Hwæt! Ic swefna cyst secgan wylle,
hwæt me gemætte to midre nihte
syðþan reordberend reste wunedon.
Þuhte me þæt ic gesawe syllicre treow
on lyft lædan, leohte bewunden,
beama beorhtost. Eall þæt beacen wæs
begoten mid golde. Gimmas stodon
fægere æt foldan sceatum, swylce þær fife wæron
uppe on þam eaxlgespanne. Beheoldon þær engel dryhtnes ealle
fægere þurh forðgesceaft. Ne wæs ðær huru fracodes gealga,
ac hine þær beheoldon halige gastas,
men ofer moldan, ond eall þeos mære gesceaft.
Syllic wæs se sigebeam, ond ic synnum fah,
forwunded mid wommum. Geseah ic wuldres treow,
wædum geweorðode, wynnum scinan,
gegyred mid golde; gimmas hæfdon
bewrigene weorðlice wealdendes treow.
Hwæðre ic þurh þæt gold ongytan meahte
earmra ærgewin, þæt hit ærest ongan
swætan on þa swiðran healfe. Eall ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed,
forht ic wæs for þære fægran gesyhðe. Geseah ic þæt fuse beacen
wendan wædum ond bleom: hwilum hit wæs mid wætan bestemed,
beswyled mid swates gange, hwilum mid since gegyrwed.
Hwæðre ic þær licgende lange hwile
beheold hreowcearig hælendes treow,
oððæt ic gehyrde þæt hit hleoðrode.
Ongan þa word sprecan wudu selesta:
“Þæt wæs geara iu (ic þæt gyta geman)
þæt ic wæs aheawen holtes on ende,
astyred of stefne minum. Genaman me ðær strange feondas,
geworhton him þær to wæfersyne, heton me heora wergas hebban.
The Dream of the Rood (lines 1-31)
translated by Ayla Fudala from Old English
and I will tell you
how the highest of dreams
came to me at midnight
when all voices
were hushed in sleep.
It seemed I saw
a wondrous tree ascending into Heaven—sheathed in stars, wreathed in gold, of beacons brightest. Gemstones studded all the corners of the Earth; and the five finest adorned the cross-beam. All beings fair beheld there, by eternal decree, the Angel of the Lord. This was no criminal’s gallows; but guarded by Holy Spirits, worshipped by men and all of glorious Creation. Proud stood
the Tree of Victory and I, sin-stained, worry-wounded,
beheld it there: robed in light, shining with joys, gilded.
Yet beneath the gold
there stirred—I could perceive—
a struggle still,
the wretched grasping;
as blood began to pour
down its right flank.
I was wrenched
before the beautiful sight.
I saw that blazing beacon
shift its skin;
one moment soaked with sweat,
the next armored in treasure.
It seemed as though
I laid there an eternity,
sole witness to the Savior’s tree,
until at once
I heard that forest’s King
begin to speak:
“I remember the dawn,
so long ago,
when from the edge of the woods
I was hewn down by men,
ripped from my roots.
I was made a spectacle
by cruel enemies,
to raise up criminals.”
This is a translation of the first thirty-one lines of “The Dream of the Rood,” believed to be the oldest Anglo-Saxon poem. I chose to focus my translation on the physicality and shifting nature of the Rood itself. The most significant change I made to the poem in order to highlight this physicality was to arrange the lines so that they created the shape of a cross. I wanted the poem to emulate the Ruthwell Monument, in which form and content are similarly united. The cross is only clearly defined on the left side, with the right side (where the Rood begins to bleed) left uneven, as though in the process of shifting its shape or dissolving. This emphasizes the constantly changing identity of the Rood—one moment a tree, the next moment a cross, and given a human voice throughout.
I also used language within the poem to bring out the multiplicity of the Rood’s nature, using the words “robed,” “flank,” “soaked with sweat,” “weeping blood,” and “armored” to suggest that the Rood itself also symbolizes a human body capable of both joy and suffering. In addition, I attempted to create yet another form for the Rood—that of a sword—by using the word “sheathed.” The Rood is a warrior, just as Christ—as described in this poem—is a warrior, not a meek victim. The Rood’s own story and body parallel the story and body of Christ: a lowly origin, suffering inflicted by malicious men and courageously endured, and a glorious finale as a worshiped figure ascending into heaven.
AYLA FUDALA is a student at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in English and Environmental Studies. Ayla is from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and recently returned from studying abroad in London. Interested in the intersection of writing, visual art, and science, Ayla is currently working on a research project examining the writing, art, and ecology of fantasy worlds.