On another occasion, the mailman even nearly. The dog chewing bark, and the tree barking because. But the door closing open the key, and the naked man. Therefore, the fountain when the tadpoles. Like legs, the entryway when walking the feet. The volume falling like a maze at but over. Yet, the avenue tucking under before words are ears. Afterward, the button is a finger, but the ringing. However, the flower says that she. The answer knocking nothing, and the memory because a candle poorly. When the watch ticks timely, the sun nodding like similarity when asking. Ever after, another occasion decided, but only when the end.
Woo, a dove perches on a key-
inventor lion with a paw guarding
luster-silver mortar and gold-
lengthy pestle wand.
Lo, a smoldering pebble splits
open a frothing creak, and a compass
ventures inside a furled map scroll,
Gazing with angled mirrors, she digs gopher-
speed trenches, enthrones giant shears,
and stockpiles “Keep Out” signs. She blows
me up with Helium and feeds the hungry
clouds. She unholsters the Return to Sender
stamp, and retrieves the nativity basket.
She crushes the compass, hides the handker-
chief, and peels the onion. She chisels away
at my tombstone, till finally, she forgets—
she… shhhhh goes the limbs of a hollow tree.
Life reveals a visionary dream about a rood to a poet. In the dream, the Rood gives an account of serving in Christ’s crucifixion. Despite Christ’s state of weaponless submission, the account draws Christ as a hero or warrior archetype. This archetype, however, is associated with death. Regarding the hero and death, Joseph Campbell says: “Instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, [the hero] is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died” (Campbell 83). “Over and over,” says Joseph Henderson, “one hears a tale describing a hero’s . . . fall through betrayal or a ‘heroic’ sacrifice that ends in death” (Henderson 101). Christ acts as a dying hero and willingly allows the Rood to sacrifice him. Then, to the readers, the dreamer glorifies the death process by urging the readers to believe in Christ’s executioner—the Rood. Thus, The Dream of the Rood is a glorification of death, evidenced by the hero Christ who seeks death, the Rood who obligingly delivers it, and the dreamer who idealizes the actions of both Christ and the Rood.
In The Dream of the Rood, Christ bears attributes of this dying hero, yet he more than just casually gravitates towards death; he full-heartedly grabs hold of it. The poem clearly makes a declaration of Christ’s will in
the following line: “He wanted to ascend onto me” (Dream of the Rood 33). Additionally, Christ’s will is expressed as
the “word” the Rood must obey: “There I dared not bow down or break, / against the lord’s word” (Dream of the Rood 34-35). In conjunction with my observation, M.L. de Mastro notes, “His death is seen as completely under his control. He ‘hastens’ to the Rood, he ‘strips himself,’ he ‘climbs up on’ the Rood and ‘embraces’ it. Here is no helpless victim, but a powerful warrior . . .” (de Mastro 175). Alison Finlay notes that this stripping has warrior-like connotations and mentions that throughout history the removing of the armored coat has stood for warrior-like defiance (Finlay 28). Shedding further light on Christ’s willful action toward death, Anne Klink delivers a close reading of line 51’s use of “þenian,” which she translates as “serve” as opposed to “stretched” (Klink 111-12). She claims the term denotes a process (not a state) expressing: “vigorous, deliberate action to Christ” (Klink 111-12).
This willful action takes place upon a rood—a rood serving as Christ’s ultimately glorified executioner, but not without internal conflict for this rood. Although the Rood appears hesitant in becoming the slayer, the Rood retains Christ regardless as indicated in the passage: “I trembled when he embraced me, but I dared not bow to the ground . . .” (Dream of the Rood 41). For this slaying, the Rood is rewarded as indicated here: “Friends found me there . . . / adorned me with gold and silver” (Dream of the Rood 74-76). Regarding the Rood, del Mastro states, “The [Rood’s] ‘treason’ is absolute fidelity, perfect loyalty, and the only service becomes [being] the slayer of its lord . . .” (del Mastro 177).
Hence, the Rood’s glory resides in being the instrument of Christ’s glory—Christ’s own death. At the beginning of the poem, the dreamer not only calls the Rood the “victory-tree,” but also the “tree of glory,” and the dreamer even mentions the treasure upon the Rood (Dream of the Rood 11-13). This account is post-crucifixion as revealed when the Rood gives his own account of what happened “so long ago” (Dream of the Rood 27). The Rood’s victory thus depends on Christ’s victory. Of the victory, Michael Cherniss says: “The victory of Christ over his enemies through his death at their hands, finds its Germanic heroic correlative in the paradox of a weapon-retainer which by becoming the instrument of its lord’s death becomes the instrument of his victory” (Cherniss 252).
Christ’s slaying is enacted by the Rood—a rood bearing resemblances to a powerful, warrior-like, death-delivering sword. Swords of quality are durable much like the Rood, who “dared not bow down or break” (Dream of the Rood 34). The cross shape even resembles a sword. The warrior Christ has willingly slain himself with his own sword like an act of seppuku—a Japanese ritual suicide by the sword. The Rood is even stained with Christ’s blood as mentioned in the passage: “I [the Rood] was all drenched with blood . . .” (Dream of the Rood 47). This sword belongs to Christ because he has willingly chosen it, as priorly shown with the “he wanted to ascend onto me” reference (Dream of the Rood 33). Furthermore, this death-delivering sword can be glorified because warriors are glorified. Lords’ weapons have been viewed as warriors in-and-of-themselves, as Cherniss notes, “Generally . . . the weapons and armor . . . appear as warriors, as thanes of the lords whom they serve” (Cherniss 244).
A sword, however, cannot only serve as a slayer, but can serve as treasure—and treasure is glorious. Both of these aspects are revealed in the passages describing the Rood: “Stained with blood, now bedecked with treasure” (Dream of the Rood 22). The Rood is also described as: “Honored in garments, shining with joys, / bedecked with gold” (Dream of the Rood 15). Thus, the instrument of Christ’s death is a treasure. On the similarities between Germanic swords and crosses, Cherniss mentions, “Gold and silver on both is fashioned into intricate patterns, which are inlaid with . . . gems, principally garnets” (Cherniss 249).
The dreamer’s significance lies in being the audience’s revealer of a death ideology, which is possible due to a cord tracing back to God the Father’s death ideology. Through the Rood (an instrument of death), man can succeed in going beyond the “earthly way,” as the passage reads: “Through the cross shall seek the kingdom every soul from this earthly way . . .” (Dream of the Rood 118-19). If reaching the “kingdom” implies death, then the “earthly way” may imply life. Within life, the dreamer spreads the message of death, and is able to do this by being connected to a chain of command, which seats God the Father as the commander—the prime caller of death. The necessity (and hence glory) of death passes down the line, ultimately reaching the audience. Del Mastro labels this chain of command as concentric circles, and God the Father takes the center (del Mastro 172). Christ’s circle forms around God the Father’s circle, showing as del Mastro describes: “The identification of the death of Christ as precisely his retainer-service to God his Father” (del Mastro 173). Similarly, the Rood’s circle forms around Christ’s circle, and the dreamer’s circle forms around the Rood’s circle (del Mastro 172). The dreamer then encourages the audience to be within his circle (del Mastro 172).
The dreamer is linked to Christ via the Rood, and if honoring the Rood implies being as the Rood, the deliverance of death is glorified. The following passage implies an indirect order from the Rood to the dreamer: “Now the time has come / that far and wide they [men] honor me . . .”(Dream of the Rood 79-82). The dreamer is the gateway to the audience’s retrieval of this message. The dreamer also most certainly honors the Rood as is evident in the passage: “It is now my life’s hope / that I may seek the tree of victory” (Dream of the Rood 125-26). If this honoring of the Rood implies being as the Rood, then the dreamer, serving as a good example, must bear the attributes of persistence and submission. The Rood’s submission, however, comes in the form of executing Christ—delivering death. Hence, the deliverance of death is glorified. Chrstina Heckman, on the dreamer’s Rood connection, states, “By imitating the cross in its courageous steadfastness and its submission to the will of Christ, the Dreamer and the poem’s audience can reach the glory of heaven” (Heckman 144).
Not only is the dreamer linked to Christ via the Rood, but the dreamer is also linked directly to Christ, where the reception of death is glorified. The following passage links man to Christ: “He will ask . . . where the man might be / who for the lord’s name would taste bitter death . . .” (Dream of the Rood 111-13). Tasting of bitter death is certainly Christ-like, for Christ tasted it. The dreamer, as other men’s exemplar, must be willing to receive death. This linking of the dreamer (and hence man) to Christ is further shown by the use of “hæleð,” which means hero. If both Christ and the dreamer are given the same title, the dreamer must be Christ-like. Regarding the use of the word, Kathleen Dubs states: “Christ is referred to as ‘hæleð,’ the same term used later to refer to the dreamer, who has witnessed the vision . . . and by extension, he [the dreamer] is giving his audience the opportunity to become ‘hæleð’ . . .” (Dubs 614).
Up to this point, there has been huge emphasis on death’s glorification as its own end but little on death’s glorification as a means to an end—a reunion with the father. In the poem, “high father” is only mentioned once: “They [the dreamer’s ‘wealthy friends’] . . . / sought the king of glory; / they live now in heaven with the high father . . .” (Dream of the Rood 131-133). Despite single mention, the passage implies a connection of Christ (the king of glory) with his father (high father). Death is glorified, for death leads to the father connection, which leads to “glory” as literally expressed immediately after the “high father” is mentioned (Dream of the Rood 134). Without death, there is no father connection. Regarding the father’s calling of the hero by way of death, Campbell states, “One can only cling . . . to oneself and be in hell; or else break, and be annihilate at last, in God” (Campbell 55). Additionally, Campbell says, “For the son who has grown really to know the father, . . . the world is no longer a vale of tears” (Campbell 137).
Death’s glorification is a means to yet another end—resurrection. Without death, there is no Christ’s resurrection leading to humanity’s salvation. The Rood speaks of Christ’s resurrection: “The Lord rose again / . . . to help mankind” (Dream of the Rood 100-01). Help may come in the form of expressing (by Christ’s example) that death is but a transition, and that pain is temporary. Resurrection may also be likened to rebirth, for the Rood is viewed as “drenched” (Dream of the Rood 21). Elaine Treharne even takes the rebirth idea further by linking blood drenching and tears references to hints of baptism (Treharne 152). Regarding resurrection, Campbell notes, “His [Christ’s] passing and returning demonstrate that through all the contraries of phenomenality[,] the uncreate-Imperishable remains, and there is nothing to fear” (Campbell 86).
The resurrection of the Christ hero is significant for it allows for redemption for dreamer and audience. Blatantly, the Rood mentions Christ’s redeemer goals in two passages: “He wanted to ransom mankind” and “The Lord rose again . . . to help mankind” (Dream of the Rood 40, 100-101). Within mythology, the redeeming hero is a motif, as Carl Jung (an influence on Joseph Campbell) expresses: “Christ the Redeemer belongs to the . . . the hero and rescuer . . . having overcome whatever monster it was that swallowed him” (Jung 86). Similarly, Campbell states, “The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” (Campbell 28). Christ overcomes his in-between death and resurrection realm, which may be like the dark and mysterious pit of a monster’s stomach, which the following passage may closely allude to:
Darkness had covered
with its clouds the ruler’s corpse
that shining radiance. Shadows spread
grey under the clouds. (Dream of the Rood 51-55)
Additionally, the Rood, too, portrays himself as a redeemer with the following passage: “I rise up . . . and am able to heal / each . . . in awe of me” (Dream of the Rood 84-85). The words “rise up” imply a semblance of resurrection for the Rood, which in turn allows him to be a redeemer.
As a whole, The Dream of the Rood is an inversion to the notion of desirability, for death and loss are enthroned. The “tree of victory” after all is the tree of death (Dream of the Rood 126). The Dreamer’s “hope of protection,” is directed to the Rood who did not protect Christ, but executed him instead (Dream of the Rood 129). C.J. Wolf’s close reading of the word “gewinne,” translates in the primary text as “battle,” and gives a contrary meaning to battle—“fruit of labors,” “gain,” or even “profit” (Wolf 210). Del Mastro feels as if there is a paradox in such inversions, and he says of the poem, “Life [is] in death, victory in defeat, and glory in shame” (del Mastro 174). One may however solve this problem by not so much equating life with death, but in realizing that life follows death.
Death is not the end (in both senses of “end”). In The Dream of the Rood, death is glorified because of what it follows. Like white oleanders blossoming out of richly decayed pieces of earth, such beauty can also blossom from death—a reunion with the archetype of the father and the victory of resurrection and redemption. The Dream of the Rood is a glorification of death and bears close associations with the myth or archetype of the dying hero. The poem’s characters all glorify death in their own varying perspectives. In a concentric circle model, at the center, God the Father desires death for Christ, which follows Christ desiring death upon himself, which follows the Rood desiring submission through executing Christ, which follows the dreamer desiring death’s ideal upon the audience. Death, hence, is glorified much like the Rood—as an instrument serving to transport the audience (who can be as Christ) beyond death.
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