Dream of the Rood Poem Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


The Dream of the Rood, one of the Christian poems of Old English Literature lives as an example of the genre of dream poetry. The word ‘rood’ means a pole or in the context of this poem, it means a crucifix. The poem is a dream that the speaker is having. In the dream, the speaker converses with the Cross on which Jesus was crucified. 


Lines 1-17

Listen! I will speak of the sweetest dream,
what came to me in the middle of the night,
when speech-bearers slept in their rest. 
It seemed that I saw a most wondrous tree
raised on high, wound round with light,
the brightest of beams. All that beacon was
covered in gold; gems stood
fair at the earth’s corners, and there were five
up on the cross-beam. All the angels of the Lord looked on;
fair through all eternity; that was no felon’s gallows,
but holy spirits beheld him there,
men over the earth and all this glorious creation.
Wondrous was the victory-tree, and I was stained by sins,
wounded with guilt; I saw the tree of glory
honored in garments, shining with joys,
bedecked with gold; gems had
covered worthily the Creator’s tree.

The speaker begins by calling the attention of the listeners. The speaker shares their sweetest dream, while the speaker got to see this dream, others slept in rest. The term ‘speech-bearers’ is a noteworthy substitute for humans. The dream is a description of a wondrous tree that is raised high and adorned with gems and covered in gold. The beacon was wondrous and there were five such that were focused on the Cross. This Cross was different and it was very special for all creation. Typically, the cross was used to punish criminals, however the speaker clarifies that this time was an exception. The  Cross was special as it was going to be used for the crucifixion of Christ and thus, the angels guarded it. The tree that made the Cross was glorious and the speaker was riddled with guilt as they felt like a sinner when compared to the tree that was so worthy and covered with gold and gems, it is referred to as the ‘victory-tree’. 

Lines 18-34

And yet beneath that gold I began to see
an ancient wretched struggle, when it first began
to bleed on the right side. I was all beset with sorrows,
fearful for that fair vision; I saw that eager beacon
change garments and colors––now it was drenched,
stained with blood, now bedecked with treasure.
And yet, lying there a long while,
I beheld in sorrow the Savior’s tree
until I heard it utter a sound;
that best of woods began to speak words:
“It was so long ago––I remember it still––
that I was felled from the forest’s edge,
ripped up from my roots. Strong enemies seized me there,
made me their spectacle, made me bear their criminals;
they bore me on their shoulders and then set me on a hill,
enemies enough fixed me fast. Then I saw the Lord of mankind
hasten eagerly, when he wanted to ascend upon me.

The vision intensifies and the speaker can now see more, beneath all the gold the speaker begins to see what truly has occurred. The ‘ancient struggle’ mentioned refers to the crucifixion of Christ. This event is understood when the speaker observes the Cross bleeding on the right side. The Cross bleeds on the right because Christ was first crucified in his heart. The speaker’s mood changes after this scene emerges and the speaker becomes sorrowful. The beacon also changes from bejeweled to bleeding and then bejeweled again. As the speaker layed there sorrowful watching the Saviour’s tree, the Cross began to speak. Like Jesus became the best of humans,  the Cross became the best of woods, both attained a high status for their sacrifice. The Cross recalls the crucifixion and although it was a long time ago, the Cross still vividly remembers each aspect. The enemies felled the tree from the forest and brought it to a hill, the phrase ‘fixed me fast’ indicates that they were eager to crucify Christ. Then the tree saw the most wondrous thing, it saw Christ approaching it and the use of ‘eagerly’ indicates that Christ was courageous, he was a hero and not afraid to embrace the enemy’s torment. 

Lines 35-56

I did not dare to break or bow down
against the Lord’s word, when I saw
the ends of the earth tremble. Easily I might
have felled all those enemies, and yet I stood fast.
Then the young hero made ready—that was God almighty—
strong and resolute; he ascended on the high gallows,
brave in the sight of many, when he wanted to ransom mankind.
I trembled when he embraced me, but I dared not bow to the ground,
or fall to the earth’s corners––I had to stand fast.
I was reared as a cross: I raised up the mighty King,
the Lord of heaven; I dared not lie down.
They drove dark nails through me; the scars are still visible,
open wounds of hate; I dared not harm any of them.
They mocked us both together; I was all drenched with blood
flowing from that man’s side after he had sent forth his spirit.
  “Much have I endured on that hill
of hostile fates: I saw the God of hosts
cruelly stretched out. Darkness had covered
with its clouds the Ruler’s corpse,
that shining radiance. Shadows spread
grey under the clouds; all creation wept,
mourned the King’s fall: Christ on the cross.

Such a terrible act was to occur that the ground shook with the weight of evil and yet the Cross did not break or bow down. The Cross obeyed the word of its Lord. It could have but it did not destroy the enemies. The ‘young hero’ who is Christ, then ascended the gallows with strength and resolution. Christ knew, as painful as the whole ordeal was, it was for the betterment of humankind. “I trembled when he embraced me, but I dared not bow to the ground, or fall to the earth’s corners––I had to stand fast”, the lines hold deep power, when Christ stood in front of the Cross and embraced it, the Cross shook, however, it did not waver and stood tall to support its warrior. The Cross was the chosen one to raise the mighty King, Jesus. The enemies skewered  the Cross with nails, their actions were fuelled by hatred and the scars are still visible. They were mocked but the Cross stayed loyal to Jesus and it was stained with Jesus’ blood as he sent his soul to heaven for holy endeavor. The whole world mourned the sacrifice of Christ and nature weeped. The mourned the loss of their King.

Lines 57- 74

And yet from afar men cam hastening
to that noble one; I watched it all.
I was all beset with sorrow, yet I sank into their hands,
humbly, eagerly. There they took almighty God,
lifted him from his heavy torment; the warriors then left me
standing drenched in blood, all shot through with arrows.
They laid him down, bone-weary, and stood by his body’s head;
they watched the Lord of heaven there, who rested a while,
weary from his mighty battle. They began to build a tomb for him
in the sight of his slayer; they carved it from bright stone,
and set within the Lord of victories. They began to sing a dirge for him,
wretched at evening, when they wished to travel hence,
weary, from the glorious Lord––he rested there with little company.
And as we stood there, weeping, a long while
fixed in our station, the song ascended
from those warriors. The corpse grew cold,
the fair life-house. Then they began to fell us
all to the earth––a terrible fate!

In this stanza, the speaker recalls the events that occurred after the crucifixion of Christ. The followers of Christ rushed to his aid and the Cross watched it all happen. After being brave for so long, the Cross is overcome with sorrow and once the followers reach, it sinks and collapses not being able to stand tall any longer. The people lifted Jesus and relieved him from the torment. The cross remained stained with blood and weary with arrows. The followers of Nobel Christ stood a while by his head watching him rest, then they sought the brightest stone to build his tomb, a tomb fit for the Lord of victories. They also sang a song to mourn him that sounded even more sad on such a fateful evening. After a while, the Cross and Christ were lowered to the earth, they were buried.

Lines 75-94

They dug for us a deep pit, yet the Lord’s thanes,
friends found me there… 
adorned me with gold and silver.
“Now you can hear, my dear hero,
that I have endured the work of evil-doers,
harsh sorrows. Now the time has come
that far and wide they will honor me,
men over the earth and all this glorious creation,
and pray to this sign. On me the Son of God
suffered for a time; and so, glorious now
I rise up under the heavens, and am able to heal
each of those who is in awe of me.
Once I was made into the worst of torments,
most hateful to all people, before I opened
the true way of life for speech-bearers. 
Lo! the King of glory, Guardian of heaven’s kingdom
honored me over all the trees of the forest,
just as he has also, almighty God, honored
his mother, Mary herself,
above all womankind for the sake of all men.

As the Cross recalls, it was a terrifying event to be buried in a deep pit but then the loyal Thanes of the Lord and friends found them and wrapped the Cross with gold and silver. The Cross then feels blessed and empowered. It bravely endured the torment of the evil doers and it was time to be remembered and honored as the rood on which Christ was crucified. All of humankind would pray to the Cross, it gained significance and meaning and turned into something far more glorious. The Cross that was once strained to be the bearer of the worst of torments had been finally honored. It had become special and more significant than any other tree in the forest by being associated with Jesus, just like his mother Mary had become the best of women because she was the mother of Christ. The lines beautifully highlight the essences of Paganism and Christianity.


Now I bid you, my beloved hero,
that you reveal this vision to men,
tell them in words that it is the tree of glory
on which almighty God suffered
for mankind’s many sins
and Adam’s ancient deeds.
Death He tasted there, yet the Lord rose again
with his great might to help mankind.
He ascended into heaven. He will come again
to this middle-earth to seek mankind
on doomsday, almighty God, 
the Lord himself and his angels with him,
and He will judge—He has the power of judgment—
each one of them as they have earned
beforehand here in this loaned life.
No one there may be unafraid
at the words which the Ruler will speak:
He will ask before the multitude where the man might be
who for the Lord’s name would taste
bitter death, as He did earlier on that tree.

The Cross begins to conclude its speech but before taking leave, it tells the speaker to share this dream with all men. The speaker must tell others that it was the tree of glory and not gloom, that Christ redeemed humankind.Although Jesus died on the Cross, he rose again with his resolution to help humankind. He ascended to heaven but the Cross informs the speaker that Jesus will return to earth on doomsday. He will return with the angels to judge the beings for their deeds as he has the power to judge. Whatever humans did in this life will be counted and they will not fear their Ruler when he will speak. “He will ask before the multitude where the man might be who for the Lord’s name would taste bitter death, as He did earlier on that tree”, Jesus will ask the people who amongst them is ready to sacrifice himself for Jesus as Jesus sacrificed himself for the people.


But they will tremble then, and little think
what they might even begin to say to Christ.
But no one there need be very afraid
who has borne in his breast the best of beacons;
but through the cross we shall seek the kingdom,
every soul from this earthly way,
whoever thinks to rest with the Ruler.”
          Then I prayed to the tree with a happy heart,
eagerly, there where I was alone
with little company. My spirit longed to start
on the journey forth; it has felt
so much of longing. It is now my life’s hope
that I might seek the tree of victory
alone, more often than all men
 and honor it well. I wish for that
with all my heart, and my hope of protection is
fixed on the cross.

Once the people are faced with the question of the ultimate sacrifice they become fearful and fall short of words to say to their Savior. The Cross assures that the person who has in his heart the best of beacons need not be afraid. The speaker expresses his desire to follow the words of the rood. The speaker prays to the tree, as in the Cross with contentment. This is a Christian tradition, to pray to the Cross. This shows that the aforementioned phrases turned true for the rood, it did indeed become significant for generations to come. The phrase, “there where I was alone with little company” refers to the loneliness that the speaker endures as his compadres have departed the world. The speaker’s spirit became eager to follow the path of Christ and he felt as if his life gained purpose. His renewed life resolution is to honor the tree of victory well and it is what he truly wishes for.


I have few wealthy friends on earth; but they all have gone forth,
fled from worldly joys and sought the King of glory;
they live now in heaven with the High Father,
and dwell in glory, and each day I look forward
to the time when the cross of the Lord,
on which I have looked while here on this earth,
will fetch me from this loaned life,
and bring me where there is great bliss,
joy in heaven, where the Lord’s host
is seated at the feast, with ceaseless bliss;
and then set me where I may afterwards
dwell in glory, have a share of joy
fully with the saints. May the Lord be my friend,
He who here on earth once suffered
on the hanging-tree for human sin;
He ransomed us and gave us life,
a heavenly home. Hope was renewed
with cheer and bliss for those who were burning there.
The Son was successful in that journey,
mighty and victorious, when he came with a multitude,
a great host of souls, into God’s kingdom,
the one Ruler almighty, the angels rejoicing
and all the saints already in heaven
dwelling in glory, when almighty God,
their Ruler, returned to his rightful home.

The stanza begins with reflecting life’s reality, eventually people pass away and one is left behind to ponder. Similarly, the speaker’s friends have also left behind this world and commenced on a journey to Jesus. The speaker now awaits the day when Christ will fetch him and relieve him from this borrowed life. He awaits to be taken away from the world to a realm of bliss and true joy that can be attained only in heaven. Heaven is where the speaker says that Jesus resides and presides over the chair at the feast. The speaker is looking forward to joining this feast and being with the other saints. “May the Lord be my friend,” the phrase reflects the speaker’s desire to be close to Jesus and have him as a companion and guardian. It also highlights that the world is no longer of significance to the speaker and he has renounced this worldly life for the fruits of afterlife. The speaker concludes with praising Jesus and his sacrifice for humankind and redemption. He says that the son, meaning Jesus was successful in his journey and emerged victorious. When he returned to his rightful home, all the angels and  saints that dwelled in heaven rejoiced his return.