Dream of the Rood

Explanatory Notes


The Dream of the Rood is religious poem written in Old English.  The version in our textbook has been translated into modern English, so it doesn’t retain the poetic form of the original.  The author and date of composition are unknown.


The Dream is written in an early form of a dream vision.  The author speaks of a dream that he had of a rood (the Old English word for “cross”), which turns out to be the very cross on which Jesus was crucified.


Here is the basic structure of the poem:


Paragraph 1:  Introduction

The dreamer describes his “best of dreams.”  It includes a description of the “most rare tree” as well as the dreamer’s own feelings of awe and inadequacy in its presence.   The last sentence of the paragraph introduces the cross’s speech. 


Notice that the opening word of the poem is “Listen”—this reflects the oral tradition of the Anglo-Saxons.  This poem was probably recited aloud to crowds rather than read, although some written copies of the poem exist.


Also note that the dream comes to the dreamer “at midnight when men and their voices were at rest.”  This suggests that holy visions can only appear when they can be uninterrupted by worldly things.


Paragraphs 2-5:  The Rood’s Speech

These paragraphs are spoken directly by the rood (cross).  It’s as if the cross has been endowed with the power of speech so that it can serve as a witness to the crucifixion. 


Notice the conflicting feelings of the cross.  It feels guilty to have been Christ’s “slayer,” but it also realizes its role was necessary for the redemption of the world.


Paragraph 5 contains the cross’s direct command to the dreamer—to tell others of his vision.


Paragraph 6:  Conclusion

Just like the cross itself, the dreamer feels redeemed.  Although he was a sinner, he now realizes he has a worthy job to do in spreading the word of his vision.  He ends with a powerful expression of the omnipotence of Christ.