The Dream of the Rood: Old Religious Poetry - Summary

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      The Dream of the Rood is a specimen of old English religious poetry. Its authorship is unknown. Many scholars ascribe it to Cynewulf. Its author was a Northumbrian, as the dialect of reveals. The story of Caedmon may have inspired him to choose the vision form. The Dream of the Rood is 156-line poem of the Verceli Book. It falls into three parts the opening words of the dreamer (1-27), the words spoken by the Rood (28-121), and the words of the dreamer after the dream is over (122-156). The speaker begins with his dream, in which he saw the True Cross and it spoke to him, telling him its history from the time when it was a tree growing in the woods to the time when, centuries after it bore Christ on Calvary, it was found (by St. Helen, who is not named) and made an object of worship (28-94). The Rood goes on to urge the dreamer to promote its cult (95-121), here the practical point and purpose of the dream comes out. With the Rood's speech the dream presumably ends, though the dreamer's waking is passed over. The dreamer now explains how his dream about the Rood has changed his life; ever since, he has devoted himself to the cult of the True Cross, and hopes to win a heavenly home thereby. The poem ends with a short passage about Christ (146-156): "May the Lord be a friend to me, he who..." In this passage Christ's passion, death, harrowing of hell, and ascension are touched upon. This ending takes the place of the lines in praise of God with which so many devotional poems end.

The Dream of the Rood

      The Dream of the Rood is regarded as the greatest of old English poems because of its unusual lyric tenderness, imagination and piety. It is the earliest dream vision in English literature.

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