|The Ruthwell Cross, early 8th c., |
carved with lines from a
Northumbrian version of this poem
Hwæt, ic swefna cyst secgan wylle,
hwæt me gemætte to midre nihte
siþþan reordberend reste wunedon.
þuhte me þæt ic gesawe syllicre treow
on lyft lædan leohte bewunden,
beama beorhtost. ….
(From The Vercelli Book, late 10th-c. West Saxon)
Although this has nothing to do specifically to do with the historical origins of the current feast [LINK], it seems appropriate….
"Lo! I will tell the dearest of dreams
That I dreamed in the midnight when mortal men
were sunk in slumber. Me-seemed I saw
A wondrous Tree towering in air,
Most shining of crosses compassed with light.Brightly that beacon was gilded with gold;
Jewels adorned it fair at the foot,
Five on the should-beam, blazing in splendor.
Through all creation the angels of God
Beheld it shining - no cross of shame!
Holy spirits gazed on its gleaming,
Men upon earth and all this creation.
Wondrous that Tree, that Token of triumph,
And I a transgressor soiled with my sins!
I gazed on the Rood arrayed in glory,
Shining in beauty and gilded with gold,
The Cross of the Saviour beset with gems.
But through the gold-work out gleamed a token
Of the ancient evil of sinful men
Where the Rood on its right side once sweat blood.
Saddened and rueful, smitten with terror
At the wondrous vision, I saw the Cross
Swiftly varying vesture and hue,
Now wet and stained with the Blood outwelling,
Now fairly jewelled with gold and gems.
Then, as I lay there, long I gazed
In rue and sadness on my Saviour's Tree,
Of all woods worthiest, speaking these words:
'Long years ago (well yet I remember)
They hewed me down on the edge of the holt,
Severed my trunk; strong foemen took me,
For a spectacle wrought me, a gallows for rogues.
High on their shoulders they bore me to hilltop,
Fastened me firmly, an army of foes!
'Then I saw the King of all mankind
In brave mood hastening to mount upon me.
Refuse I dared not, nor bow nor break,
Though I felt earth's confines shudder in fear;
All foes I might fell, yet still I stood fast.
'Then the young Warrior, God, the All-Wielder,
Put off his raiment, steadfast and strong;
With lordly mood in the sight of many
He mounted the Cross to redeem mankind.
When the hero clasped me I trembled in terror,
But I dared not bow me nor bend to earth;
I must need stand fast. Upraised as the Rood
I held the High King, the Lord of Heaven.
I dared not bow! with black nails driven
Those sinners pierced me; the prints are clear,
The open wounds. I dared injure none.
They mocked us both. I was wet with blood
From the Hero's side when He sent forth His spirit.
'Many a bale I bore on that hill-side
Seeing the Lord in agony outstretched.
Black darkness covered with clouds God's body,
That radiant splendor. Shadow went forth
Wan under heaven; all creation wept
Bewailing the King's death. Christ was on the Cross.
'Then many came quickly, faring from far,
Hurrying to the Prince. I beheld it all.
Sorely smitten with sorrow in meekness I bowed
To the hands of men. From His heavy and bitter pain
They lifted Almighty God. Those warriors left me
Standing bespattered with blood; I was wounded with spears.
Limb-weary they laid me down, they stood at His head,
Looked on the Lord of Heaven as he lay there at rest
From His bitter ordeal all forspent. In sight of His slayers
They made Him a sepulchre carved from the shining stone;
Therein laid the Lord of triumph. At evening tide
Sadly they sang their dirges and wearily turned away
From their Lordly Prince; there He lay all still and alone.
'There at our station a long time we stood
Sorrowfully weeping after the wailing of men
Had died away. The corpse grew cold,
The fair life-dwelling. Down to earth
Men hacked and felled us, a grievous fate!
They dug a pit and buried us deep.
But there God's friends and followers found me
And graced me with treasure of silver and gold.
'Now may you learn, O man beloved,
The bitter sorrows that I have borne,
The work of caitiffs. But the time is come
That men upon earth and through all creation
Show me honour and bow to this sign.
On me a while God's Son once suffered;
Now I tower under heaven in glory attired
With healing for all that hold me in awe.
Of old I was once the most woeful of tortures,
Most hateful to all men, till I opened for them
The True Way of Life. Lo! the Lord of glory,
The warden of heaven, above all wood
Has glorified me as Almighty God
Has honored His Mother, even Mary herself,
Over all womankind in the eyes of men.
'Now I give you bidding, O man beloved,
Reveal this Vision to the sons of men,
And clearly tell of the Tree of glory
Whereon God suffered for man's many sins
And the evil that Adam once wrought of old.
'Death He suffered, but our Saviour rose
By virtue of His great might as a help to men.
He ascended to heaven. But hither again
He shall come unto earth to seek mankind,
The Lord Himself on the Say of Doom,
Almighty God with His angel hosts.
And then will He judge, Who has power of judgment,
To each man according as here on earth
In this fleeting life he shall win reward.
'Nor there may any be free from fear
hearing the words which the Wielder shall utter.
He shall ask before many: Where is the man
Who would taste bitter death as He did on the Tree?
And all shall be fearful and few shall know
What to say unto Christ. But none at His coming
Shall need to fear if he bears in his breast
This best of symbols; and every soul
From the ways of earth through the Cross shall come
To heavenly glory, who would dwell with God."
Then with ardent spirit and earnest zeal,
Companionless, lonely, I prayed to the Cross.
My soul was fain of death. I had endured
Many an hour of longing. It is my life's hope
That I may turn to this Token of Triumph,
I above all men, and revere it well.
This is my heart's desire, and all my hope
Waits on the Cross. In this world now
I have few powerful friends; they have fared hence
Away from these earthly gauds seeking the King of glory,
Dwelling now with the High Father in heaven above,
Abiding in rapture. Each day I dream
Of the hour when the Cross of my Lord, whereof here on earth
I once had vision, from this fleeting life may fetch me
And bring me where is great gladness and heavenly bliss,
Where the people of God are planted and stablished for ever
In joy everlasting. There may it lodge me
Where I may abide in glory knowing bliss with the saints.
May the Lord befriend me who on earth of old
Once suffered on the Cross for the sins of men.
He redeemed us, endowed us with life and a heavenly home.
Therein was hope renewed with blessing and bliss
For those who endured the burning. In that great deed
God's Son was triumphant, possessing power and strength!
Almighty, Sole-Ruling He came to the kingdom of God
Bringing a host of souls to angelic bliss,
To join the saints who abode in the splendour of glory,
When the Lord, Almighty God, came again to His throne."
(Translated by Charles W. Kennedy [LINK])
For my thoughts on the significance of the imagery here, see [LINK]. You'll see why I think it's appropriate....
Thanks for reading!