Monday, 6 April 2009

The Dream of the Rood III.

But there eager ones came from afar
to that noble one. I beheld all that.
Sore was I with sorrows distressed, yet I bent to men's hands,
with great zeal willing. They took there Almighty God,
lifted him from that grim torment. Those warriors abandoned me
standing all blood-drenched, all wounded with arrows.
They laid there the limb-weary one, stood at his body's head;
beheld they there heaven's Lord, and he himself rested there,
worn from that great strife. Then they worked him an earth-house,
men in the slayer's sight carved it from bright stone,
set in it the Wielder of Victories. Then they sang him a sorrow-song,
sad in the eventide, when they would go again
with grief from that great Lord. He rested there, with small company.

But we there lamenting a good while
stood in our places after the warrior's cry
went up. Corpse grew cold,
fair life-dwelling. Then someone felled us
all to the earth. That was a dreadful fate!
Deep in a pit one delved us. Yet there Lord's thanes,
friends, learned of me,
adorned me with silver and gold.

Now you may know, loved man of mine,
what I, work of baleful ones, have endured
of sore sorrows. Now has the time come
when they will honor me far and wide,
men over earth, and all this great creation,
will pray for themselves to this beacon. On me God's son
suffered awhile. Therefore I, glorious now,
rise under heaven, and I may heal
any of those who will reverence me.
Once I became hardest of torments,
most loathly to men, before I for them,
voice-bearers, life's right way opened.
Indeed, Glory's Prince, Heaven's Protector,
honored me, then, over holm-wood.
Thus he his mother, Mary herself,
Almighty God, for all men,
also has honored over all woman-kind.

The first part of this third part of the Dream tells us of the taking down of Christ from the cross. The tree, the rood, has a story of men coming and taking his joyful burden down. The tree speaks as though it alone, from its connection to the tree of knowledge and the fall and rise of man, alone knows what it bears. The body of Christ is taken away, to an 'earth house', something the people listening to Caedmon in his hut would recognise as a barrow, one of the long death chambers on the edge of their settlements. There they sang 'him a sorrow-song, sad in the eventide' and if that does not evoke visions of the early English Gothic which the Revivalists tried to find, then I do not know what will! The rood is left alone, blood stained, as it appeared at the beginning of the dream before the discovery of rubies.

In the second part of this extract, the rood is felled down, which it takes to be an injustice, a 'dreadful fate', but it was taken to a 'deep pit', where presumably it was hidden from the Romans and the Jews and gradually people came to know of its existence and they venerated it, covering it in the precious stones which we are familiar with from the beginning of the dream. There is the hint of a secret society, dedicated to hiding the rood and then bringing people to it through dark days of persecution and terror. This hint would have been on the minds of the people to whom Caedmon recounted this poem, maybe they saw him as a keeper of the secret, telling them afresh as he tells us through this tale. However we see it, it is a brilliant piece of poetry, subtly bringing us into the heart of the mystery of the cross of Christ.

The third part of this sees the rood explaining that through being chopped down and being made into a place of death for a supposed criminal, he has been exalted because he has carried the Son of God. Rather like Simon of Cyrene, he bore the King of the universe for a short while and is remembered evermore. Because of the existence of the cross still, the symbol of salvation, it takes on healing powers, 'I may heal all who reverence me'. The Prince of Glory honoured the rood by dying on it to bring life to the world, so too has He honoured Mary His Mother because she bore Him in her womb and brought Him to the world. The Mother of the new Adam is raised up, as Her divine son has raised up and redeemed all those who fell through Adam.