous of the forest it flowed in words: (24–27)

“The years further, memories yet fresh —
hewn down at holt’s end,
dragged from secret dreamings.
Surpassing foes snatched me there,
stood me their own shivering spectacle,
compelled me to crop their criminals.
Carriers carried me upon their shoulders —
though I am no brother to them —
until they rooted me in their realm,
enemies enough fixed me there. (28–33a)

“Then I spotted the first free-born
racing bracing with bravado
to mount me up merrily.
Me there, I didn’t dare sway or shiver
unless lordly words should allow —
then I watched in wavering
the reaches, the distances of earth.
I could have mown these foes down —
yet stood I still. (33b–38)

“Unyaring himself then, this young —
it was god all-surpassing —
strong and set in purpose.
He mounted upwards on gallows,
heightened & humiliated,
impetuous in the imagination
of many & all, when he wanted
to undo his humankind. (39–41)

“I tremble in the man’s embrace —
Hardly dare to humble me to earth,
tumble down around distant regions,
obligated yet to tower right here.
I was areared a rood — tree, tower, & sign —
heaving aloft the hearty first,
heavenly bread-giver —
hardly dare to heel or halter. (42–45)

“They forced me through
with darkness, with nails —
Witness in me their woundcraft
the gashings of gnashing spite.
Hardly dare to savage that lot
making us shame, us two together.
I’m all ooze, bedrooled with blood,
sluiced from, juiced from his side —
once this one had flickered forth. (46–49)

“Me on hill, I’ve known so much, 
the wrathing words. I watched
that being well-attended stretched
into agony. Shadows splinted
by clouds, sovereign raw flesh,
the blearing of the clearness,
darkness blown by & gone away,
skulking beneath stormy skies. (50–55a)

“All creation was wrung,
a hue & cry for first one’s fall —
The anointed was anointed,
as appointed —
Anyways they come cruising,
rushing in from afar to their noble.
I take all this inside. (55b–58)

“Pained perplexed & punctured —
yet I was bowed by crowds,
their hands humble-minding me,
my valor, my greatness. (59–60a)

“They snatched that almighty one,
hefting him from hard heaviness.
Fierce to fight, they’ve forsaken me
to stand there, made to drape blood,
put through with piercing. (60b–62)

“They laid him down, weary limbs,
attending him at the body’s head,
winding up the lord of heavens,
while that one slumbered for some time,
wearied by so much winning. (63–65a)

“Right away they wrung him a warren —
that company in sight of slayers —
carving it from carbuncle, chalcedony
setting him thereon, the player of fortune. (65b–67a)

“They set up too a sorrowing song,
wretching in eventides, wanting
to venture out at once,
wearied on behalf of
that ever-known lord—
still among that stilted circle. (67b–69)

“All of us, however,
gruching those good whiles,
footed the foundation,
as murmurings up & left,
of those battling off.
The carcass cooled—
lovely lively-hall—
when wicked ones lopped
us both, laid to earth.
Such a dreary outcome! (70–74)

“The wicked carved us down
into a cavernous cave.
Even still, lordful thanes
—said they were friends—
searched me out
and dragged me up
in gold and in silver. (75–77)

“Now can you hear,
O you mortal thing you,
how I waded through
the workings of ones
haunting their harrowing,
their sores, their sorrows. (78–80a)

“Now the season is very much upon us—
the hall arrived— when humans
clenched to earth, rooted wide & broad,
worthy me — and all these workings
widely renowned.
Beseeching this bright beech. (80b–83a)

“Upon me the child of god
travailed & tribulated some time.
And so, I tower tall once again,
under pendant skies,
pressed with potence,
now able to cure any one of you,
you who are as afeared as me. (83b–86)

“Back then I became
the worst of ordeals,
hateful to humanity,
before the lively way
was stretched out properly
for all those, the chatterers. (87–89)

“Okay, at that point in time,
the skipper of splendor,
worthied me above foresty trees,
the ward-keep of vaulted realms.
Just like he honored his own mother—
Mary, that’s her name—
above the lot of other women.
He was god all-surpassing. (90–94)

“Now let me charge you this,
my charming man, to unclose
this disclosing, speak it wordfully,
to all humanity — it is this glorious beam
that the ever-powered god pained upon
for the endless defaults of humankind —
even Adam’s ancient workings. (95–100)

Tasting death, he was mounded under
while this other lord mounted up
amid his manifold mights,
as helpmeet to humankind.
Then he shot into the heavens. (101–103a)

Soonward, he will strive
back to this middle yard,
seeking the seeds of mortals
on the day accounts are due,
the lord themselves,
god ever-compassing
among an angelic entourage,
the urge to judge upon them,
who keeps the right to reckon
each & every one, alone
just as they accrued in the earlier
during this loan we call life. (103b–109)

“Nor can any of them stand fearless
at the pronunciation
that the potentate proclaims.
They will inquire before the entirety
where the mortal might be
who dared to drink death’s bitters
in the name of this lord,
just as this one once did
upon the beaming tree. (110–114)

Yet they will shiver then
few imagining what they could
offer up to Christ in reply.
No need for any to dread there,
those who blazon the better beacon
across their breast — instead
they shall root out the realm
by means of the rood,
every soul who plans to keep
their reservations with the ruler.” (115–121)

At that moment, I put in my request
with that shining tree
with brimming heart,
courage overcupping
where I was lonely planted,
my own host scanty.
The channels of my ownsome
so very eager to ferry themselves
onto the forthwards ways,
greeting and meeting
all these whiles,
these miles of mourning. (122–126)

Now — my life hopes forward,
to find permit to trace the track
of that triumphant tree,
lonesome more often than not —
lauding those limbs as befits
more than other mortals.
The urge in me urges urgently,
the patronage of my heart rood-right. (127–131a)

How am I overfraught with friends
along the folds of the earth,
ever since they turned away
from the pleasances of this place,
flowing forthwards far from here?
They quested themselves towards
the chief charged in grandeur
cohabiting now in the celestiality
with the highest daddy,
glamping out in glory. (131b–135a)

Hoping my way all these days
for when this rood, lordly to me
the one I pour over here
on this plane, shall put paid
to the loan of my life
and then pack me up
towards where is every joy,
happiness through heaven —
where the captain’s crew
are seated for the cookout. (135b–141a)

There is a singularity of bliss —
I will be seated there as well,
where I may be granted
afterwards an abiding
in all this abundance,
living swell among the sainted,
brooking these blissings. (141b–144a)

Let the lord sponsor me,
the hallowed who swallowed
here on earth a forest of gallows
for the sins of their fellows. (144b–146)

Delivered from bonds
and given life, a home upwardly.
Anticipation was granted fresh,
draped in fruits & every fairness
to all those who weathered the burning. (147–149)

That child was surpassing. a sure bet,
poured into the cup of their way,
able and accomplished,
when they entered the fray,
the companionry of souls,
in the realm of god —
single hand on the rudder,
every every power (150–153a)

with angels as ecstasy
and all those sanctified,
the ones who climbed
before into heavens to abide
in all that splendor — (153b–155a)

when their wielder arrived,
divine power multiplied,
where their dwelling was. (155b–156)

Comments

  • This is my favourite translation, \”well-worthied\” is beautiful and I only found it jarring in the way all good, particularly mystical, poems should be.*

    Lying Life of Adults (2019, Ann Golstein’s English translation 2020):
    “Poetry is made up of words, exactly like the conversation we’re having. If the poet takes our banal words and frees them from the bounds of our talk, you see that from within their banality they manifest an unexpected energy. God manifests himself in the same way.”
    “The poet isn’t God, he’s simply someone like us who also knows how to create poems.”
    “But that creation opens your eyes, amazes you.”
    “When the poet is good, yes.”
    “And it surprises you, gives you a jolt.”
    “Sometimes.”
    “God is that: a jolt in a dark room where you can no longer find the floor, the walls, the ceiling. There’s no way to reason about it, to discuss it. It’s a matter of faith. If you believe, it works. Otherwise, no.”
    “Why should I believe in a jolt?”
    “Because of religious spirit.”
    “I don’t know what that is.”
    “Think of an investigation like one in a murder mystery, except that the mystery remains a mystery. Religious spirit is just that: a propulsion onward, always onward, to expose what lies hidden.”

    • This is a lovely quotw & it really expresses a goal & need for me in my work. There were lines of medieval thought that argued the less apt a term seemed to describe the divine the better it could serve (I’m thinking of the pseudo-Dionysius here). Poetry needs to weird, & when it no longer does, it’s given up for other styles or forms. Thanks for hearing me & I hope you enjoy how this site evolves in days to come.

  • We cover the translation from the Norton 9th but I’m definitely recommending this page to those students who don’t want (or see the need) to buy the textbook.

    Great Job Dr. Hostetter!

    • If the Dream of the Rood does not say what kind explicitly, I’m going to more or less assume we don’t know, nor was it important to interpreting that particular poem. However, there is a Cross riddle (in the Exeter Book Riddles section) that says it uses the wood of four different trees.

  • Beautiful. I’ve never seen the term middle-earth anywhere but in Tolkien’s writings. This obviously pre-dates Tolkien. It makes me wonder if it first came about in this poem.

    • Hi – yes, Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon literature and undoubtedly took the term from there. The concept of a middle earth – ‘middangeard’ in Old English – was common in Germanic literature of the early Middle Ages and is also found in Old Norse (as Miðgarðr) and in the German dialects of the period too

  • I came across this poem first in a book entitled “The Soul in Paraphrase” a collection by Leland Ryken of chronological sacred poetry. However, the poem was shortened, as I could see. Therefore, I looked it up online and found this site. Praise the Lord! I read sacred poetry daily and I write sacred poetry almost daily. This poem, THE DREAM OF THE ROOD, has been a huge blessing to me personally over the last week and ½ already. I’ll be spending more time on it in the weeks ahead. I cannot thank you enough for posting it online.

  • It’s my first time reading this poem. Beautiful! I hope to share it next year with my English 12 students… when we are back in school… studying Anglo-Saxon Literature again! Thank you.

  • In line 81a, “worthy” for “weorðiað” seems to me to be jarring. I suppose you could read “worthy” as an archaic verb (i.e. to honour, recognise as worthy), but really, in the context of a largely contemporary English translation, I think it sounds like a noun. I’d use “honour” or something instead.

    • I hear you — it is intended as an archaic sounding verb designed exactly to jar you. “Honor” is what everybody else says. I’m not interesting in that at all.

      • Would be interested to know, what’s the purpose of jarring the reader there? For me, I’m not sure it doesn’t go beyond jarring; it really interferes with my comprehension and halts me in my tracks, going back and forth trying to parse and interpret it. I mean, I think I can see what you’re doing generally, with some of the nice effects of various archaisms and odd-sounding compounds and things, and it does have an Old English flavour. But I think I agree with Dan that that one is going a bit too far. (I also find ‘splattered’ a bit incongruous, but I guess that’s intended.)

        But I do really like this translation on the whole.

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