The Dream of the Rood (extract)

Translation by Professor Michael Alexander (University of St. Andrews, Scotland)
and published in The Earliest English Poems (Penguin Classics1967, 1977)
(The Copyright of this text belongs to the Translator and this online extract from the text may not be used for commercial purposes. This extract has been made available here for students who have no access to the original edition.)

Hwaet! Ic swefna cyst secgan wylle,
hwaet me gemaette to midre nihte,
syththan reordberend reste wunedon.

Hwaet! A dream came to me
            at deep midnight
When humankind
            kept their beds
- the dream of dreams!
            I shall declare it.

It seemed I saw the Tree itself
Borne on the air, light wound about it,
- a beam of brightest wood, a beacon clad
in overlapping gold, glancing gems
fair at its foot, and five stones
set in a crux flashed from the crosstree.

Around angels of God
                all gazed upon it,
since first fashioning fair.
                It was not a felon's gallows,
for holy ghosts beheld it there,
and men on mould, and the whole
Making shone for it
- signum of victory!
                Stained and marred,
stricken with shame, I saw the glory-tree
shine out gaily, sheathed in yellow
decorous gold; and gemstones made
for their Maker's Tree a right mail-coat.

Yet through the masking gold I might perceive
what terrible sufferings were once sustained thereon:
it bled from the right side.
                Ruth in the heart.

Afraid I saw that unstill brightness
change raiment and colour
                - again clad in gold
or again slicked with sweat,
                spangled with spilling blood.
Yet lying there a long while
I beheld, sorrowing, the Healer's Tree
yill it seemed that I heard how it broke silence,
Best of wood, and began to speak:

"Over that long remove my mind ranges
back to the holt where I was hewn down;
from my own stem I was struck away,
    dragged off by strong enemies,
wrought into a roadside scaffold.
    They made me a hoist for wrongdoers.

The soldiers on their shoulders bore me,
    until on a hill-top they set me up;
many enemies made me fast there.
    Then I saw, marching toward me,
mankind's brave King;
    He came to climb upon me.

I dared not break or bend aside
against God's will, though the ground itself
shook at my feet. Fast I stood,
who falling could have felled them all...


I was reared up, a rood.
    I raised the great King,
liege lord of the heavens,
    dared not lean from the true.
They drove me through with dark nails:
    on me are the deep wounds manifest...