Literatim & Theoiogy, Vd 11 No 4, Datmber 1997

THE SIGN OF THE CROSS: CULTURE AND BELIEF IN THE DREAM OF THE ROOD
Graham Holderness
Abstract

Two new translations are offered here of the Anglo-Saxon poems 'The Dream of the Rood* and 'The Seafarer. These translations are prefaced by a critical introduction which examines then- cultural and theological contexts. I
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning, Every poem an epitaph. And any action Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start. T. S. Eliot, Little Gtdding

poem familiarly known as ' The Dream of the Rood1 or ' The Vision of the Cross' (it has no tide in its manuscript form) occurs in the 'Vercelli Book', Codex CXVII of the cathedral library at Vercelli in Northern Italy, a compilation of Old English religious verse and prose. The MS dates from the second half of the tendi century.1 The poem itself may be considerably older, perhaps seventh century. Unusually for Anglo-Saxon poetry, there is relatively definite circumstantial evidence bearing upon this poem's date of composition and cultural location: since a version of the same poem, or of an older poem from which both examples ultimately derive, is to be found inscribed in Northumbrian runes on the 'Ruthwell Cross', a carved stone monument formerly housed within the church of Ruthwell m Dumfreisshire. The cross could be as old as 670.2 Additionally some close verbal parallels occur m a short inscription on the 'Brussels Cross', a silver-laminated wooden crucifix (probably considered a fragment of the True Cross) which dates from the late tenth or eleventh centuries.3 These could derive from the poem, or again from a common source. The poem The Dream of the Rood (hereafter Dream), now isolated and distinguished m scholarly modern editions, and offered here (in one of many reasonably faithful translations) as a definitive masterpiece of Anglo-Saxon
THE ANGLO-SAXON
O Oxford Univeraty Pros 1997

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poetic artistry,finallytherefore derives from a written source, the sophisticated literary and intellectual context of late West-Saxon Christian culture, the culture of an already relatively united 'England'.4 Although the MS is a compilation of twenty-three homilies and six poems, the homogeneity evident in its anthology of Christian prose and verse declares some degree of confidence m both doctrinal and aesthetic categories. The history of the poem, however, begins (for us) with cryptic inscriptions carved on a partly 'illegible stone', formulated in the runic alphabet of the Northumbrian dialect, cohabiting with carved illustrations and extracts from the Gospels, and with Latin liturgical phrases. The undecorated MS, in its neat and precise minuscule, rules and standardises its contents in a way that anticipates the medium of print, and thereby formally excludes much of the religious iconography, devotional practice and homiletic exhortation so richly configured on, and entailed in, the practical artistry of the Ruthwell Cross. 'And that,' as T. S. Eliot suggests, 'is where we start.' The question of how these different variants of the poem mter-relate has given rise to debates fascinatingly reminiscent of bibliographical struggles over the chronology and authorship of Shakespeare's plays. Like a 'Bad Quarto' version of a Shakespeare play, the earlier version of the Dream on the Ruthwell Cross is cruder, stranger, transparendy more utilitarian, and generally regarded as aesthetically inferior to its apparendy later, canonical counterpart.5 The poem in die Vercelh Book could obviously be a subsequent expansion, elaboration and sophistication of the earlier form. But such a 'first draft' theory militates against post-Romantic conceptions of audiorship, and it could seem more natural to posit an 'original' form of die poem, an 'L/r-Rood' from which all possible variants can be conjectured to have derived; as hinted by Dickins and Ross in their edition of the poem:6 It might be suggested that the Vercelli text goes back to an original poem from which extracts were carved on the Ruthwell Cross The co-presence of these textual variants alerts us to the existence of a 'Dream of the Rood" diat is larger than, and only partially corresponding to, any of the surviving forms: a body of cultural practice which could be described, borrowing terms from bibliography, as a 'work' rather than a 'text'.7 In this case the 'work' is known to us from those diree material sources—architectural, iconic and literary—as a collation of poetically organised words and rhythms, devotionally-focused spiritual meditations, and fragmentary traces of an English Christian liturgy. Historically, we might say, the Dream existed m a cultural space mapped between those three surviving objects, and inscribed across those constitutive cultural elements of stone, metal, wood and parchment. Since we know that

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the histoncal substance of that 'work' was shared (at least) between an 18-foot stone monument, a 14 cm silver-laminated wooden icon, and a literary document, we can further discern the key functions of that 'work', to some extent disposed across its variant 'texts', as liturgical, devotional and aesthetic. The 'Rood' that inhabited that cultural space was a cross to be prayed to, and kissed, as well as a cross to be read.8 Nor was that cultural space anything like as homogeneous as might be suggested by searching back from our apparently integrated, canonised— indeed, in some senses 'modernised'9—Dream of the Rood towards its evidently discrepant and fragmentary cultural roots. That great Northumbrian kingdom whose language adorns the Ruthwell Cross, and whose Golden Age produced such masterpieces of Christian art as the Lindisfarne Gospels, by the time the Dream was written down no longer existed; and the West Saxon dialect in which the latter was recorded was the language of those who were, at least for a brief space in that turbulent period, the historical victors.10 The surviving traces of that 'work' are those cultural documents, with their written texts, among which the Dream is the fullest and most impressive example. Notwithstanding the pre-eminence thus jusdy accorded to the poem, we would do well, when using it in diis way as the starting-point for a journey of historical and cultural exploration, to recall that this poetic address to a relic—the historic Cross employed and left behind by the Redeemer—is itself a relict, a luckily surviving trace, of a substantial corpus of textual production, emanating from, and shaping, a particular historical conjuncture of belief, faidi and art. II Despite its acknowledged poetic unity—Richard Hamer apdy calls it 'the finest, most imaginatively conceived and most original of the Old English religious poems'11—the poem is in some ways a hybrid synthesis of diverse cultural, religious and poetic discourses. Its formal organisation echoes most of the different kinds of Anglo-Saxon poetry that we know from surviving examples: the heroic (e.g. Beowulf), the biblical paraphrase {Christ, Judith), the saint's life (Elene), the elegy (The Wanderer, The Seafarer), the riddles, and the specimens of so-called 'gnomic' poetry. The Dream is famous for its deployment of the language and imagery of heroic poetry, its sharing of a heroic vocabulary with poems like Beowulf, to dramatise the Passion of Christ. It contains a narrative which for some distance follows that of the Gospels, but then traces the subsequent life of the Dreamer, as does its companion-piece in the Vercelli Book, Elene (the story of the Emperor Constantine and his modier Helena, legendary discoverer of the True Cross). In its postulation of human existence as a 'laene life', a life both

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transitory and borrowed, 12 lying between a bright lost past and a radiant anticipated future, the poem shares the spiritual landscape of elegies such as The Seafarer. Where, in a passage of exhortation, the Cross dwells on the practical lessons implied by its revelation, we find moral advice of the kind typical of gnomic poetry. The stylistic personification of the Cross as speaking subject ('prosopopeia') links it to the riddles, at least two of which have the Cross as their partial solution. 13 In these respects, the Dream is absolutely of and for its time, its formal devices deeply embedded in the linguistic registers and cultural vocabularies deployed by the Anglo-Saxon poets across a wide range of poetic subjects and styles. Its obvious link with the Ruthwell Cross takes its history back deep into the very earliest stages of English society, to a point not long after the arrival of St. Augustine (597). Its medium of alliterative verse sets it within a cultural process by means of which a Germanic tradition of oral verse was assimilated to the norms of a monastic literacy originating in the Mediterranean; or as John C. Pope puts it:14 Old English poetry is descended from a prehterary stock once common to the Germanic tribes of the European continent ... Writing as a literary art .. was introduced among the Anglo-Saxons in the course of die seventh century by missionaries from the Mediterranean world and from Ireland. The multi-cultural character of the literature produced from such a rapprochement of traditions is self-evident. It is quite another matter, on the other hand, to analyse within the literature the precise relations between those diverse cultural elements, smce the record is already irreversibly translated into a European literacy that entered England only with the advent of Christianity. All the Anglo-Saxon poetry we have was documented, if not actually produced, in the environment of a Christian culture. The earliest examples of English alliterative verse, for example, are the hymns of Caedmon, the illiterate cowherd of Whitby who was prompted by a divine visitation to cast the word of God into the verse of his native tongue. Bede's account in the Historia Ecdesiastica illustrates both the English language and the Germanic verse-forms deployed obediently in the service of the Christian faith. Once Old English verse showed itself capable, m other words, of revealing through inspiration the word of God, it became worth noting and writing down (though not, admittedly, by Bede himself). 15 The pagan traditions from which such poetry originated were, on the other hand, better discarded, and their verse with them: after all, as Bishop Alcuin put it, 'What has Ingeld to do with Christ? The eternal king reigns in Heaven, the lost pagan laments in Hell.' 16

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The relauonships between Christian and pre-Christian traditions, literacy and orality, Mediterranean Christianity and Germanic paganism, lie at the heart of the Dream, and have been central to the history of its critical interpretation. The poem's religious content in a sense demanded the standard Latin of biblical, patristic and liturgical Christian literature—certainly of that Roman Christianity which established its supremacy over the Celtic variety at the Synod of Whitby. The vernacular into which, presumably for missionary and evangelical purposes, that gospel had to be translated, happened to have been the natural vehicle for a secular literature of pagan heroism. But the Dream goes much further than utilitarian vernacularisation in its gathering of Christian and pagan discourses. The poem does actually imagine the Crucifixion as a heroic battle, depicting Jesus as a 'geong Haeleth' ('young hero'), who approaches the challenge of the Passion like an epic hero girding himself for mortal combat: It was then that I saw a splendid Saviour Approach with alacrity and courage to climb. Hastily, the young hero snipped Hun For action ... (11.43—6) The indignity of the stripping of Christ's raiment in the Passion narrative is transformed, in the poem, into an eager and athletic stripping for batde. Here the Crucifixion is no humiliating subjugation: Jesus willingly embraces the Cross in a trial of strength and courage: In the sight of spectators, Feariess and firm, keen for the combat, He clambered on the cross. (11.47—9) In the vocabulary of the Germanic heroic tradition, Christ is depicted not as a sacrificial lamb led to the slaughter, but as a fighter actively grappling an opponent: Widi shocks I shuddered, when the warrior wound His strong arms about me ... (II.59—60) In death he lies as the finally defeated hero, subjugated yet magnificent in the scale of his epic achievement, and bitterly mourned by his surviving retainers: They took Him up Tenderly, torn from His torture,

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THE SIGN OF THE CROSS Left me blood-boltered, impaled by the points Of annihilating nails. They stretched out His limbs, Wounded, war-weary; stood at His head To say their good-byes; gneved at his going, They laid the exhausted hero to rest. (II.85—91)

In this way the p o e m reconstitutes the Passion-narrative into a form quite different from that encountered in the Gospels. W h e r e the latter tend to distinguish, by narrative sequencing, the suffering victim from the triumphant risen God, the Dream by its use of heroic language brings into the Passion a dimension of epic heroism in action: reckless self-sacrificing bravery, and a triumph of heroic values even more poignant in defeat than in victory (although of course in this case, the victory of the Resurrection is implicit and yet to come). This certainly looks, prima facie, like cultural assimilation. As Bruce Mitchell puts it, 'the concept of Christ as a warnor-king'. 1 7 must have appealed to a people who put such value on ferocious courage and pnde and who lived according to the comitatus code in which the lord was the nng-giver and great hero for whom his warriors were duty-bound to die loyally and without complaint.

IV As these examples demonstrate, the presence within the p o e m of a Germanic warrior-ethic and a language of heroic values is in itself unproblematac. As one critic puts it, the p o e m fuses. 18 words and ideas which stem from the Anglo-Saxon world rather than from the world of the Bible. In the Dream of the Rood, these two traditions are brought together. Chnst is portrayed as the young hero, reigning from the Cross; but, at the same time, he is described as cruelly stretched out, weary of limb, enduring severe torment. J. C. Pope reminds us, however, that these traditions can be 'brought together' in quite different ways: Old English poetry shows at tunes the collision, but often the harmonious fusion, of Christianity and a submerged paganism, Mediterranean civilization and a more primitive but not always inferior Germanic world.19 In what way are these two traditions poetically 'brought together' in the Dream, w h e n they are so obviously and in so many respects entirely i n c o m patible? Fusion or collision? It is one thing to draw parallels from narratives,

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archetypes and symbols in different belief-systems; it is quite another to reconcile them. Certainly the figure of the heroic warrior can readily express certain types of divine power. The key role of the Anglo-Saxon lord or king as dispenser of gifts in return for loyalty and service could easily be assimilated to the Christian doctrine of grace. Even the death of a pagan hero or king m battle, and his memonaUsation in ritual, song and poetry, could be seen as parallel to the death and resurrection of Christ. But there the resemblances end. The combat undertaken by Jesus has objectives quite different from those of an Anglo-Saxon raid or battle. It is not undertaken with a view to achieving political power or securing wealth through spoil or tribute. It is not a fight to settle a score or fulfil a vow of vengeance. Victory cannot be rendered visible by the defeat and subjugation of enemies; nor can the lord's authority be established by generosity m material rewards. Though Jesus may display Himself to onlookers as courageous ('modig on manigra gesythe, I.41), the success he aims at has a goal more ambitious than the protection of a community or the defence of a kingdom: nothing less, indeed, than the universal Redemption of all mankind: ' Tha he
wolde mancyn lyseri (I.41). In short, this deployment of the Teutomc tradition as a formal vehicle for a narrative of the Christian Passion tends if anything to polarise rather than synthesise the alternative cultural perspectives. This is nowhere more apparent than in the mental torment of the Cross itself, which stoically bears physical punishment in sympathy with its lord, but endures a sharper pang in the psychological double-bind of incompatible ethical imperatives. As has been correctly argued, the Cross sees itself to some degree as a loyal retainer in the comitatus of Christ. 20 As such his duty is to defend his lord, to struggle against his lord's enemies, and if necessary to die protecting him. As one imbued with that heroic ethic, and bound by this high chivalric concept of nobility in service, the painful destiny of the Cross is to witness in enforced helplessness his lord's voluntary subjugation. Though all earth faltered And flinched with fear, I didn't dare To bend or to break. I'd have fallen full-length, Flat to the earth, but was forced to stand firm. I could have crushed each of those enemies, But by Christ's command I had to stand fast. (53-8) Certainly at this point the heroic and triumphalist Christianity that doubdess appealed to pagan Anglo-Saxons happy to give their loyalty to a sovereign even greater, more glorious and more generous than those to whom they were bound on earth, co-exists uneasily with the Pauline doctrine of redemption through suffering, triumph through passivity.

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V It is necessary at this point to take a step back and to reconsider the relationship between Christian and heroic traditions. Earlier criticism tended to assume that the epic strain in the poem belongs to the language of its composition, and that its heroic values are those of its own Anglo-Saxon social context. The Dream is very clearly a Northern European poem, its affiliations stretching outwards towards the territories from which the Germanic settlers brought their language and their pagan beliefs. But it is equally orentated towards the Mediterranean source of its Christian tradition and Roman inheritance. It is of course accurate to link the poem's language of heroic struggle and military victory to the hegemonic values of Anglo-Saxon society. But the writers who formulated their contemporary and local applications of an ancient heroic code knew that synthesis of Christian and pagan-heroic values from much earlier literary examples. Though Christianity emerged from a cultural context already nchly supplied with a vocabulary of apocalyptic militarism, its early foundations developed in contradistinction to Judaism; and it was Rome that enacted the theological oddity of merging the warnor code of a violent imperialism with a gospel of peace. While the cult of Jesus clearly derives from the evangehcal wntmgs of the early Church, especially those of St. Paul, the cult of His Cross begins some three centuries later, with the story of the Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity. On the eve of the battle at the Mdvian Bridge in 312, Constantine had a dream or vision of a cross that assured him victory over Maxentius: 'in hoc signo vinces'. The Cross became, by adaptation of the existing labarum, the Roman battle-standard; and Constantine's troops marched to war with the Cross, in Gibbon's words, 'guttering on the helmets, and engraved on the shields of his soldiers'.21 Christianity became a religion of power and conquest. The Cross was by these means established as central to the Christian religion; but at the same time, made synonymous with the weaponry and force majeure of imperial military power: Only after the vision of Constantine and his subsequent victory did the Cross become the universal symbol of Christianity . . No certain representations of the Crucifixion are found before these events ... henceforth the mystery of the Crucifixion would be expressed in terms of conquest over foes: 'The cross which was the justice of thieves' ... says St Augustine ... 'is now become the sign of glory on the foreheads of emperors.'22 Together with the Dream in the Vercelh Book is Cynewulf's poem Elene, which begins with an account of these events, and provides us with a fascinating insight into the relations between Christian and heroic values,

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since it narrates a story of fourth-century Rome in the combined idioms of Anglo-Saxon heroic and religious verse. Roman virtus is here formulated in the language of an English heroic ethic. The Christian Cross is shown arising from that transhistorical encounter, to become the tutelary protector of both Roman imperialism and Anglo-Saxon militarism. To Constantine are attributed all the stock virtues of the Anglo-Saxon warlord: 23 he, the battle-pnnce, was raised up to be army-leader in the kingdom of the Romans. The protector of his people, valiant •with the shield, was gracious to men. Embattled to face the Goths and Huns across the Danube, but fearing defeat from the outnumbering enemy, Constantine is visited in sleep by an angel who reveals to him a vision of the Cross: He saw upon the roof of the clouds the glorious cross m its beauty, gleaming with adornments, decked with gold; gems glittered. The bright tree was inscribed with letters brilliantly and clearly: 'With this sign shalt thou overcome the enemy m the perilous onset, thwart the hostile host.' A cross is constructed and used as a battle-standard, with the predictable result: The heathen perished; the barbarians fell ... Then it was plain that the King almighty in that day's work had granted to Constantine victory, glorious honour, triumph under the heavens, by his rood-tree. Though the two poems have so much m common, Elene is far more obviously a heroic and martial narrative than a meditative devotional poem. It is far less concerned than the Dream with unfolding the Christian mysteries via the power of dream and prophecy; far more concerned to assimilate Christian values to the old heroic code, and to demonstrate the irresistible power of the Cross to subdue the 'heathen'. Just as the Cross was taken into Roman culture as a symbolic weapon, so in Elene the Cross does not provide a means of interrogating the heroic ethic, but becomes merely an instrument in its service. One very clear link between the Dream and that Roman heroic and triumphalist Christianity can be found in the Latin hymns of Venandus Fortunatus (530-609), which are still used in Anglican worship, at the celebration of Passionode and Good Friday.24 Though the parallels could be explained by reference back to a common liturgical source, they are very close and convincing. ' Vexilla regis' depicts the Cross as a batde-standard, the crucifixion as a military triumph. Again, where the Passion narrative in the gospels explicitly separates the condemned and sacrificed victim from the

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resurrected and ascendant Saviour, Venantius merges suffering and triumph, victim and king:
regnatnt a ligno deus

("The universal Lord is he, Who reigns and triumphs from the tree'). 'Pange, lingua' begins by even more explicitly figuring the redemption as a successful war of conquest:
Pange, lingua, gloriosi protlium certaminis, Et super ctucis twpaeo die triumphum nobilem

('Sing, my tongue, the glonous battle, Sing the ending of the fray, O'er the Cross, the victor's trophy, Sound the loud triumphant lay ...') But the martial rhetoric culminates in a paradox that calls into question the moral basis of the heroic ethic; for this warrior triumphs, not by conquest, but by subjugating himself to victimisation:
Qualiter Redemptor orbis immolatus incerit

('Tell how Chnst, the world's Redeemer, As a victim won the day') In Venantius's hymns, then, Christian values are certainly in part subordinated to a heroic code. But equally Christianity, in substituting for the classical warrior the crucified Hero-Victim, is assimilating the heroic tradition in the form of a theological symbology. The battles in which the Cross serves as a figurehead and standard are as likely to be theological conflicts, doctrinal controversies or moral struggles—Christ against Satan; the church against paganism; the Christian soul against the world, the flesh and the devil—as military engagements. Thus as early as the sixth century, and in poems likely to have been known to the Dream-poet(s), new Christian and old pagan heroic values are polarised rather than merged, collocated but not reconciled, co-existent as 'collision' rather than as 'fusion'. VI The collocation, in a single complex poetic language, of diverse cultural traditions, clearly facilitates a varying emphasis on divergent aspects of Christian theology. Insofar as Christ can be seen not as nailed in subjection,

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but as voluntarily assuming the Cross, a ready-made symbol of authority and power, then He can be immediately made to declare, from that position, both theological godhead and secular mastery: 'regnavit a ligno deus.' This perception, which is one of the effects of the poem's heroic language, tends to eliminate physical suffering and to elide the corporeality of the incarnate Chnst. J. C. Pope speaks of'the heroic aspect of the action, an aspect which the poet is all along at pains to emphasise as proper to Christ in His divine nature'.25 Yet that heroic language also derived from a world-view that was, despite its apparent religious dimensions, far more secular and materialistic, far less spiritual and other-wordly, than Christianity. It is that essentially worldly cultural perspective that aligns Chnst with the noble warrior whose being would naturally inhabit a social world of communal pleasures, 'hall-joys', ceremonies of ring- and gold-giving, child-like enjoyment of bright metals and precious stones—the world so vividly represented, often in terms of its loss, in Anglo-Saxon heroic and elegiac poetry. That attachment to the body, and to the material objects by means of which the body was situated in the symbolic order, was clearly not dislodged by Christianity from the AngloSaxon imagination. We only have to cite the perpetuation of grave-goods in Christian bunals such as that of St. Cuthbert,26 to exemplify the co-existence of a pagan conception of the body as surviving in some form (and therefore having need of material objects), and the conception of a body parted from its spirit at death (and therefore having no use for them). Certainly in due course grave-goods disappeared: but during the time of their persistence, it is impossible to define a point at which such objects were used for their symbolic value rather than their practical utility. The body in the Germanic tradition, as represented in the poems, is a real body that enjoys pleasure, suffers pain and is subject to death. Insofar as the Christ of the Dream is represented within that tradition, the poem is stressing the human and incarnational torment, rather than the abstract theological triumph, of the Crucifixion. The Cross in the poem certainly suffers, and suffers with a graphic and vivid particularity: Black nails Battered through me, opening wide The wounds of wickedness. When they scoffed At the Saviour, their spit spattered Me. In His blood when it sprang From His side, was my splintered surface Soaked. (11.64—70) Critics have argued, on the one hand, that the Cross shares the pain of the Crucifixion—

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THE SIGN OF THE CROSS ... the tree is so closely identified with Chnst that its trembling suggests his agony in Gethsemane ... 2 ? The attribution of personality, and therefore volition, allows a moral as well as physical parallel to be established between Chnst and the cross. Thus it is that the words of the Cross can bnng us dramatically close to the events of the Crucifixion, enabling the reader to share in a unique imaginative reconstruction of Christ's suffering . M

— a n d o n the other (in a curious theological displacement) that it bears the pain o n Christ's behalf, thus protecting his divinity from the imputation of mere corporeality: ... He [Chnst] is greviously stretched o u t . . . all the other sufferings are associated with the tree. 29 With the agony transferred to the cross, Chnst can sensibly be seen to rule from the gallows.30 Both these critics ultimately discern in the p o e m a careful and judicious balancing of those divergent interpretations of the Crucifixion that formed, within the Christian church, the key theological controversies of the day. H o w did the divine and h u m a n natures of Christ actually inter-act t h r o u g h the Passion, and particularly at the point of death? O n e theological school insisted that Christ had only one nature, combining the h u m a n and divine (hence 'monophysicism'). T h e logical extreme of this view was that held in the fifth century by Eutyches, w h o stated that in the one nature the divine predominated to a degree that precluded physical corruption or even agony. T h e other pole of the controversy, formulated chiefly by Severus of A n a o c h , proposed a divine nature utterly permeated by humanity. Clearly either position, developed to an extreme conclusion, would represent a heretical subversion of the fundamental Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and R e d e m p t i o n : one produces a manlike G o d w h o was never really m a n at all; the other a godlike man whose credentials as a deity would inevitably at some point c o m e under suspicion. Recognising these dangerous shifts towards positions that w o u l d m u c h later b e c o m e Deism and Humanism, the C h u r c h authorities attempted to hold a middle course, acknowledging the t w o natures in an undivided person. In the seventh century a ' m o n o t h e h t e ' revision was offered by Heraclius, w h o averred that the t w o natures of Christ, although distinct, w e r e subject to o n e will ('thelos'). At the Lateran Council of 694 western c h u r c h m e n affirmed their disagreement by positing t w o wills to match the t w o natures, each mysteriously separate though integrated, and with the h u m a n will always naturally conformable to

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the divine. This position was firmly established by the English church at the Council of Hatfield in 679. 31 By anthropomorphising the Cross, the Dream could be argued as reflecting that controversy, since it dramatises a Crucifixion in which there is both suffering (though of a strangely sensate inanimate object), and triumph (of a divine being who has always already departed from the scene of the Passion— 'he haefde hisgast onsended1,1.49). The controversy obviously tended to separate, in imaginative and pictorial terms, Christ from the cross: Swanson cites examples from early Christian iconographic sources of crosses without Christ, and of Christ without a cross.32 The Godhead assumes a crucified position, but without physical entrapment; the cross stands alone as an abstract symbol of the Christian way. Both Swanton and Bennett suggest, following earlier scholars, that the poem displays a clear awareness of these debates, and effects an adroit reconciliation of the theological difficulties, with a diplomatic avoidance of docrinal controversy: That the cross itself thus suffers, allows the agony of the Saviour to be succinctly and dramatically reperesented without putting unwarranted words into the mouth of Christ himself The device thus allows the poet to maintain a fine balance between Eutychan and Severan points of view, offending neither those who maintained that the incarnate Logos could expenence no suffering nor those who insisted upon its real human frailty.33 ... the English alliterative lines ... epitomize the perfect balance between 'dolourism' and 'triumphalism' that characterizes the whole poem.34

VII
Hraew colode: faegere feorgbold (II.72-3)

In The Dream of the Rood, the Cross's narrative leaves Christ at this point, a point which in human terms can only be conceived of and named as death. The beautiful body ('faegere/hraew') that proves to have been merely a dwelling-place for the spirit (feorgbold') lies empty and abandoned, chilling in ordinary mortal corruption ('colode'). The poem contains no empty tomb, no reassuring angelic visitors, no risen Lord. Christ is certainly imagined, at the end of the poem, returning in full divine glory to harrow Hell. But that reference is a 'flashback' within the closing narrative of the dreamer, separated in time and space from the death on Cross, a past example informing his own sure and certain hope for the future. In the central narrative of the Cross, which pursues the established story of the gospels, we are left with nothing more encouraging than a dead body.

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The poem's apparent truncation at this point of the essential Christian story can indeed be defended, either on narrative or liturgical grounds: but the available defences remain finally unconvincing. The account of the Crucifixion is presented from the Cross's 'point-of-view': hence only those events immediately within its field of vision and range of experience are included. Thus there is no journey from the Praetorium to Golgotha, and no representation of the gospels' closing and crucial events. But this is a technical point, an effect of the narrative technique, not an explanation of the narrative's foreclosing on the crucial revebtion of the essential Christian mystery. Perhaps more convincing would be an argument that located the poem within the church liturgies of Passiontide, and especially Good Friday. In the virtual reality of the Christian calendar, something approximating to a death, and a consequent period of mourning for bereavement, intercabtes between the death on the Cross and the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. In the ritual 'Stations of the Cross', the fourteenth and last object of meditation is the pbcmg of Jesus's body in the tomb. The poem could be seen as enacting exactly such a process, delineating a dead zone of time in which the world can feel the temporary absence of its Saviour, and know the emptiness of life without God. There is however, within the poem, a resurrection: it simply is not that of the risen Christ: For a second tone They savagely felled me, npped up my roots, Cruelly cast me in a deep pit. Earth closed coldly over my eyes, eyes That had seen God's dying. Days, Years passed: and I perceived only Comfortless clay, and the darkness of death Then the earth parted, and in pain I was pulled From the world's womb, bom again to the brightness Of light. God's disciples dug me up, Heaved me heavenwards, raised me and dressed me In raiment of silver, garments of gold. (11.103-14) It is the Cross, not the Christ, that experiences deposition, burial, exhumation, resurrection, and even ascension into divine glory. The poem certainly therefore divides Christ from His Cross, and represents them as separable entities. But it seems to me difficult to interpret that abandonment of God in the depiction of mere physical death, and the corresponding isolation of the Cross as a living embodiment and a speaking

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sign of the Christian mystery, as a delicate balancing of antithetical Christological philosophies into a 'perfect balance'35 of harmoniously resolved theological disputation. The bemg of Christ in the Dream is represented, in my view, as the body of Germanic tradition: a strong and beautiful body, which fights bravely and conquers its enemies, but dies m the struggle, and is depicted finally as a dead hero, lying on the deserted battle-field, keenly cherished and bitterly mourned by those who owed its occupant their love and loyalty. The Resurrection of the poem is not of that body, but of the Cross, a sign ('baecett') of the Passion and Redemption. As such it can be possessed as a material object, and revered for its organic symbolising of the mystery in which it participated. It can be decorated with the gold, silver and precious gems that were so beloved of Anglo-Saxon culture, and which so richly decorate the poetry as well as the artistry of the period. But above all it can function, in the form either of material object of veneration, or of abstract sign, as a ritual profession of faith, a liturgical focus of devotion, or a potent accessory to prayer. I am, of course, positioning the poem in some perilous theological territory, among speculations that would certainly in the seventh century have been identified as contrary to Christian doctrine. But it seems to me, unless we wish to complete the poem's theological scheme by supplying additional references that it in fact leaves out, an inescapable conclusion. And although the doctrinal perils of such a cultural eclecticism are self-evident, they are also likely to be of interest to modern theological concerns. My interpretation would suggest that the poem admits to a radical uncertainty about the Resurrection itself, finding it literally unimaginable (or at least shirking the challenge of imagining it). The veneration of the Cross as an independent image solves the problem the poem sets itself, by abstracting from the Christian narrative a concrete symbol of its central truths, an object that remains with us after the divinity it shared has returned to its proper home. The sign of the Cross can be considered, in other words, as more real than what it signifies; or in semiotic parlance, the signified is circumscribed by the signifier. Far from reconciling the theological antinomies of the day, the poet has superseded them by boldly denying the historical veracity of the Resurrection, and erecting in its place an image, the Sign of the Cross. The possibility, or even local prevalence of such idolatry is illustrated by Claudius of Turin, who in 820 'published a fierce attack on the adoration of crosses, ordering their removal from all churches in his diocese'.36 VIII While openly confronting the intractable difficulties encountered here in teasing out from a devotional poem the essence of its imaginative theology,

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we should not underestimate the complexity and sophistication of its proffered solution. I am proposing that the Dream gathers its Christian and Germanic inheritances into a medium of violent paradox, constructing an imaginative fullness that includes acute intellectual tension. Scholars have demonstrated how underlying the poem can be found the rhetorical device of 'communicatio idiomatum', a figure developed within contemporary theological controversies to reconcile the human and divine natures of Christ into a single paradoxical affirmation—e.g. 'genamon hie thaer aelmightigne God" (1.6o) ('then they seized Almighty God'). But such paradoxes, like metaphors, inevitably highlight discrepancy as well as parallelism, the incongruity as well as the reconciliation of differences. If, as T.S. Eliot affirms, 'the impossible union/Of spheres of existence is actual', 37 the actuality still remains impossible. The Dream can in this way be seen to speak directly to those modern Christians for whom faith entails the acceptance of impossibility, an intellectual humility prepared at certain points to renounce knowledge in favour of mystery, the mystery of that 'Iesus Chnst: Whom hauing not seene, yee loue, in whom diough now ye see him not, yet beleeuing, ye reioyce with ioy vnspeakable' (1 Peter, I.7-8). At die same time, the poem doesn't simply substitute a symbolic Cross for a literal resurrection, exchange a lifted sign for a risen Chnst. The Cross of the poem is represented not as an abstract symbol, but as a living bemg within whose nature both the agony and the mystery of the Passion are internalised. The sharing of Christ's agony by the anthropomorphised Cross is emphasised not in order that it might carry a burden of theological anxiety, but so as to render the agony of the Crucifixion present to the imagination, realised in sensory terms, and on a partially human scale. In his Vision of the Cross, the Dreamer sees not a fixed and abstract symbol, but a 'lively' and iterable sign, capable of signifying simultaneously agony and tnumph: Still through the gold my eyes descried An ancient injury, the world's first wound, Purple on gold, the passion and the glory, As blood broke forth from the rood's right side. Pierced with pity, and filled with fear I was, as I saw that shifting sign Alter its appearance, its colour change: Now it was wet with the sweat of agony, Now with brilliance of treasure bedecked. (11.22-30) What the Dreamer is looking at here is Chnst Himself, incarnated in the pain and majesty of the Cross: always mortally wounded, always ascending into glory. The Cross has acquired those qualities by its sympathy in suffering,

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its proximity to the Passion: physically soaked in tangible sweat and blood, literally damaged by the violence of victimisation. Hence the poem's imagining of the Cross as a variable and living sign is informed, via the legend of the True Cross and its discovery, by that vivid sensuous apprehension of its original ordeal. By virtue of that participation in the Passion, the Cross acquires a potent capability not only of expressing its mystery, but of facilitating the ritual memorialisation, and more importantly the imaginative re-enactment, of the Crucifixion itself. The kind of contemplation represented in the poem's Dream-Vision is essentially a form of 'spiritual exercise' in the method later formulated by St. Ignatius:39 an imaginative reconstruction, in the space between the meditating mind and the object of contemplation, of a revealed theological truth. It is at this point that the poem transcends its naturalistic and pagan inheritance. For here material things—gold, silver, gems, even the body itself—become implements of devotional exercise and spiritual concentration, rather than objects of value in themselves. The gold and jewels formerly distributed by the generous Anglo-Saxon lord have attained a new signifying potentiality as elements of a devotional icon. In that poignant description of the dead hero, the poem bids a sad but resigned farewell to its pagan ancestry. Ultimately the poem is a meditation on, and an example of, the spiritual value of devotional art. A Cross that speaks can exist only m the poetry that speaks it. The Cross that exhorts the Dreamer to put its self-revelation into words, does so in the words of the poem that have already made such an exhortation possible. And while the Dream internalises this spiritual aesthetic into a highly sophisticated literary form, it is the Ruthwell Cross—a 'preaching Cross', bearing its evangelical speech inscribed upon itself-—that exemplifies m its totality the multi-cultural (and 'multi-media') character of this sacred art. In such great stone memorials (as many as 1500 of which still survive) Anglo-Saxon Christians could directly apprehend, in word and image, the mystery of the Passion, and imaginatively recreate in their own lives the suffering and triumph of their Saviour. The capacity of such images to internalise m concrete form a precis of the whole Christian gospel can be witnessed in the complaints of Boniface, who in 744 complained 'that worship at such crosses was detracting from attendance at regular churches'.40 And much later when the Covenanters, implementing the Church of Scotland's 1604 Act of Assembly against 'idolatrous monuments', devastated the Ruthwell Cross,'41 they were testifying to its anaent catholic power, as well as bearing witness to their own Pauline insistence on the purer, immaterial spirituality of the risen Christ.
Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Education, University of Hertfordshire, Wall Hall, Aldenham, Watford WD2 8AT, UK

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The basic text of The Dream of the Rood mean tree, ship, log, cup or cross) conveys this tactile veneration of the Cross: 'Friends addressed and employed in this essay is that often pass me from hand to hand/And I of Bruce Dickins and Alan Ross (Londonam kissed by ladies and courteous men.' Methuen, 1934, 4th edn 1954, revised For a translation see The Battle of Maldon i960). I have also made much use of the and Other English Poems, trans. Kevin scholarly and critical apparatus supplied by Crossley-Holland, ed Bruce Mitchell Michael Swanton m his edition of the (London- Macmillan, 1965), p 62. All three poem (Manchester Manchester UP, 1970, forms of relationship to the Cross are also revised edn, Exeter. Exeter UP, 1987) In featured in the Dream, where the Cross is die knowledge drat direct access to the 'widely worshipped' (Li 19), worn or traced Anglo-Saxon language is an increasingly as an insignia 'no-one who bears/ Bright restricted privilege, the poem is presented in his breast diis best of all signs' (II.155—6), and cited in the form of my own, to some and formulated in words- 'reveal your degree 'free', verse translation My quotavision to the world in words' (1 134). tions from the Anglo-Saxon are from ' The alien language and poetic forms we Dickins and Ross, and use their line numencounter in modern editions of Anglobering. In-text translations are either literal Saxon verse may well seem strange enough and unreferenced, or refer to the line numin themselves to the modern reader. bers in the verse translation (pp. 20—5). I But those modern editions have already have modernised obsolete orthographic involved considerable processing, standforms such as dipthongs; and rendered the ardisation and editorial mediation from the letters 'thorn' and 'eth' as 'th', although original MS texts The familiar pattern of they possessed phonetically different values alliterating half-lines separated by a caesura, The translation unconditionally accepts die reflected in both the edited texts and some edited text of Dickins and Ross. translations, is a pattern that does not 2 Dickins and Ross, pp 1-13, Swanton, appears in the MSS There verse is not PP 9-38 lineated or regularly punctuated as verse, 3 Dickins and Ross, pp 13-16. so what we know as the standard pattern is A Aethelstane of Wessex had clear control therefore a modern editorial refinement. of the whole of England and Scodand by Editorial decisions on lineaaon are made 927, and is conventionally regarded as the on the basis of rules abstracted from the first 'King of all England'. See Lloyd unhneated corpus itself, so are likely to be and Jennifer Laing, Anglo-Saxon England at least dtscutable. The modem texts are (Roudedge and Kegan Paul, 1979, London. always emended, often radically, sometimes Granada, 1982), p 180 questionably Some modern editions, 5 'Obviously incomplete and metrically denved from the bibliographical policies of imperfect', Swanton, p. 40. F P Magoun, introduce to the texts a 6 Dickins and Ross, p 17. The quotation is dialectal standardisation of spelling and somewhat unfair, they are actually quite grammar they did not themselves possess, sceptical about such speculations, and tend the principles of such standardisation being towards the hypothesis that the poem of drawn from systematizations of grammathe Ruthwell Cross was an earlier version tical rules that have in turn been denved subsequendy developed in a lost expansion, from the wntten literary corpus These written in the Anglian dialect, which in observations are offered in no hostile spint. turn provided the source of the Dream. I have no pretensions to the Old English 1 See G Thomas Tanselle, A Rationale of scholarship of diose scholars and editors, Textual Criticism (Philadelphia: University and am merely concerned to distinguish of Pennsylvia Press, 1989), pp. 14-15. between The Dream of the Rood in its earliest 8 One of the Riddles, die solution to which histoncal manifestations, and as it appears is 'beam' (a word that could, and here does,

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in the modem edition The response afforded to my unwelcome forays of 1992—96 into Shakespearean bibliography, focused in the publication of the series Shakespearean Originals, has cured m e o f all interest m scholarly quarrels. I enter the hall of the Anglo-Saxon scholars in peace, leaving all polemical weapons in the swordrack by the door See Walter Benjamin, 'Theses on the Philosophy of History', Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (Jonathan Cape, 1970, London Fontana, 1973), p 258. See Richard Hamer, ed., A Choice ofAngloSaxon Vent (London. Faber and Faber, J 979)- P lS9- Earlier editors and critics thought the poem consisted of two halves, possibly by different hands, the second half certainly regarded as poetically inferior (see Ehckins and Ross, p. 18) But compare Swanton, who declares the poem 'a coherent and unified whole' (p 76) For the ambivalence oflaene' see Christine Fell, 'Perceptions of Transience', in the Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, eds Malcolm G o d d e n and Michael Lapidge, p . 174. For translations o f these nddles, helpfully titled (so y o u d o n ' t have to guess the solution), as Sword-Rack and Beam, see Crosslcy-Holland and Mitchell, p p . 6 1 - 2 . J C . Pope, Seven Old English Poems ( N e w York- Bobbs-Mernll, 1981), p. 43. Bede paraphrased, but did not include, the hymn m his account of Caedmon, Histona Ecclestastka Gentis Anglorum, B o o k IV, ch. 24 (trans C Plummer, Venerabilis Bedae Opera Histoncae, Oxford Clarendon Press, 1896). It was added marginally to t h e Latin version by scribes, and included in the O l d English version in place o f Bede's paraphrase

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W . Bennett, Poetry of the Passion (Oxford Oxford University Press, 1982), p . 23 Bennett, p 8; Swanton, pp. 42—3. Bennett, pp 7 - 8 . Quotations from R K.Gordon's prose translation of Elene, Anglo-Saxon Poetry (London: Dent, 1926, revised 1954), pp. 211-12. T h e translations cited are those in the New English Hymnal (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1986)- 'Pange, lingua', H y m n s 78 and 517, w h e r e it forms part of the G o o d Friday liturgy for die Veneration o f t h e Cross; 'Vextlla regis', H y m n 79. Pope, p . 66. See Lloyd and Jennifer Laing, p p . 145—8. T h e contents o f Cuthbert's coffin are illustrated m The Anglo-Saxons, ed James Campbell (London: Phaidon, 1982), pp. 80—1. Bennett, p 20. Swanton, p . 68. Bennett, p . 4. Swanton, p 71 See H . R . Patch, 'Liturgical influence in The Dream of the Rood,' PMLA, xxxiv (1919), 233-57; Rosemary Woolf, 'Doctrinal influences on The Dream of the Rood1, Medium Aevum, xxvu (1958), 137—53; J A Burrow, 'An approach to The Dream of the Rood', Neophtlologus, xlni (1959), 123-33Swanton, p p 53, 55 Swanton, p . 69 Bennett, p . 19 Bennett, p . 19 Swanton, p . 55 T . S Eliot, "The D r y Salvages', Collected Poems 1909-1962 (London- Faber and Faber, 1963), p . 213. For further reflections o n 'faith' in contradistinction to 'belief', see m y ' " K n i g h t e n a n t of faith"'. Monsignor Quixote as "Catholic Fiction'", Literature and Theology, 7:3 (1993), especially p p 2 7 5 - 6 See Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Personal Writings, trans. Joseph A. Munitz and Philip Endean (Harmondsworth- Penguin, 1996). Swanton, p . 47 Dickins and Ross, p . 2.

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See S Allott, Alcuin of York (York, 1974), pp 165—6. 17 Crossley-Holland and Mitchell, p 126. " Barbara C . R a w , 'Biblical Literature: the N e w Testament', in G o d d e n and Lapidge, eds, p p . 2 3 8 - 9 . 19 Pope, p . 44. 20 Raw in Godden and Lapidge, p. 240, J A.

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The Dream of the Rood
For the Church of St Michael and All Angels, Bedford Park
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The day's deep midnight, once it was, When all earth's creatures' exhausted eyes Closed, and sleep their shadows shrouded. Then night's vast womb a dream delivered: The fairest of all fantasies. An astounding structure I seemed to see soar in the sky, Its beams bathed in the brightest of light. Gleaming gold enveloped that vision: A scatter of jewels sparkled on its shaft, Yet brighter the five stones encrusting its cross-beam. This was no gangster's gallows, no cross for a criminal: For all Creation's creatures, all sons of soil, And a heavenly host of all God's angels, In beauty of paradise perpetually bright Admired eternally this vision of victory, This cross of conquest, that triumphal tree. I was smeared with sin, diseased With gangrene of guilt, foul with my faults; Yet I saw this wondrous work, gay and glorious With glimmering gold, joyfully jewelled, Shimmer in splendour: the cross of Christ. Still through the gold my eyes descried An ancient injury, die world's first wound, Purple on gold, the passion and the glory, As blood broke forth from the rood's right side. Pierced with pity, and filled with fear I was, as I saw that shifting sign Alter its appearance, its colour change: Now it was wet with the sweat of agony, Now with brilliance of treasure bedecked. A long while I lay, struck to my soul, Saddened at the sight of the Saviour's tree; But imagine die wonder, when diis wood Words uttered, silence broke, spoke To me! 5

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From time's dark backward And abyss, I imagine the hour of my hewing, When from the wood's end my trunk was toppled, Wrenched from its roots by the fiercest of foes. With power they impounded, and made me a spectacle, A picture of punishment, to rack and to crack The ribs of their criminals. On their shoulders they hefted me, And on a hill hoisted. It was then that I saw a splendid Saviour Approach with alacrity and courage to climb. Hastily, the young hero stripped Him For action, girded like a gladiator Ready for the ring. In the sight of spectators, Fearless and firm, keen for the combat, He clambered on the cross. He sought no insignia Of cruel conquest, no brows bound With victorious wreaths: His reward Was mankind's Redemption, salvation of souls His only prize. Though all earth faltered And flinched with fear, I didn't dare To bend or to break. I'd have fallen full-length, Flat to the earth, but was forced to stand firm. I could have crushed each of those enemies, But by Christ's command I had to standfast. With shocks I shuddered, when the warrior wound His strong arms about me: but I daren't stir. More forbidding than fear was the Lord's Word. Crude and rough-hewn, a cross of wood I was: Yet I lifted on high the Lord of Hosts; I held aloft the might of majesty.

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THE SIGN OF THE C R O S S Me. In His blood when it sprang From His side, was my splintered surface Soaked. In the thrust of a spear Was His spirit's expense, When all was accomplished, When life he relinquished, And gave up the Ghost. A fearful fate I endured on that high hill, A dreadful destiny. I saw the Almighty In agony racked, the corpse of the Ruler Concealed in clouds. Darkness eclipsed The original brightness, shadows buried The Light of the World. All Creation wept At a King's killing; all creatures cried For Christ on the cross. A rich man, a follower, arrived from afar, And begged God's body. Uncertain, anguished, Humbled with hurt, I surrendered the Saviour To his outstretched arms. They took Him up Tenderly, torn from His torture, Left me blood-boltered, impaled by the points Of annihilating nails. They stretched out His limbs, Wounded, war-weary; stood at His head To say their good-byes; grieved at his going, They laid the exhausted hero to rest. Full in the sight of me, His murderer, A tomb they constructed, hewn from bright rock, Sculpted in stone; and there they interred The God of glory. A mournful hymn They voiced at evensong; and as darkness deepened Reluctantly departed. They left Him Alone there: He needed no companions. We too were left, three crosses stark Against an anguished sky: three gaunt gallows On a hill of skulls. The long day waned: Shadows chilled. In the cool of the evening The Saviour stiffened.

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GRAHAM HOLDERNESS 4 For a second time They savagely felled me, ripped up my roots, Cruelly, cast me in a deep pit. Earth closed coldly over my eyes, eyes That had seen God's dying. Days, Years passed: and I perceived only Comfortless clay, and the darkness of death.

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Then the earth parted, and in pain I was pulled From the world's womb, bom again to the brightness Of light. God's disciples dug me up,
Heaved me heavenwards, raised me and dressed me In raiment of silver, garments of gold. 115

5 So now you know, my friend in faith, That though bitterly abandoned I was to sharp Sorrow, now by all Creation's wondering Creatures I'm widely worshipped: Men in multitudes pray to my power, Beseech this sign. On me God's baim In the pride of His Passion, knew on the cross Punishment's pain: hence I'm now raised in glory High under heaven, and him can I heal Who my force fears. Once I was known As the tree of torture, a sign of injustice; Till I set all men on the road to righteousness. See how through suffering I became highly favoured By the world's Ruler, above all the wood's trees; Just as Mary, God's mother, Found grace and great favour In the worid, among women.

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6 Now in love I invite you your dream to disclose, Reveal your vision to the world in words. Show all creatures the cross on which Christ redeemed Mankind's many sins, and forgave Adam's fault.

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THE SIGN O F T H E C R O S S ft was he, our grand parent, who first death tasted; But the Almighty ascended, the Redeemer arose To heal that hurt. He died; He is risen; And He will return, at the day of doom, The Almighty Lord, with all his angels, To seek out mankind on this middle-earth And deliver His judgement. With the power Of justice to all people He'll deal Their just deserts, as each has deserved In this little life. There's no-one so foolish As to feel no fear when the Lord Speaks His sentence. From that great crowd Of the quick and the dead, He'll single out each, And ask him to say, in God's honest truth, If it's death he desires, the pangs of perishing, Punishment's pain, as he Himselffelt it When fastened to the cross. Then they'll be Tongue-tied, not know what to say To the crucified Christ. But no-one who bears, Bright in his breast this best of all signs Need feel any fear. Far from earth's confines, Through the might of the cross, that man will find heaven, And live with the Lord. 7 And so it befell That alone, unbefriended, yet happy in heart I acknowledged the cross. My spirit was stirred To adventure a voyage, to fearlessly seek out What fate holds in store. The height of my happiness Is that this cross, before all appeals, Accepts my prayers; so my hope of protection Rests in that rood. I've no powerful companions Alive on this earth to shield me from harm; Hence they've departed to seek out the King, To sojourn in glory with God Almighty High in the heavens. Daily I long For the day when that cross, clearly revealed 160 140

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To me in a dream, will fetch me forth From this empty existence, and in paradise place me With the people of God in perpetual bliss, Where I will find entire fulfilment And endless joy. He who here among men Suffered for our faults, gave Himself on the gallows For our souls' sake, I know as my friend. Such hope was restored Of blessing and bliss, and many a poor soul From death delivered, spared From the pains of Hell's punishment, When the Son in splendour, peerless in power, Harrowed all Hell, and from darkness to light Released innocent souls joyfully to join The angelic host. Then that choice company, Partners in praise, all raised one voice: Sang Holy! and Holy! as the Highest came. Absorbed in adoration, all angels rejoice At the Hero's return to His heavenly home.
trans. Graham Holdemess

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The Seafarer
The Seafarer, like its companion-piece The Wanderer, also synthesises Christian theology with pagan Germanic perceptions and emotions. The social life of the comitatus, with its close physical relationships and vividlyrealised pleasures, is strongly featured, but again as loss. Secular joys lie in the past, or visit the imagination as deluding dreams. In The Wanderer that inconsolable sense of loss and of the harshness of an inhospitable world virtually forces the exile to turn to Christ. But The Seafarer aligns elegaic lament with religious renunciation. The pagan world of 'hall-joys' is not mislaid but superseded; and the embarcation that represents a farewell to earthly pleasures is also a peregrination towards the new life of faith and hope in the eternal.

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My self's own story I truthfully tell, My traveller's tale, how day after day

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To me in a dream, will fetch me forth From this empty existence, and in paradise place me With the people of God in perpetual bliss, Where I will find entire fulfilment And endless joy. He who here among men Suffered for our faults, gave Himself on the gallows For our souls' sake, I know as my friend. Such hope was restored Of blessing and bliss, and many a poor soul From death delivered, spared From the pains of Hell's punishment, When the Son in splendour, peerless in power, Harrowed all Hell, and from darkness to light Released innocent souls joyfully to join The angelic host. Then that choice company, Partners in praise, all raised one voice: Sang Holy! and Holy! as the Highest came. Absorbed in adoration, all angels rejoice At the Hero's return to His heavenly home.
trans. Graham Holdemess

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The Seafarer
The Seafarer, like its companion-piece The Wanderer, also synthesises Christian theology with pagan Germanic perceptions and emotions. The social life of the comitatus, with its close physical relationships and vividlyrealised pleasures, is strongly featured, but again as loss. Secular joys lie in the past, or visit the imagination as deluding dreams. In The Wanderer that inconsolable sense of loss and of the harshness of an inhospitable world virtually forces the exile to turn to Christ. But The Seafarer aligns elegaic lament with religious renunciation. The pagan world of 'hall-joys' is not mislaid but superseded; and the embarcation that represents a farewell to earthly pleasures is also a peregrination towards the new life of faith and hope in the eternal.

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In dark of despair I endlessly endured Heartache's hurt on the water's waste, Surges of sadness on weltering waves. Void were my vigils at the mast's foot, Waste the night-watches, when my boat was battered And tossed against cliffs. My feet were frozen, Fettered with frost, cramped with cold; In the ache of anguish, hot was my heart. Keen as a knife, desire drew inwards To stab at my soul. Those living on land Who prosper in plenty amongst fair fields, Can't possibly know of the poor man's pain, Who, woeful as winter—forlorn of his fatherland, Kept from his kin—weathers the waves Of the ice-cold sea. Hammered by hail, Savaged by snow, my ears heard only The sound of the sea, splash of the surge And the swan's song. The clamour of gulls My only glee; the call of the curlew, No man's mirth; the mew's plaint In place of mead. Where storms beat on stone-cliffs The icy-winged eagle and frost-feathered tern Compete m their clamour. There's no loving lord To embrace the exile, or fondly befriend, With outstretched arms, the friendless man. A life of luxury's made for that man Who sojourns in cities, caressed with comforts And warmed with wine. He feels not a fraction Of the seafarer's sorrow, the hateful hardships An exile endures. He'll never know, This creature of comfort, how some of us suffer On diat vast voyage. Darkness deepens With drifts of snow, shadows of night Bring sleet from the north. Hail falls hard. Frost grips the ground.

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And so my heart heaves to wander the waves, The unplumbed oceans, and taste of the tang Of the salt-sea's spray; to seek the deep streams And their restless rolling. There I might seek Friendship in foreign lands, there I might find Homeless, a home on an alien shore. Again and again an impulse invites me, A peregrine urge to fare far forth; A mood of migration irks me to travel The pilgrim's passage, the wanderer's way. No-one in this world is so haughty in heart, So generously gifted, nor so peerless in pride, So daring in deeds, nor so loved of his lord That he feels no fear before he embarks, Of what will befall him on the far seas: What seafarer's lot the Lord holds in store. He hears no harping, sees no bright hall, No place of pleasure. Hollow his heart, And drained of desire; vacant and void Is the spirit that's set on the traveller's trail, The mind that's fixed on the whelming waves. Blossoms burst, fields grow fair, Forests flourish, the country quickens. All motions move the stirnng spirit To prepare for departure, and fathom the flood. The cry of the cuckoo, singer of spring, Brings sharp sorrow to the sailor's breast. Only the longing of seafaring lasts: The hunger of a heart that desires the deep. 3 So, stirring, my spirit raps at my ribs, Flutters her feathers, then quits her cage To soar on the wing, to fathom the flood-ways, The earth's expanses, the haunts of the whale. Wheeling and hovering, my heart's hawk yells, Eagerly inciting the unappeased spirit To seek the sea's stretches, where the dead lie deep.

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Then circling, homing, my falcon stoops, Repossesses her perch, full of fierce feelings Of desperate desire: longing for Love she is, Greedy for Grace. See, then, why God's gifts Mean more to me than the petty pleasures Of this little life! I can see clearly That no human happiness endures for ever. There are three deaths, that tall destiny's day Stand still in doubt: illness, old age, The sword's sharp edge. Each of these snatches at Life unsuspecting, dreaming of new dawns, Doomed to depart. What's said after By still-speaking tongues is a man's memorial: It's memory that matters. So strive to accomplish Actions of worth, do down the devil And confound your foes, that your meed may be sung By the sons of men, and echoed by angels As high as the heavens. For ever and ever, As life eternal, your fame will be found In the heavenly host. 4 Dead are the days Of ancient magnificence, the glories are gone That once were on earth. No more do we see Caesars and kings, those givers of gold Who were hailed as heroes, and loved as lords. They depart into darkness, earth knows them no more. The great men have gone, their empire on earth The meek have inherited: men insignificant Cling in their weakness to the world's wealth. Gone is all glory, all splendour spent, All empire interred. Antique nobility Droops and decays. Time's always m motion On this middle-earth. A man ages: Gaunt and grey-haired, he dreams of departed Days when his loved lord graced him with gifts; He remembers the royalty of that peerless patron, Given to ground now, enveloped in earth.

GRAHAM H O L D E R N E S S

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The spirit's sanctuary is fragile flesh That melts in mortality, crumbles to clay. When Ufe leaves that flesh-house, all bodily being— Pleasure's sweet taste, the torment of pain, The touch of a hand, the hastening of thought— Snuffs out like a flame. A man may hoard In hidden heaps, a trove of treasure To safeguard his soul; bereaved, a brother, Broken with grief, will bury bright gold In his brother's grave, hoping to light him On his shadowy way. But what good's gold To the sinful soul, when empty-handed It goes before God? The wealth of the world's Too poor a price, to placate and pacify That awful power. 5 Great is the glory, The grandeur of God. Though He fixed the foundations, Established the earth, the seas and the sky, Yet will the world fall down before Him In fear of His wrath. If a man doesn't know When his death will arrive, unannounced, unexpected, Like a thief in the night, he's a fool not to feel A dread of the Lord. Blessed the man Who's humble in heart, for the Lord's mild mercy Will melt in his soul. Blessed the man Who holds his faith firm: his fate is forgiveness, And his gift will be Grace.
trans. Graham Holderness December 1996