Friday, January 20, 2017

The Dream of the Rood

The land now known as England was originally inhabited by an unknown culture of people, sometimes referred to as "Megalithic" people (a reference to the standing stones they left at, among other places, Stonehenge).  These people were displaced by Celtic tribes, who in their turn were pushed back to the peripheries of the island by three Germanic tribes -- the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes -- who arrived in the fifth century to fill the power vacuum left by the departing Roman colonizers.  We know little of their culture, though, and nothing of their literature, until the moment when they were converted to Christianity -- and literacy -- a couple of centuries later, and some of the earliest texts we know are those used by missionaries to help persuade the Anglo-Saxons of the superiority of Christian belief. In fact, the very oldest written text -- The Dream of the Rood -- survives in part as a runic inscription on a stone cross (shown here).  The Dream is a proselytizing poem -- a poem that sought to convert its readers actively. The main speaker of the poem, in fact, is the Cross itself, which explains why it had to allow Christ to be crucified upon it -- a vital "backstory" for the Saxons, who considered crucifixion to be be the equivalent of "fraecodes gealga" -- the thieves' gallows. The cross, in contrast, represents itself as a faithful thegn (vassal) who only did as his Lord commanded, and was rewarded by having a mini-resurrection of his own, uplifted into the light of heaven, where it was covered with gold and rich gems, a hero's reward.

This mixture of Christian and pagan elements, as we will see, marks Beowulf as well, though there the source is a thoroughly pagan poem, interpolated and redacted by the poet -- who still knew the craft of alliterative verse as well as his (or her) ancestors -- into a Christian epic.  But we can also see the pure flight of Saxon verse in religious lyrics, most famously the hymn ascribed to Caedmon by the Venerable Bede.  Bede gave the poem only in Latin, but some nameless monks in his monastery added the Saxon original, and its fame traveled far and wide in the dominion of the Angles and Saxons.

16 comments:

  1. I was more intrigued by "The Dream of the Rood" for this reading. I found it so innovative, especially for the time period in which this was written, that an inanimate object was given life in describing it's part in the crucifixion of Christ, and that it had actual feelings about it.

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  2. I can understand why The Dream of the Rood, was a popular text used to convert people to Christianity. Following the crucifixion of Christ through the eyes of the personified cross creates a powerful image. Even though the cross keeps referring to Jesus as a “tree” the cross understands how important he really is. The cross is able to understand that the beautiful garments that were put on Jesus were meant to mock him. At the end of the poem when the cross accepts Jesus its words make it sound as if the cross is taking the punishment with Jesus. It also sounds like the cross wants to follow in the steps of Christ and accept the punishment with grace. “I did not dare to bend” is a powerful statement, Christ showed no hesitation in taking the punishment and the cross wants to mirror that by standing tall throughout the ordeal. After telling a powerful story to get the readers to relate to the cross, the cross goes on to speak of how it wishes it could ascend to heaven to live eternally with Christ, but instead it is stuck on earth.
    It is easy to see how a powerful story like this could convert those learning about Christianity. The cross becomes a character the reader can form a connection with. That connection helps the ending words of the cross convince the reader how great it would be to live eternally with Christ in heaven.

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  3. Response to The Dream of The Road for class on 1/23 -

    I found it interesting that within the first 40 lines, and later in the 122nd line of the poem, the narrator (the Dreamer) describes “the tree” in many ways: wondrous tree, victory-tree, Creator’s tree, Savior’s tree. This “tree” does not become “the cross” (the Road) until line 45, in the midst of its own narrative, when it is sharing its role in Christ’s crucification. However, in line 10 the poem reads - “that was no shameful lynching tree” and then later in lines 145 and 146 reads - “[Christ] who here on earth has suffered/on the hanging-tree for human sin.”

    Discussion Questions: Why does the shift take place? Does the tree become something it once wasn’t, or is the narrator simply aware of what has taken place? Why is this shift important, and why is the “tree” used to symbolize the cross in the first place?

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  4. The Dream of the Root was a difficult read in Old English. Thank God for updated translation into Modern English. There were a few things I found very capturing in The Dream of the Root. The early roots of symbolism in British literature and the development of Old English is neat. Irony is so present in the story that I had to re-read it a few times. They evolution of Christianity and what would be Great Britain.
    The Symbolism was amazing in such an old story. The story told thru the eyes of the Root, a tree. The Cross Jesus was hung on, a piece of wood. I really felt as though the Root, a tree, represents the culture of 5th century Britain. The feelings of the people of that time and the rewards they would reap for the hanging of Jesus. The Anglos, Saxons, and Juts believed Jesus to be a thief and liar. The Cross, representing the flight to heaven, a reward for service to the lord. The early symbolism used to depict the flight to heaven and the piece of wood used to hang Jesus is heavy symbolic reading.
    The development of Old English is very capturing. There are examples of this when Bede’s, ‘Caedmon’s Hymn’ is referenced in the last paragraph of the story. It reads as follows,” Bede gave the poem only in Latin, but some nameless monks in his monastery added the Saxon original, and its fame traveled far and wide in the dominion of the Angles and Saxons” (Line 33). Which would bring us to the works of an anonymous Anglo- Saxon poet, referred to as Beowulf. A true example of the development of Old English in his poetic satire.
    The Irony in this story is comical yet educational. Overall it simply tells us the early struggles of Christianity. The Root is perceived as a standing tree, servant to heaven, innocent in the crucification of Christ. The Cross representing the reward for punishing thieves and liars. It reminded me of a line from the song Sympathy for the Devil, “. . . I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’ When after all It was you and me . . .” (Rolling Stones, 1968).
    It seemed ironic to me that the earliest evidence of The Dream of the Root was left by the Megalithic, a group of people who were thrown out by the Celts. The Celts who were thrown out by the Anglo-Saxons. Maybe why some chose paganism it wasn’t a question as to who should hang, it was a question as to why. Maybe a different view into the going’s on of that time and the lack of reason. Which is depicted so well in Christ’s acceptance of his punishment, the Roots Cross and the purpose it served. The acceptance of the crosses chore of punishment. We see evidence of this in line …where Christ accepts his punishment with his arms outstretched. I wonder if has anything to do with what the Root (a tree) is representing and what the Cross (flight to heaven) is representing. Hmm…maybe what a man is made of and what society can do in the innocence of what is right and wrong, according to who’s reasoning. I mean after all; the cross was made of wood by men.




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  5. I find the topic of the poem to be creative, to write something from the point of view of the tree used for Christ's crucifixion, that's certainly not a common idea. It really shows to me the creativity and inspiration people felt in the eighth century. I mean human capability has not changed, but it's still surprising to see writing so inventive as talking, enchanted trees. However, it also has that sort of repetitive writing, where they use several similar words to describe the same thing, mostly for drama and emphasis. For example, the use of the words "garnished, grandeur, gold, gleaming, precious, gemstones, gloriously, treasure, glory, victory." Still, it is a beautiful poem. The goal of the poem I believe is influence people to believe in God and Christ by writing about their purity, their magnificence that causes a tree once touched by them to heal people. It's a great recruitment method.

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  6. It's no wonder that this writing was once used to convert others to Christianity. Reading this, I could not help but feel emotionally swayed toward both sadness and hopefulness. The personification of the cross was both unexpected and well-done, and I am sure I will not be forgetting this any time soon.

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  8. I wonder if the common Saxon would have understood the poetry (or cared about it) at the time it was written, especially since most early Christians were more interested in the supernatural powers that could be attained with faith rather than salvation. I found reading it on the boring side, repetitive and vacant; but the audio, hearing the poem was far more interesting.

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  9. The idea of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ has always focused on one key point: by the suffering of one, all can be saved. This idea is not explicitly about Jesus, but rather is the theme of martyrdom. Thus, this poem, while obviously written for the Christian cause, can speak to any act of martyrdom. Most often, the story of a martyr is told by those who have witnessed the act of martyrdom, as was the case with Jesus in the Gospels. However, recounting an act of martyrdom through the personification of the actual act of suffering grounds the Crucifixion into something tangible for all, namely because physical and emotional suffering is a shared collective experience. Thus, this poem serves the purpose it was written for, but it can extend past the ties of religion and speak to any act of martyrdom, and give a newfound significance to it.

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  10. Reading works of poetry will always generate excitement and interest in me. I really enjoyed both of these works, however it was The Dream of Rood that I was most affected by. The rhetorical device that I believe is best used appeals to ones pathos. The speaker does this by having a strong discourse with the reader in a seemingly persuasive manner as to gain the readers understanding and trust. I enjoyed the poem for what it is- an attempt to get the reader to share their faith. I think it is a consciously strong poem although a bit redundant at times.

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  11. I really enjoyed this poem. It created a new perspective on christisnity and what happened during the crusifiction of jesus christ.

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  12. I really liked the text and how the text described the details for the reading. Made it a little enjoyable for me.

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  14. The dream of the root is one of the poems that was always intimidating to me in the past. The stories detail and depth can tend to make it a difficult read, but if you take the time to break it down and truly understand what's going on in the story, it makes it all the more the better. The creativity needed to tell the story from the perspective of the cross shows the talent of the storyteller and also the deep faith and belief. This tale is one like no other, and it is amazing that it is still being read to this day, having been created in the 8th century.

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  15. I find the topic of the poem to be creative with the variety of symbolism, irony, and vocabulary used for the benefit of the reader. The topic of Christ’s Crucifixion was intriguing mainly because it is a topic that many have touched upon in this fashion. This poem reflects well upon the creative level of those of this time. What I did notice about the poem was that it appeared repetitive in the context of describing elements. Words that stuck out being garnished, gold, precious, treasure, and so on. The poem seemed as though it was to promote religion and to persuade people to follow religion and believe in God through writing about the greatness is beholds and the purity withheld.

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  16. What is interesting about this poem is that in it you can see some definite influences of the Anglo-Saxon culture, as opposed to the Celtic one. This is a poem that I found to be very challenging for me to understand in some of my high school and early college courses, but now it's something that I am finally starting to understand.

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