The Dream of the Rood

Originally translated directly out of Old English for a study in 2016, this is one of my first major full-work translations.

Every word here was translated directly from the Old English original, without referring to other translations or taking notes from them, only using them for later discussion and comparing translation notes after the full translation was complete.

Very, very special thanks to Professor Karen Swenson for all her assistance, encouragement, mentorship, and for gifting me with so much of her extensive knowledge on Old English and Old Norse, among many other subjects. I never could've done this without her.

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 quiet[1].

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 it[2].

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 side[3]. 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 moisture[4],

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 words[5]:

[“]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 firmly[6].

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 nails[7]. On me the scars are visible[,]

open malicious wounds. I dared not injure any of them.

They mocked us both[8] 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 we[9] 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 torments[10],

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 journey[12],

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.

Hwæt, swefna cyst     secgan wylle,
  hwæt ġemǣtte     midre nihte
  syðþan reordberend     reste wunedon.
  Þūhte þæt ġesāwe     syllicre trēow
5 on lyft lǣdan,     lēohte bewunden,
  bēama beorhtost.     Eall þæt bēacen wæs
  begoten mid golde;     ġimmas stōdon
  fæġere æt foldan scēatum;     swylċe þǣr fīfe wǣron
  uppe on þām eaxleġespanne.     Behēoldon þǣr enġel Dryhtnes ealle
10 fæġere þurh forðġesceaft.     Ne wæs ðǣr hūru fracodes ġealga,
  ac hine þǣr behēoldon     hāliġe gāstas,
  men ofer moldan,     ond eall þēos mǣre ġesceaft.
  Sylliċ wæs se siġebēam     ond synnum fāh,
  forwunded mid wommum.     Ġeseah wuldres trēow
15 wǣdum ġeweorðode,     wynnum scīnan,
  ġeġyred mid golde;     ġimmas hæfdon
  bewriġene weorðlīċe     Wealdendes trēow.
  Hwæðre þurh þæt gold     onġytan meahte
  earmra ǣrġewin,     þæt hit ǣrest ongan
20 swǣtan on þā swīðran healfe.     Eall wæs mid sorgum ġedrēfed;
  forht wæs for þǣre fæġran ġesyhðe.     Ġeseah þæt fūse bēacen
  wendan wǣdum ond blēom;     hwīlum hit wæs mid wǣtan bestēmed,
  beswyled mid swātes gange,     hwīlum mid since ġeġyrwed.
  Hwæðre þǣr licgende     lange hwīle
25 behēold hrēowċeariġ     Hǣlendes trēow,
  oð ðæt ġehȳrde     þæt hit hlēoðrode.
  Ongan þā word sprecan     wudu sēlesta:
  Þæt wæs ġeāra     (iċ þæt ġȳta ġeman)
  þæt wæs āhēawen     holtes on ende,
30 āstyred of stefne mīnum.     Ġenāman ðǣr strange fēondas,
  ġeworhton him þǣr wǣfersȳne,     hēton heora wergas hebban.
  Bǣron ðǣr beornas on eaxlum     oð ðæt hīe on beorg āsetton;
  ġefæstnodon þǣr fēondas ġenōge.     Ġeseah þā Frēan mancynnes
  efstan elne myċle     þæt wolde on ġestīgan.
35 Þǣr þā ne dorste     ofer Dryhtnes word
  būgan oððe berstan,     þā bifian ġeseah
  eorðan scēatas.     Ealle mihte
  fēondas ġefyllan,     hwæðre fæste stōd.
  Onġyrede hine þā ġeong hæleð     - þæt wæs God ælmihtiġ,
40 strang ond stīðmōd.     Ġestāh on ġealgan hēanne,
  mōdiġ on maniġra ġesyhðe,     þā wolde mancyn lȳsan.
  Bifode þā se beorn ymbclypte.     Ne dorste hwæðre būgan eorðan,
  feallan foldan scēatum,     ac sceolde fæste standan.
  Rōd wæs ārǣred.     Āhōf rīċne Cyning,
45 heofona Hlāford,     hyldan ne dorste.
  Þurhdrifan mid deorcan næġlum.     On syndon þā dolg ġesīene
  opene inwidhlemmas.     Ne dorste hira nǣnigum sceððan.
  Bysmeredon hīe unc būtū ætgædere.     Eall wæs mid blōde bestēmed,
  begoten of þæs guman sīdan     siððan hæfde his gāst onsended.
50 Feala on þām beorge     ġebiden hæbbe
  wrāðra wyrda.     Ġeseah weruda God
  þearle þenian.     Þȳstro hæfdon
  bewriġen mid wolcnum     Wealdendes hrǣw,
  scīrne scīman;     sceadu forðēode
55 wann under wolcnum.     Wēop eal ġesceaft,
  cwīðdon Cyninges fyll.     Crist wæs on rōde.
  Hwæðere þǣr fūse     feorran cwōman
  þām æðelinge;     þæt eall behēold.
  Sāre wæs mid sorgum ġedrēfed;     hnāg hwæðre þām secgum handa,
60 ēaðmōd, elne myċle.     Ġenāmon hīe þǣr ælmihtiġne God,
  āhōfon hine of ðām hefian wīte.     Forlēton þā hilderincas
  standan stēame bedrifenne.     Eall wæs mid strǣlum forwundod.
  Ālēdon hīe ðǣr limwēriġne,     ġestōdon him æt his līċes hēafdum;
  behēoldon hīe ðǣr heofenes Dryhten,     ond hine ðǣr hwīle reste,
65 mēðe æfter ðām miċlan ġewinne.     Ongunnon him þā moldern wyrċan
  beornas on banan ġesyhðe.     Curfon hīe ðæt of beorhtan stāne;
  ġesetton hīe ðǣron sigora Wealdend.     Ongunnon him þā sorhlēoð galan
  earme on þā ǣfentīde.     Þā hīe woldon eft sīðian
  mēðe fram þām mǣran þēodne;     reste ðǣr mǣte weorode.
70 Hwæðere ðǣr grēotende     gōde hwīle
  stōdon on staðole     syððan stefn ūp ġewāt
  hilderinca.     Hrǣw cōlode
  fæġer feorgbold.     Þā ūs man fyllan ongan
  ealle eorðan.     Þæt wæs eġesliċ wyrd!
75 Bedealf ūs man on dēopan sēaþe;     hwæðre þǣr Dryhtnes þeġnas,
  frēondas ġefrūnon,
  ġyredon     golde ond seolfre.
  ðū miht ġehȳran,     hæleð mīn se lēofa,
  þæt bealuwara weorc     ġebiden hæbbe,
80 sārra sorga.     Is sǣl cumen
  þæt weorðiað     wīde ond sīde
  menn ofer moldan     ond eall þēos mǣre ġesceaft,
  ġebiddaþ him þyssum bēacne.     On bearn Godes
  þrōwode hwīle;     for þan þrymfæst
85 hlīfiġe under heofenum,     ond hǣlan mæġ
  ǣġhwylċne ānra     þāra þe him bið eġesa mē.
  wæs ġeworden     wīta heardost,
  lēodum lāðost,     ǣr þan him līfes weġ
  rihtne ġerȳmde     reordberendum.
90 Hwæt, þā ġeweorðode     wuldres Ealdor
  ofer holtwudu,     heofonriċes Weard,
  swylċe swā his mōdor ēac,     Marian sylfe,
  ælmihtiġ God     for ealle menn
  ġeweorðode     ofer eall wīfa cynn.
95 þē hāte,     hæleð mīn se lēofa,
  þæt ðū þās ġesyhðe     secge mannum,
  onwrēoh wordum     þæt hit is wuldres bēam
  se ðe ælmihtiġ God     on þrōwode
  for mancynnes     manegum synnum
100 ond Adomes     ealdġewyrhtum.
  Dēað þǣr byriġde;     hwæðere eft Dryhten ārās
  mid his miċlan mihte     mannum helpe.
  ðā on heofenas āstāg,     hider eft fundaþ
  on þysne middanġeard     mancynn sēċan
105 on dōmdæġe     Dryhten sylfa,
  ælmihtiġ God     ond his enġlas mid,
  þæt þonne wile dēman,     se āh dōmes ġeweald,
  ānra ġehwylcum     swā him ǣrur hēr
  on þyssum lǣnum     līfe ġeearnaþ.
110 Ne mæġ þǣr ǣniġ     unforht wesan
  for þām worde     þe se Wealdend cwyð.
  Frīneð for þǣre mæniġe     hwǣr se man sīe,
  se ðe for Dryhtnes naman     dēaðes wolde
  biteres onbyriġan,     swā ǣr on ðām bēame dyde.
115 Ac hīe þonne forhtiað,     ond fēa þenċaþ
  hwæt hīe Criste     cweðan onġinnen.
  Ne þearf ðǣr þonne ǣniġ     anforht wesan
  þe him ǣr in brēostum bereð     bēacna sēlest,
  ac ðurh ðā rōde sceal     rīċe ġesēċan
120 of eorðweġe     ǣġhwylċ sāwl
  sēo þe mid Wealdende     wunian þenċeð.
  Ġebæd þā þan bēame     blīðe mōde,
  elne myċle,     þǣr āna wæs
  mǣte werede.     Wæs mōdsefa
125 āfȳsed on forðweġe;     feala ealra ġebād
    Is līfes hyht
  þæt þone siġebēam     sēċan mōte
  āna oftor     þonne ealle men,
  well weorþian.     is willa ðām
130 myċel on mōde,     ond mīn mundbyrd is
  ġeriht þǣre rōde.     Nāh rīċra feala
  frēonda on foldan,     ac hīe forð heonon
  ġewiton of worulde drēamum,     sōhton him wuldres Cyning,
  lifiaþ on heofenum     mid hēahfædere,
135 wuniaþ on wuldre,     ond wēne
  daga ġehwylċe     hwænne Dryhtnes rōd
  þe hēr on eorðan     ǣr scēawode
  on þysson lǣnan     līfe ġefetiġe
  ond þonne ġebringe     þǣr is blis myċel,
140 drēam on heofonum,     þǣr is Dryhtnes folc
  ġeseted symle,     þǣr is singal blis,
  ond þonne āsette     þǣr syþþan mōt
  wunian on wuldre,     well mid þām hālgum
  drēames brūcan.     Dryhten frēond,
145 se ðe hēr on eorþan     ǣr þrōwode
  on þām ġealgtrēowe     for guman synnum.
  ūs onlȳsde     ond ūs līf forġeaf
  heofonlicne hām.     Hiht wæs ġenīwad
  mid blēdum ond mid blisse     þām þe þǣr bryne þolodan.
150 Se Sunu wæs sigorfæst     on þām sīðfate,
  mihtiġ ond spēdiġ     þā mid maniġeo cōm,
  gāsta weorode,     on Godes rīċe,
  Anwealda ælmihtiġ,     enġlum blisse
  ond eallum ðām hālgum     þām þe on heofonum ǣr
155 wunedon on wuldre     þā heora Wealdend cwōm,
  ælmihtiġ God,     þǣr his ēðel wæs.

Works Cited

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.