Using these devices, “The Dream of the Rood” incorporates the ideals and entertainment value of a non- Christian oral tradition into a homiletic allegory about the Passion of Christ and the remises of Christian salvation. “Lo! Choicest of dreams I will relate, / What dream I dreamt in middle of night / When mortal men reposed in rest” (1-3). These opening lines of the poem immediately announce the narrative arrangement of the poem, a familiar form to any audience, but especially influential in Germanic literature.
Oral tradition and story-telling are hallmarks of the blended, non-Christian culture, and the device effectively disarms the audience, supplanting cynicism with intrigue. As the speaker recounts the subject of his dream, “A wondrous wood” (4), he is careful tot to digress too far from the narrative strand, introducing a shift in both action and voice in line 26, “The best of woods gang speak these words. ” Thus, the audience is drawn into a story within a story, as the Rood reveals itself as Chrism’s crucifix and details its own role in the Passion.
At the conclusion of this heavily Christian overture by the Rood, taking up 94 of the 1 55 total lines of verse, the poem suddenly returns to the opening narrator’s voice and has the dramatic effect of waking from a dream. In the closing portion of the poem, the speaker concludes his story by explaining to the audience how his dream has impacted him, “With small attendance; the thought of my mind / For the Journey was ready… ” (123-124); his experience has prepared him for the Journey to salvation.
With an intriguing beginning, cryptic middle, and reflective conclusion, the poet pays homage to the story-telling form of the non- Christian oral tradition. In doing so, the author disguises his message of salvation to his non-Christian audience. The persuasive strength of the narrative structure is bolstered by a persistent use of imagery, invoking visions of kings and warriors. These images were fundamental to the pre-Christian, monarchical and warring tribal cultures of the Anglo-Saxons, and the poem uses them to translate pagan ideals to those of Christianity.
In the beginning of the poem, the narrator describes the Rood as the “Brightest of trees; that beacon was all / Beiger with gold; Jewels were standing / Four at surface of earth, likewise were there five / Above on the shoulder- brace” (5-8). This description draws a picture of the Rood that is much like the crown and Jewels of a royal figure. While “shoulder-brace” could be a literal reference to the instruction off crucifix, the effect is one of corporal imagery.
In lines 15 and 16, the Rood is again described as “Beiger with gold; bright gems had there / Worthily decked the tree of the Lord. ” The reference to gold and Jewels is one that the author clearly wishes the audience to fully envision. Like a great king, the Rood is deemed worthy of its ornamentation. The reference to “the Lord” solidifies the royal image. In lines 17-19, that royal image is contrasted with one of the warrior: meet through that gold I might perceive / Old strife of the wretched, that first it gave / Blood on the stronger right] side. This dichotomy of king and warrior, worthy and yet suffering, further equates the Rood to the audience’s non-Christian ancestry, as kings and warriors were typically one and the same. The poem’s most delayed poetic device is also what permits its most universal appeal; the personification of the Rood. While the images of gold bedecked kings and bleeding warriors are hints of the Rood’s anthropomorphic nature, when the narration shifts, and the Rood begins to speak, the audience is catapulted into an alternate reality where Chrism’s crucifix has its own perspective on the Passion.
The Rood is able to tell of its experience before the crucifixion, “Twats long ago (l remember it still) / That I was hewn at end of a grove” (27-28), and after, “One buried us in deep pit, yet of me the thanes of the Lord, / His friend, heard tell; , / and me beiger with gold and silver” (74-76). This supernatural animation of the Rood, with its own life and views – entirely separate from Christ – gives the poem a fantastic, mystical feeling, one that bridges the gap between rigid Christian evangelism and classic entertainment.