Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Dream of the Rood

Someone compared the Vexilla Regis to the Dream of the Rood in a comment awhile back, and when teaching them both for English class last Lent I decided to try to make an alliterative translation of the former--not directly from Anglo-Saxon, which I can't read, but from a literal translation. Also, there are sections left out where I got lazy; I might add them in someday.

The Dream of the Rood
Cynewulf, 770-840

Lo! I will tell of the best of dreams
What I dreamed in my bed at darkest midnight
When speakers were silent, all asleep.
It seemed I saw a wondrous tree
Rising aloft and wrapped in light,
Brightest of trees. That beacon was all
Covered with gold. Colored gems crusted
The ground it grew in, and five most flaming
Were set at its center. The saints in glory
Looked on the Lord's sign, light from heaven.
No grim wrongdoer's gallows this!
All holy spirits and heroes on earth
God's glorious works on Him all gazed.
Though stained with sins I saw it too--
For all my faults I knew its glory--
gloriously garbed and gleaming with joy
the Lord's tree lovely with gold and jewels.

Through ancient enmity of wicked men
its right side began to be red and bleeding.
Then feared I, for all its fulgent glory
for sometimes it seemed to be red with rubies
and sometimes soaked with the flow of blood.
Nonetheless, lying a long time there
troubled I gazed at the Savior's tree
until the tree began its tale.
So spoke the tree all trees excelling:
It was years ago, I yet remember
I was felled not far from the forest edge,
severed from rootstock. Strong foes seized me
set me as a spectacle, a gallows for grim ones;
high on a hill I was set and secured.

Then the Lord of all living came hasting here
afire with zeal to climb upon me.
I obeyed and bowed not down nor broke
when I saw earth's surface tear and tremble.
I stood firm and fell not to crush his foes.
The young hero, child of God almighty
stood strong and steadfast, stripped for the fight.
Willfully went he upon the gallows,
bold before many to liberate men.
I trembled when the man embraced me
but dared not bow down to the earth;
fall flat on earth's face. As ordered, I stood fast.
Climbing on high I lifted the King:
the King of the skies, and I could not bow.
They pierced me with nails. You can see my scars,
these wicked wounds, yet I would not harm them,
though they scoffed and scorned us both together.
Dripping I was, drenched with dark blood
from his speared side after he sent forth his spirit.
Many cruel sights on that hill I saw.
The Lord of hosts stretched out severely;
darkness draping the bright radiance
of His corpse with clouds. Creation in shadow
under dark skies wept for its King.
Though Christ was dead on the cross, there came
eager friends from afar to the prince, as I saw.
In bitter sorrow I bowed to their hands,
humble and zealous they haled God almighty
down from my torments; they took Him away.
The warriors left me, and wounded I stood
Pierced very deeply and drenched in His blood.
They laid him down there, weary-limbed;
gazed on the Lord as he lay awhile weary
resting from battle. But still in my sight
they carved a sepulcher from living rock
and laid the Lord of Victories within.
A song of sorrow then they sang,
but evening came and they wanted to go
leaving the glorious Lord alone.
We stood weeping, still for a while;
the corpse cooled, and we were cut down to the earth.
Oh dreadful event! In a pit we lay.
But disciples discovered us, friends of the Lord
decked and adorned me with gold and with silver.
Now you can hear, my beloved hero,
what wrongdoers on me have wrought.

Formerly, I was the fiercest of torments
hated of men, till I opened the heavens,
the path of life for all speakers of words.
Lo, the prince of glory, the guardian of heaven
honored me over all trees of the forest!
Just as he honored, over all mankind,
Mary his Mother, over all women
chosen to bring forth God almighty.
Now I lay it upon you, beloved warrior
See that you speak of what you have seen:
tell all men the tale of the Tree of Glory;
how upon it all-powerful God in his Passion
suffered for mankind's many sins
and the deed Adam did of old.

I still have to do the part about the Resurrection and Ascension!

Based on Mary Rambaran-Olm's parallel translation at
Thanks to Paul Deane, the author of "Linking Letters: a Poet's Guide to Alliterative Verse" at


Agnes Regina said...

yahooooooooooo, Lucia is back!! AWESOME translation Lu!

THATgirl said...

That really was beautiful. I love translating things.

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