Here is my personal translation of the Old English dream poem “The Dream of the Rood,” which is considered one of the oldest works of English literature. I translated this using the two textbooks mentioned in my works cited and their glossaries. This translation is much more literal than some, as I took as few liberties as possible with the language, down to the punctuation (or lack thereof) that was provided by my sources; I added only a few extra punctuation marks where I thought it prudent, and I tried to translate each word and phrase as literally as possible.
Please do not copy anything from this translation without my permission.
For those interested in also seeing the original, here’s one version I found online. I haven’t read it to see if it’s properly transcribed, but I think it should be mostly okay.
November 30, 2016
The Dream of the Rood
1 Listen! I will tell the best of dreams,
what I dreamed into the middle of the night
after [the] speech-bearers dwelled in their quiet1.
It appeared to me that I saw a tree
5 more wonderful than any other tree being led into the air,
enwrapped in light, brightest of trees. All that beacon was
drenched in gold; gems stood
beautiful at the earth’s surface; also there were five
upon that crossbeam. All fair through eternal decree beheld
10 angels of the Lord. Certainly there were no wicked person’s gallows there,
but holy spirits, men over the earth,
and all this famous creation gazed upon it2.
Marvelous was that tree of victory, and I stained with sins,
wounded with damages [saw it]. I saw the tree of glory,
15 honored with adornments, shining beautifully,
dressed with gold; gems had
splendidly covered the Lord’s tree.
However, I was able to perceive through the gold
the ancient hostility of the wretched ones, [and] it first began
20 to bleed on the right side3. I was afflicted with griefs,
for I was afraid to see such a beautiful sight. I saw that ready beacon
change coverings and colors; sometimes it was drenched with moisture4,
stained with the flow of blood, sometimes adorned with treasure.
Nevertheless I lying for a long time there
25 beheld sorrowful the Savior’s tree,
until I heard it speak.
Then the most excellent tree began to speak the words5:
[“]It was years ago (I still remember that),
that I was cut down from the edge of the forest,
30 removed from my root. There strong enemies seized me,
they made me into a spectacle there, commanded me to raise up their criminals.
Men carried me there on their shoulders until they set me on a hill;
abundant enemies secured me there. I then saw the Lord of mankind
hasten with great zeal, that He wished to climb upon me.
35 There I dared not bow down or break
after the words of the Lord, when I saw the surface
of the earth tremble. I might have felled
all enemies, yet I stood firmly6.
Then the young Hero unclothed Himself – that was God Almighty,
40 strong and resolute. He climbed up on the high cross,
brave in the sight of many, that He would redeem mankind.
I trembled when that Man embraced me. Yet I dared not submit to the earth,
fall to the surface of the earth, but I had to stand fast.
I was raised a cross. I lifted up the great King,
45 Lord of the Heavens, I dared not bow down.
They pierced me with dark nails7. On me the scars are visible[,]
open malicious wounds. I dared not injure any of them.
They mocked us both8 together. I was all drenched with blood,
covered from the Man’s side after He had sent forth His spirit.
50 I on that mountain endured much cruel fate.
I saw the God of hosts severely stretched out.
Darkness had covered with clouds the
body of the Lord, bright radiance; shadow went forth
dark under the sky.
55 All creation wept,
they lamented the death of the King. Christ was on the cross.
Yet eager ones there came from afar
to the Prince; I beheld all that.
Sorely I was troubled with griefs; yet I bowed to the hands of men,
60 humble, with great zeal. They seized the Almighty God,
they lifted Him up from the grievous torment. The warriors abandoned me
then to stand covered with moisture. All I was wounded sorely with arrows.
They lay Him there exhausted, they stood at His body’s head;
there they gazed upon the Lord of Heaven, and He rested Himself there for a
65 while, weary after that great battle. The men began to make a sepulcher for Him
in the sight of His slayer. They carved it from bright stone;
they set Him, the Lord of victories, therein. The wretched began then to sing a song of sorrow in the evening. Then they wanted afterward to go[,]
weary from that glorious Prince; He rested there with poor company.
70 Yet we9 stood there weeping for good while
in a fixed position after the voice
of the warriors went up. The body cooled,
beautiful home of the soul. Then they began to cut us all
down to the earth. That was a dreadful fate!
75 They buried us in a deep pit; however disciples of the Lord,
friends, found me there,
and adorned me with gold and silver.
Now you can hear, my beloved hero,
what work of the evildoers that I experienced,
80 painful sorrows. The time is now come
that men over the earth and all this glorious creation
far and wide honor me,
they pray to this symbol. On me the Son of God
suffered a while; therefore now I rise up
85 glorious under the Heavens, and I can heal
each one of those for whom there is fear of me.
Formerly, I came to be the fiercest of torments10,
most hateful to people, before I opened the right
path of life to them, the speech-bearers.
90 Hark, the Prince of glory, Guardian of the Kingdom of Heaven,
honored me over the forest,
in the same way as Almighty God before all men
honored His mother also, Mary herself,
over all womankind.
95 Now I command you, my dear hero,
that you tell this vision to men,
disclose in words that it is the tree of glory,
that Almighty God on it suffered
for mankind’s many sins
100 and Adam’s ancient actions.
Death He tasted there; yet again the Lord arose
with His great power as a help to men.
He then ascended into the Heavens, hither again the Lord Himself
sets out into this Middle-Earth
105 to seek mankind on the doomsday,
Almighty God and His angels with Him,
that He then will judge, He who possesses the power of judgment,
each one as he earned
earlier for himself in this temporary life.
110 Nor can any be unafraid there
for the word the Lord says.
He asks before the multitude where the man is that
who for the name of the Lord wishes to taste
of bitter death, as He did before on the cross.
115 But then they fear, and little think
what they might begin saying to Christ.
None need them be very frightened by Him
who already bears on His breast the best of signs,
but through the cross each soul must seek
120 the Kingdom from the earthly way,
those who intend to dwell with the Lord.[“]11
I myself then prayed to the cross with pleasant spirit,
with great courage, where I was alone,
with small company. My mind was
125 hastened forth on the way; I endured many
times of longing. Now this is my life’s hopeful joy[:]
that I may seek the tree of victory
and honor [it] well
most often of all men. The desire for that is
130 great in my spirit, and my patronage is
directed to the cross. I do not possess many
powerful friends on earth, but they departed forth
from here from the joys of the world, they sought the King of Glory,
now they live in the Heavens with God the Father,
135 they dwell in glory, and I look forward all of the days
until the cross of the Lord
that I saw here on this earth
in this temporary life will fetch me
and will bring me then where there is great bliss,
140 joy in the Heavens, where the people of the Lord are
seated to feast, where everlasting joy is, and
then it will set me where afterwards I might
dwell in glory, with the saints
to readily enjoy of bliss. May the Lord be a friend unto me,
145 who here before suffered on earth
on that gallows-tree for man’s sins.
He redeemed us and gave us life,
a heavenly home. Joy was restored
with blessings and with bliss for they who there endured the fire.
150 The Son was triumphant on that journey12,
mighty and successful when He came with the multitude,
the host of souls, into the Kingdom of God,
Lord Almighty, to the delight of angels
and [of] all the saints who in the Heavens before
155 dwelled in glory when came their Lord, Almighty
God, where His homeland was.
Baker, Peter S. Introduction to Old English. 3rd ed. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Print.
Cassidy, F. G., and Richard N. Ringler. Bright’s Old English Grammar & Reader. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971. Print.
1 The “speech-bearers” went to sleep.
2 The cross. Some translators take this pronoun as “him,” as opposed to “it,” thus turning the cross into more of a character and less of an object.
3 This sentence indicates the cross is beginning to bleed, although it is technically Christ who is pierced on the right side. This may allude to the implication seen later in the poem that Christ and the cross become unified during the crucifixion.
4 The word “wætan,” taken here as “moisture,” can technically indicate most any moisture from a bodily fluid, including blood, sweat, and any other moisture from a living thing, be it human, animal, or plant.
5 Now we change narrators to the cross itself, as opposed to the unnamed dreamer having this vision.
6 It is implied here that the cross believes it/he could have killed all those around him, perhaps by falling, but it/he chooses instead to hold up Christ.
7 Interestingly, this word can mean ‘nails’ or ‘fingernails,’ though ‘metal nails’ is obviously intended here.
8 The word here, “unc,” is a dual pronoun that cannot be properly translated into English. This pronoun is used to describe the cross and Christ as, in a way, two entities and yet also one unified being; however, they only become so during Christ’s crucifixion.
9 This “we” seems to indicate the three crosses, as the cross is now otherwise alone.
10 That is, the tree had become “the fiercest of torments” in becoming a cross, a tool of torturous execution.
11 Thus ends the dialogue of the cross.
12 This section refers to the Harrowing of Hell, when Christ descended into Hell/Hades/the Underworld to redeem all the righteous souls who had died since the creation of the earth and before His coming.