In this article, you can find a simple summary of the poem The Dream of The Rood. We will also discuss its themes and details about its author.
The Dream of the Rood is the oldest piece of Old English literature. It is one of the best examples of Old English dream poetry that is still safe. It is a 156-line poem and was preserved in the Vercelli Book. And like most works in the genre, its poet also wrote it using the alliterative verse format.
This poem is one of the most beautiful and moving pieces of poetry. It is about the Crucifixion of Christ in Anglo-Saxon poetry. It starts with a description of the Cross and the Crucified Christ. It’s a very personal poem that explores the ideas of sin, judgment, and repentance.
The poem works on many levels and it is a classic example of the Christian teaching about the power of the Cross. It’s a fascinating piece of poetry to read and has had a profound impact on people throughout the ages.
Some thoughts about dream Poetry
Dream poems are a popular form of poetry but they remained very popular in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. It is a genre of poetry that has a specific use. It is often used to explore feelings and thoughts that may be difficult to express. Dreams are a source of insight into the self and the world. They reflect our fears and desires and lead us toward the understanding of the unknown. This is why they are useful but also difficult to interpret.
The Dream of the Rood tells the story of a man who dreams about being on the Cross. In this post, we will discuss the story, themes, and summary of the Dream of the Rood. Besides, we will also share some insights on this very interesting content.
Dream poetry is particularly associated with Anglo-Saxon literature. The elite members of the Anglo-Saxon society wrote and read it. And it is often associated with the royal courts of the time. The literary tradition of dream poetry began in the eighth century and continued until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Although The Dream of the Rood is a dream narrative, the poet has presented the poem as a piece of history.
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Origins and history of ‘The dream of the Rood’
The poem was composed around 1000 AD, during the British Renaissance. It was the period of renewed interest in the culture and language of Anglo-Saxon England. Although it was once thought to be a product of the Renaissance, it is now thought to be a product of an earlier period. It may be from the late eighth or early ninth century. The poem was preserved in a single manuscript, Cotton Otho B. x, which is now housed in the British Library.
There are sections of “The Dream of the Rood” first found in the Ruthwell Cross, which dates back to the 8th century. Eighteen verses from the poem were carved on the cross in runic letters. In 1822, scholars discovered the complete poem. They found it in northern Italy in the 10th-century “Vercelli book”.
The Ruthwell Cross was an 18-foot-tall Anglo-Saxon cross of carved stone, held upright. Such a cross was maybe intended to be an instrument or a “conversion tool.” On each side of the vine tracery, runes are carved. There is a piece on the cross that was written in Runes. Along with scenes of Jesus healing the blind, the Annunciation, and the history of Egypt.
Although it was torn down and destroyed during the start of the protestant revolt. It was rebuilt as much as possible due to the fear that the iconography would end. Although it was a time of religious unrest. Thank goodness, the phrases written in the runes were kept in the Codice Vercelli. That is why it is said that the Codex was kept in Vercelli, Italy.
The Dream of The Rood, a summary of the poem
This piece of poetry is a classic example of early English poems that are preserved in the Vercelli Book. The Vercelli Book is one of the 4 Old English Poetic Codices. It is a collection of Old English manuscripts dating from the 10th century. This work of poetry is very powerful and moving. It tells the story of the crucifixion of Christ from the perspective of the cross. And it is a strong reminder of the sacrifice that Christ made for us.
The narrator dreams that he is standing before the Cross when it begins to speak to him. As the story progresses, the topics of the debate between Cross and Dreamer also change. Their talk turns from an explanation of Christianity to how one can get salvation via trust in Jesus.
The final three stanzas are more traditional in form than those preceding them. And they provide both a description of life after death and an admonition to follow God’s word. This Dream narrative is a fascinating look at pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon society. And also a glimpse of early Christian thinking about Christ.
The poem has three different sections:
1- The speaker recounts the environment of the crucifixion.
2- The Rood’s thoughts and the words that it spoke from its perspective, and
3- The dreamer’s opinion and thoughts once the dream is complete.
The first section of the poem introduces the dreamer, who falls asleep and has a dream of the cross. The poet dreams that he comes across a beautiful tree. It is the “Rood” or cross, on which Jesus Christ was crucified.
When the dreamer first sees the Cross, he notices how it is studded with diamonds. And gloriously decorated with gold and precious stones. He is aware of how poor he is in comparison to the gorgeous tree. But the poet can discern ancient wounds. He notices that the lovely stones are marred with blood.
The second section of the poem begins with a description of the crucifixion. The crucifixion is narrated from the perspective of the Rood. It speaks to the dreamer and tells the story of Christ’s sacrifice.
The cross speaks of how it was once a proud tree until it was chosen to be the instrument of Christ’s death. It describes how Christ was nailed to the cross and died. And how his blood flowed down and stained the wood of the cross. He suffered greatly, but he did not complain. He prayed for his murderers and asked God to forgive them.
The Cross then sees Christ’s body being taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb. It laments that the body of Christ, which was once so beautiful, is now hidden away in the darkness of the tomb. The cross also speaks of how it was able to witness Christ’s resurrection. And how it was raised up as a symbol of hope for all who see it. Christ’s suffering and death saved humanity and opened the gates of heaven.
Adelheid L. J. Thieme notes that “The cross itself is presented as a supporter of its lord. Whose most outstanding characteristic is that of unswerving loyalty.” The Cross and Christ, both star in the passion. They are both pierced with nails, mocked, and tortured. Then, as with Christ, the cross is resurrected and adorned with gold and silver.
In the third part of this dream poem, the speaker tells how Christ’s crucifixion has changed the world. He describes how Christ’s sacrifice has given new life to humanity. And how his death has conquered evil. The speaker reflects on how Christ’s love for us is shown through his willingness to die for us.
This section ends with the speaker urging us to follow Christ’s example and live our lives for him. He thanked God for what he saw. And he is full of hope for eternal life and the desire to be once again near the glorious cross.
Themes of the poem The Dream of the Rood
After presenting the summary, we will now talk about the themes of The Dream of The Rood. The themes of the poem focus on the Christian view of Christ’s death and resurrection. The poet portrays Christ and the crucifixion in the poem from the point of view of a tree. Also, the poem is notable for being one of the few works from Anglo-Saxon England. It also highlights what happened after Christ’s death.
Generally speaking, dreams in Old English poetry center on foretelling one’s future. They also focus on describing an event that would occur during one’s lifetime. Like much other Anglo-Saxon poetry, this poem also mixes Christian and pre-Christian imagery. But, in the end, it is a Christian masterpiece.
The poet of this poem was Cynewulf who was most likely a Christian monk living in the 8th century. He was one of the few Anglo-Saxon poets who wrote in Old English rather than Latin. The Anglo-Saxons were prolific dream poets. There are many themes that he has considered in this poem. The themes such as Christianity, sin, redemption, suffering, heaven, hell, death, and resurrection.
According to a theory, the poet of this poem created it to be used during Lent. However, there is no evidence for these claims apart from the thematic elements in the text. Lent is the season that precedes Easter. In various Christian branches, many Christians practice fasting and spiritual control during Lent.
Is The Dream of the Rood Pagan?
It is difficult to examine the poem as a pre-Christian or pagan piece. The scribes who may have written it were Christian monks. They lived in a time when Christianity was already established. At least among the elite in Anglo-Saxon England.
Some people argue for the prevalence of pagan elements in the poem. They say that the concept of a talking tree is animistic. If we remember, this is how the pagan elements include spirits and other wonderful things.
It has been stated that believing in the holy nature of natural objects sees the tree as an object of devotion. Despite the presence of pagan elements, the nature of the poem is based on Christian beliefs.
The entire poem refers to the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ as a triumph over sin and evil. These elements represent the strongest sign of the Christian faith.
This piece of dream narrative is the most famous single poem in Old English. The reason for its popularity stems from the fact that it has many layers. Readers can interpret it in different ways depending on how a reader gets to it. Scholars praise this poem for being able to cross over between different genres. But, some people also criticize it for being too ambiguous.
After reviewing the summary and themes, we will now talk about the author of The Dream of the Rood. It is a Christian poem. To this day, the authorship of this literary work remains a mystery. However, the Ruthwell Cross gives the poem an approximate time in which it might have been written. The author of The Dream of the Rood was certainly a Christian monk. He wrote it in the late 10th or early 11th century.
The poem is likely to have been written in Yorkshire. Which was one of the main centers of Anglo-Saxon Christianity in the early Middle Ages. It has been passed down from manuscript to manuscript with some changes. Scholars have been able to make suggestions about possible perpetrators. We have the two most disputed names for probable authorship. And that are the Anglo-Saxon Christian poets: Cynewulf, and Caedmon.
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Some details and arguments about Caedmon
Everything that scholars know about Caedmon’s life comes from a book. The title of the book is The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. And the author of the book was a Benedictine monk the Venerable Bede.
Caedmon is best known for the years 658-680 AD. Bede tells us that Caedmon was an illiterate pastor of a monastery. One night, through a dream, he learned to sing beautiful Christian verses praising the name of God. After his dream, Caedmon became the first Christian poet who paved the way for others. Such as Bede himself and Cynewulf.
Daniel H. Haigh was An Anglo-Saxon language researcher. He was a noted commentator on the Ruthwell Cross. He argues that the writings on the Ruthwell Cross must be fragments of one of Caedmon’s lost poems. Haigh states “In this monument, built around AD 665. C., we have fragments of a religious poem of a very high character. And there was only one man in England at that time who could be called a religious poet: Caedmon.”
You can check out books by Daniel H. Haigh here.
George Stephens’ arguments about Caedmon
Another runic scholar, George Stephens also made a claim. He argues that the poem has a specific structure of language and verse. It could only have come from the 7th century and a time before Bede. Note that the only Christian poet before Bede was Caedmon.
Stephens says that there could be no one else during that time who could have authored the poem as Caedmon. He adds that there is also notable runic writing on the Ruthwell Cross. The translation of the text is “Caedmon made me.” Despite this evidence, most scholars reject Haigh and Stephens’ claims. They say that in fact there is no such inscription.
Check out a very important work by George Stephens The Runes, Whence Came They?
A few details about Cynewulf
Cynewulf lived more or less in the years 770-840 AD. C., but very little information is available about his life. All we know about his life is what scholars have discovered from his poetry. Scholars have discovered Two of Cynewulf’s signature poems in the Vercelli Code. It includes Cynewulf’s poem to the holy cross, “Elene,” as well as the Dream of the Rood.
Many scholars argue that all the poems in the Vercelli Code are in fact Cynewulf’s. Leading German scholar Franz Dietrich points out the similarities between Cynewulf’s two poems. The titles of the two poems are what we have mentioned above. The similarity between these two works shows that the creator of both poems was the same person.
Dietrich makes four main arguments. One, theme of the poems is the cross. And most importantly, in both poetic works, the Cross also suffers along with Christ.
And two, it seems that in “Elene” Cynewulf had a clear reference to the cross of the Dream of the Rood.
Three, in “Elene” and his other poems, Cynewulf often speaks to himself. This makes it quite possible that the dreamer in this poem is none other than Cynewulf himself.
And four, finally, in both poems the author represents himself as an old man. Who has lost his joys or friends and is ready to exit from this world and die.
What is the story of the Dream of the Rood?
The poem we are talking about describes the Crucifixion of Christ. Which is a very religious and important event. The story is about a man who dreams of being on the Cross. The man sees a tree that is so tall and sturdy that it is able to hold the weight of the World. Then he dreams of being crucified on the branches of the tree.
Further in his dream, he sees a door opening, and the Tree of Life appears. The Tree of Life is so tall that it reaches all the way to Heaven. And then he sees a castle in the distance. This piece of work is a classic example of Old English dream poetry.
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The author of this poem does not tell his readers anything about himself. This poem is different from others in that it tells the story of what the author wants the reader to learn from it. He wants the reader to learn about the belief in God and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
It seems that the author of this poem wants to convince the reader to a point. The point is that his cross was actually a symbol of the love that the living God had for man.
What does it mean to dream of being on the Cross?
In this classic poetic work, the narrator dreams that he is on the cross. And his vision has a very significant meaning. The narrator who is a Christian, is on the cross because the cross means that he has committed sins. And the cross symbolizes his death.
But in the dream, the cross is not a painful experience, but a peaceful and happy experience. The vision is a reminder that the man who is now dead, was on the cross before he died. This is portrayed in the poem through the use of symbolism and imagery.
What is the key message of the Dream of the Rood?
The poem consists of 156 lines. It talks about the man’s thoughts and feelings before, during, and after his execution on the Cross. Overall this poem is about Christ and the Christian martyrs who died for God. But it is also about the narrator’s struggle to accept his own destiny.
In this narrative, a man dreams of the crucifixion. In his dream, he is offered a chance to avoid death by refusing to die on the cross. He accepts and escapes from death. The key message of the poem is that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was a gift, not a punishment. And the man realizes this after being saved from death.
The historical significance of the poem
This poetic work has been the subject of literary and historical study for generations. Readers and scholars have interpreted it in various ways. And it also provides a valuable window into early Christian England.
The poem uses strong images of Christ to reach members of the Anglo-Saxon warrior culture. Because they valued strength over humility. This might have been an intentional effort to convert pagan people to Christianity. It also reflects how the image of Jesus was changed according to different cultures.
The Dream of the Rood Summary and Themes | Conclusion:
This poem can be seen as a warning to those who forget their place in God’s world. It is also notable for its use of language and its almost lyrical structure. Scholars regard it as the finest of ancient English poems. This is because it has wonderful poetic sympathy, imagination, and sanctity. It also contains some of the most stunning imagery found in Old English literature.
This is a marvelous example of dream poetry, and everyone should read it. Yet it is sadly one of the most overlooked Old English poems. It gives insight into what the Anglo-Saxons thought about crucifixion in their time. And how Christianity affected their views on death.
At the end of this article The Dream of The Rood Summary, Themes, and author details, we hope you find this useful.
Kamran is a literature graduate from a reputed university. He started his journey in the world of writing blogs in 2012. Over the years, his passion for writing and love of books evolved into a dedicated book blog. With a discerning eye from a literature lover, he offers reviews, summaries, and thought-provoking discussion questions.