Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Dream of the Rood II


I saw that doom-beacon
turn trappings and hews: sometimes with water wet,
drenched with blood's going; sometimes with jewels decked.
But lying there long while, I,
troubled, beheld the Healer's tree,
until I heard its fair voice.
Then best wood spoke these words:
"It was long since--I yet remember it--
that I was hewn at holt's end,
moved from my stem. Strong fiends seized me there,
worked me for spectacle; curs├Ęd ones lifted me.
On shoulders men bore me there, then fixed me on hill;
fiends enough fastened me. Then saw I mankind's Lord
come with great courage when he would mount on me.
Then dared I not against the Lord's word
bend or break, when I saw earth's
fields shake. All fiends
I could have felled, but I stood fast.
The young hero stripped himself--he, God Almighty--
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth's fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together. All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man's side, after ghost he gave up.
Much have I born on that hill
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,
King's fall lamented. Christ was on rood.

This second part of the Dream finishes the protagonists initial vision of the cross with precious gems encrusting it, which finished the last part of the Dream, but takes us further into the mystery by contrasting the jewels with blood and water. Of course, we know that the blood and water flowing from the right hand side of the temple (and all those to whom it came, they were saved) is the more precious substance, containing the fulfilment of scripture and the stuff of salvation.

The Dream then changes voice and the tree from which the cross was hewn begins to speak. It recalls being felled and understanding that it was to come to an ignominious end, bearing the body of a criminal but as the tree awaited its fate on Calvary, it saw 'mankind's Lord coming with great courage' to be nailed to itself. This speaks volumes of the ancient legends of the Jewish people and the hope of every Jewish woman to be the one to bear the Messiah. Compare the rood, the tree, with the station of the women of Jerusalem. The women weep for Jesus and for themselves, for who would want to bear the Messiah now He is walking to His death, but the tree, the 'hidden station' of the Dream, stands upright and prepares to bear its sacred load.

The rood continues by saying that he 'lifted a mighty King' and dared not to shake, a timeless evocation of the grandeur of the crucifixion and the coming to pass of scripture, when all about had fled, save the soldiers, a few jeerers and Our Lady with St John, the tree has its glorious hour and visually submits nature to the second Adam, as nature caused the fall, mingled with man's weak will, so nature is the instrument of salvation, the apple tree is redeemed and only nature and the Lord are, together, complicit in what will be the saving action, the salvific effect of this joining.

The tree finishes by describing the nail holes, which pierced it and Christ, linking them together again, then Christ dies, 'all creation wept, King's fall lamented, Christ was on rood'. The realm of nature and the realm of heaven are entwined in this act and it is the tree which holds Christ as He dies.

Ancient English Pagan elements abound in this part of the Dream, but the belief in the 'World tree' is to the fore as is the strength and the memory of the forest. It is a poem of peace and submission to a rowdy people (not much has changed!), showing the ability of the tree to smite is it wished, the onlookers and somehow to burst in a sap filled moment of destruction, but that it does not, it overcomes its anger and submit to Christ - who Himself is portrayed as powerful King who chooses to submit Himself to the task of redemption. Finally, the Tree is set up as an object of worship, replacing the Druidic and cultic trees and groves of the old religion, although used, willingly, for a greater end. This is something of a parable of the use of the old religions to bring the saving faith of Christianity throughout the world. In our little hut, in the dark, Caedmon has brought the old faith to meet the new - and how the new had conquered!