Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Dream of the Rood IV

Now I command you, loved man of mine,
that you this seeing tell unto men;
discover with words that it is glory's beam
which Almighty God suffered upon
for all mankind's manifold sins
and for the ancient ill-deeds of Adam.
Death he tasted there, yet God rose again
by his great might, a help unto men.
He then rose to heaven. Again sets out hither
into this Middle-Earth, seeking mankind
on Doomsday, the Lord himself,
Almighty God, and with him his angels,
when he will deem--he holds power of doom--
everyone here as he will have earned
for himself earlier in this brief life.

Nor may there be any unafraid
for the words that the Wielder speaks.
He asks before multitudes where that one is
who for God's name would gladly taste
bitter death, as before he on beam did.
And they then are afraid, and few think
what they can to Christ's question answer.
Nor need there then any be most afraid
who ere in his breast bears finest of beacons;
but through that rood shall each soul
from the earth-way enter the kingdom,
who with the Wielder thinks yet to dwell."

I prayed then to that beam with blithe mind,
great zeal, where I alone was
with small company. My heart was
impelled on the forth-way, waited for in each
longing-while. For me now life's hope:
that I may seek that victory-beam
alone more often than all men,
honor it well. My desire for that
is much in mind, and my hope of protection
reverts to the rood. I have not now many
strong friends on this earth; they forth hence
have departed from world's joys, have sought themselves glory's King;
they live now in heaven with the High-Father,
dwell still in glory, and I for myself expect
each of my days the time when the Lord's rood,
which I here on earth formerly saw,
from this loaned life will fetch me away
and bring me then where is much bliss,
joy in the heavens, where the Lord's folk
is seated at feast, where is bliss everlasting;
and set me then where I after may
dwell in glory, well with those saints
delights to enjoy. May he be friend to me
who here on earth earlier died
on that gallows-tree for mankind's sins.
He loosed us and life gave,
a heavenly home. Hope was renewed
with glory and gladness to those who there burning endured.
That Son was victory-fast in that great venture,
with might and good-speed, when he with many,
vast host of souls, came to God's kingdom,
One-Wielder Almighty: bliss to the angels
and all the saints--those who in heaven
dwelt long in glory--when their Wielder came,
Almighty God, where his homeland was.

The first part of this final extract from the Dream of the Rood continues the narrative of the rood itself. It also betrays itself as a prime inspiration for JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. See how many references you can spot in this last part alone to Middle Earth, One-Wielder and, well, I will let you see the rest. Tolkein was an expert in Anglo Saxon and Middle English, so it is unsurprising that the Dream should have influenced his fictional writings. Continuing back at the first extract, the rood is still speaking, but has finished recounting his story and is now addressing the narrator, whom he commands, upon reading or hearing this story, to tell it to others, as Caedmon is figuratively doing in our imaginary hut, and to look for the 'doomsday', the second coming, when Christ shall return to judge each according to their deeds. The poem picks up the ascension of Christ as well, and the redemption wrought by His death on the rood.

The rood finishes his narration in the second part of this extract by challenging us to be not unafraid of the judgement of God - for it is real and sure, and to be able to answer to the Lord 'yes' when He asks if there be anyone who endured such suffering as Christ did, for His sake (Blessed are you when they persecuter you for my sake, the Kingdom of Heaven is yours, that is, you shall have eternal life) and that many shall be afriad of answering such a dread question. He concludes by saying that those who bear the cross in their heart need not be afraid, for there was not the need to have been literally crucified, but to have carried the burden and the joy of the rood in their hearts throughout life on earth. By the cross, we have been healed, through the rood each soul shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The final part of the whole poem returns us to the voice of the protagonist, who has been told this story by the rood. He recounts his immediate conversion upon hearing the rood in his dream and his instant prayers to the cross and to Christ. He explains that through his faith he hopes to see his loved ones again in Heaven and to dwell in the Kingdom of God for all eternity. He ends with a hymn of praise to God in the heavens and to the saints 'gone before us, who have found their reward', as the great hymn puts it.

This Lent, after dwelling on the Dream of the Rood and being taken back to the hut, where we imagined Caedmon recounting this tale to us, let us pray that the cross of Christ may continue to shine in our world as a beacon of peace and a signifer of the Kingdom. As the Sacred triduum approaches, may we turn again to Christ crucified and take heart and hope in His saving love.