Adam or Christ? A pronominal pun in 'The Dream of the Rood.' (poem from the volume 'The Vercelli Book')
The validity of this reading is undeniable. I would like, however, to question the assumption that Christ is the only possible referent of the pronoun he in line 101a of The Dream of the Road, and to suggest that the pronoun might also refer to Adam. This interpretation is not only syntactically and typologically justifiable, but also has wider implications for our understanding of the poem.
The immediate context of line 101a reads as follows:
Nu ic pe hate, haeleo min se leofa,
paet ou pas gesyhoe secge mannum,
onwreoh wordum paet hit is wuldres beam,
se oe aelmihtig god on prowode
for mancynnes manegum synnum
ond Adomes ealdgewyrhtum.
Deao he paer byridge, hwaeoere eft dryhten aras
mid his miclan mihte mannum to helpe.
He oa on heofenas astag.
Line 101 seems to offer a parallel between he in line 101a and dryhten in line 101b, both of which are the respective subjects of two separate clauses linked by the connective hwaeoere. The apparent link, however, cannot be adduced as evidence that the former refers to the latter. Syntactically, the link between a pronoun and subsequent noun is at best dubious in Old English.(4) Although A. G. Brodeur explicitly states that `use of the personal pronoun (especially the third-personal pronoun) in anticipation of a noun which explains the reference is very common in Old English poetry', his examples, as Bruce Mitchell notes, all `show a noun in apposition with a preceding pronoun within the same clause.'(5) In this case, the noun and pronoun are not within the same clause. Knud Sorensen, in the course of a diachronic study of cataphoric pronouns in English, concludes that `pronominal cataphora is very rare in Old and Middle English.'(6) He finds a single example of pronominal cataphora in Old English, a sentence in a homily by AElfric, which he tentatively attributes to slavish rendering of a Latin original. The `notorious ambiguity of pronominal reference' has recently been addressed by Hans-Jurgen Diller.(7) His analysis of passages from Exodus, The Battle of Maldon, Beowulf, and Christ B leads him to conclude that `referent identification in Old English poetry depends more on rhetoric, metre, generic conventions, than on syntax.'(8) He works from the assumption that anaphoric rather than cataphoric reference is relevant to the pronouns in these poems, and the pronouns that he discusses are all ambiguous in relation to their antecedents. Interestingly, in at least two cases amongst the examples he offers, the ambiguous pronoun clearly does not refer to the following noun. In The Battle of Maldon line 197, the pronoun he could refer syntactically to Byrhtnoth or Godric, but context demands Byrhtnoth should be the referent. One person to whom he certainly does not refer is Offa, the subject of the following clause (line 198). Discussing Beowulf lines 702-9, Diller notes that `grammatically, there are three possible antecedents for the he in line 708; the synscapa mentioned in the preceding line, Metod in the line before that, and the non-sleeper of 3 lines back. The apposition waeccende provides the necessary clarity.'(9) This `necessary clarity' would be undermined if the subject of the following clause `Grendel' (line 711) could also be related to the preceding pronoun.
All the evidence makes it most unlikely that the noun dryhten in 101b has any bearing on the reference of the preceding pronoun he. In fact the adversative hwaeoere intervening between dryhten and the preceding he may create a disjunction, emphasizing their difference rather than their equivalence.(10)
Since he is unlikely to relate cataphorically to dryhten, it must relate anaphorically to a preceding masculine singular noun. The subject of the preceding clause is aelmihtig god. But another masculine singular noun intervenes between aelmihtig god and he, the proper name Adam in the genitive singular in line 100: `ond Adomes ealdewyrhtum.' The close proximity of this noun to the pronoun he seems to suggest a link between them. The separation between lines 100 and 101a, moreover, is one that has been imposed by modern editors. Manuscript punctuation in the Vercelli Book is notoriously irregular and unreliable.(11) What punctuation there is in The Dream of the Rood is, Swanton concludes, `apparently syntactical rather than metrical in intention, simply marking ends of sentences or pauses within sentences'.(12) The first half of the poem (up to line 77) is much more densely punctuated than the second half; Celia Sisam notes that `this reflects the change from shorter to longer sentences in the latter half of the poem, rather than a difference between the two halves in punctuating practice.'(13) The manuscript punctuation of lines 95 to 103a of the poem is as follows:
Nu ic pe hate haeleo. min se leofa.
paet ou pas gesyhoe secge mannum onwreoh wordum paet hit is
wuldres beam se oe aelmihtig god on prowode. for man
cynnes manegum synnum. ond adomes ealdgewyrhtum deao he
paer byrigde hwaeoere eft dryhten aras mid his miclan
mihte mannum to helpe he oa on heofenas astag.(14)
As this transcription shows, points appear after haeleo and after leofa in line 95b, after prowode (end of line 98), after synnum (end of line 99), and after astag (line 103a). The manuscript offers no punctuation between the end of line 99 and the middle of line 103. The point at the end of line 99 creates a break which seems to connect line 100 more closely to 101a. This in itself means little in a manuscript so randomly punctuated. But what is surprising is that editors have consistently seen fit to widen artificially the gap between lines 100 and 101a through their choice of punctuation. Krapp, Dickins and Ross, and Swanton all end line 100 with a full stop;(15) Cook not only begins a new sentence but also a new paragraph at line 101, and Huppe in his commentary on the poem envisages a new section beginning at line 101 (period 2 of paragraph ii of scene III).(16) The intrusive nature of this punctuation seems to me an important example of the way in which modern punctuation can inhibit and even distort literary interpretation. In his article `The Dangers of Disguise: Old English Texas in Modern Punctuation', Bruce Mitchell warns against the use of modern punctuation in Old English texts: `By using modern punctuation an editor not only runs the risk of imposing on a poem one particular interpretation but also creates a rigid and alien syntactical structure by eliminating options and blurring alternative connexions and associations which were present in the poem created by the poet.'(17) A modern editor's full stop at the end of line 100 of The Dream of the Rood restricts interpretation in just this way.(18) It precludes the deliberate ambiguity of pronoun reference which I would argue is present in line 101a.
Syntactically, it would seem, there is justification for seeing an ambiguity in the pronoun referent he in line 101a. A typological justification can also be adduced.
The typological link between Adam and Christ is an underlying tenet of Christian theology. Adam, the prefiguration of Christ, sinned and brought death to mankind; Christ, the second Adam, had to suffer in order to redeem mankind from sin. The New Testament alludes explicitly to this link: Adam `est forma futuri' (Rom. 5: 14); `Et sicut in Adam omnes moriuntur ita et in Christo omnes vivificabuntur' (1 Cor. 15: 22); `Factus est primus homo Adam in animam viventem novissimus Adam in spiritum vivificantem' (1 Cor. 15: 45).(19) Concomitant with this was a link between the tree from which Adam tasted the fruit and the Cross on which Christ tasted death. The perception of this link took different forms. According to one school of thought, the Cross was to be seen as originating physically from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This tradition is reflected in various medieval Latin and vernacular legends of the Cross.(20) In Old English it is represented by the so-called History of the Holy Rood-Tree found in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 343.(21) Although this version does not include the early history of the wood of the Cross, in which Seth is sent to Paradise and given tree pips from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it does cover the story from when Moses finds the three rods up to the discovery of the Cross by Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine. `Legend and dogma,' states Louis H. Leiter, `saw in Adam an antitype to Christ and maintained that the three whose fruit was forbidden Adam and Eve was the one that served as the Cross of the Crucifixion.'(22)
Although the notion of a historical and physical identification of the tree of knowledge of good and evil with the Cross was clearly available, it is not one which the poet of The Dream of the Rood seems to have supported. He takes pains to stress that the Cross, before it was cut down and elevated into Christ's Cross, was just an ordinary tree at the edge of a forest (`holtes on ende', line 29). The same impression is conveyed in his comparison of the Cross with the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Hwaet, me pa geweoroode wuldres ealdor
ofer holmwudu, heofonrices weard!
Swylce swa he his modor eac, Marian sylfe,
aelmihtig god for ealle menn
geweoroode ofer eall wifa cynn.
Mary Clayton comments on this passage:
The perhaps surprising thing about the comparison of the cross and the Virgin is the implication of ordinariness. The cross in the Dream of the Rood is made from a tree which is arbitrarily plucked from the forest and it emphasizes its own guilt and unworthiness; there is no hint of the apocryphal legend in which the tree is marked out for future use from the time of the Fall. If a comparison with the Virgin is pursued, it suggests that Mary, too, was chosen in an arbitrary fashion and honoured for no special reason.(23)
The ordinariness of the Cross and Mary is paralleled by the poet's presentation of the Dreamer at the beginning and end of the poem as an ordinary human being.
The poet seems to have had in mind a school of thought which recognized the typological association of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the Cross without necessarily identifying them historically. This perspective is represented in some of the writings which the author of The Dream of the Rood might have known. Rosemary Woolf has identified a Pseudo-Augustinian sermon which, she notes, `is probably not unique of its kind, and it or some analogue may well have been known to the author of The Dream of the Rood.'(24) In this, the Cross, speaking in the first person, addresses Satan: `Non agnosco, inquit, reum esse quem punio; non sunt ista mei germinis poma, nichil hic caput meum; falleris quia fetum mihi conseris alienum. Nil iste habet ex meo; quare pendit me? Similitudinem speciei video, nam virus in eo vernaculum non agnosco.'(25) `Apples not of my seed' and `alien fruit,' used with reference to Christ, entail a clear reminder of the typological link between the Cross and the three of knowledge of good and evil. The homilist proceeds to draw an explicit contrast between the two functions of the Cross's wood: `Cucurrit cruor innocuus per poenales ligni noxias fibras, et medicante pariunt deinceps sacramental salutis, quae praebuerant mortis alimenta victuris.'(26) `Death's food' clearly picks up the reference to apples and fruit several lines earlier.
Howard Patch has identified two hymns written by Venantius Fortunatus around the end of the sixth century, which may have influenced the poet of The Dream of the Rood.(27) In addition to the parallels that Patch has noted, both hymns incorporate the typological link between the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the Cross. The first, Vexilla Regis, includes a panegyric apostrophe to the Cross:
Fundis aroma cortice,
vincis sapore nectare,
iucunda fructu fertili
plaudis triumpho nobili.(28)
The combination of the references to taste in the second line cited and to fruit in the third, remind us of a previous tree whose fruit provoked a very different response.
The second hymn, Pange Lingua, offers a more explicit link between the Cross and the tree of knowledge of good and evil:
De parentis protoplasti fraude factor condolens,
quando pomi noxialis morte morsu corruit,
ipse lignum tunc notavit, damna ligni ut solveret.
Hoc opus nostrae salutis ordo depoposcerat,
multiformis perditoris arte ut artem falleret
et medelam ferret inde, hostis unde laeserat.(29)
The typological link between the tree responsible for death and the tree which made salvation possible is manifest here.
One Latin riddle, Aenigmata IX `De Cruce Christ' by Tatwine, also alludes to the familiar typological link between the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the Cross:
Quique meum gustat fructum iam sanus habetur,
Nam mihi concessum est insanis ferre salutem.(30)
The reference to tasting fruit inevitably evokes an image of that tree, though paradoxically the `fruit' here brings health and salvation rather than death.(31)
Artistic as well as literary documents attest to the familiarity of the typological link between the Cross and the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Anglo-Saxon period. One example occurs on the shaft from a stone cross in the south porch of the church at Newent in Gloucestershire. This depicts the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Adam and Eve are on either side and the serpent is entwined around it), from which two circling tendrils extend at the top; from the right tendril emerges a small upright cross.(32) Another example, less straightforward, is a manuscript illustration in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Junius 11, where the artist, in depicting Paradise, has included a group of trees, one of which has a tiny cross at its centre.(33) Here the particular tree, however, is unspecified, and might be held to represent either the tree of knowledge of good and evil or the tree of life.
The three of life was also typologically associated with the Cross. Like the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it was specifically mentioned in the Book of Genesis as being present in Paradise.(34) Both trees featured prominently in Anglo-Saxon thought.(35) A particularly vivid literary representation is in Genesis B where they are directly constrasted:
And him bi twegin beamas stodon
pa waeron utan ofaetes gehlaedeme,
gewere mid waestm ...
Naes se waestm gelic!
Ooerk waes swa wynlic, wlitig and scene,
lioe and lofsum, paet waes lifes beam;
moste on ecnisse aefter lybban,
wesan on worulde, se paes waestmes onbat,
ponne waes se oder eallenga sweart,
dimk and pystree; paet waes deaoes beam,
se baer bitres fela.(36)
The relationship between the tree of life and the Cross in the Anglo-Saxon period has been examined in some detail by Barbara Raw; citing contemporary liturgical and homiletic writings, she shows how `the idea of reversal [of man's fall] is seen in the treatment of the cross as the tree of life.'(37) The Cross as the tree of life is, as Raw shows, an important image for The Dream of the Rood.(38) But the image of the one does not automatically exclude the other. The way in which the Cross and the two trees might interact is succintly expressed by Gerhart Ladner, who relates both the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life to the biblical concept of a `cosmological tree which rises from the center of the earth and supports heaven':
In Christianity the Cross of Christ, which holds the universe together, could be interpreted as a cosmological tree, and this idea could blend with the typological parallelism between the Cross and the lignum vitae of Paradise as well as with the half-antithetical and half-causative relationship between the tree of knowledge and the Cross.(39)
The Dream of the Rood seems to me to engage in just such a blending. The typology relating to the Cross is integral to the meaning of the poem and intricately woven into its construction. The ambiguous reference of the pronoun he in line 101a is just one example of the way the poet draws attention to it.
From a typological point of view, then, as well as a syntactical one, there is clear justification for proposing an ambiguity in the pronoun he in 101a. It remain now to look at the poem itself in more detail, and explore the implications of this ambiguity for its interpretation.
The metaphor of tasting death is used elsewhere in the poem. At lines 113b-14 the metaphor is repeated, and here, I would argue, the ambiguity of 101a is still operative:
Frineo he for baere maenige hwaer se man sie,
se oe for dryhtnes naman deaoes wolde
biteres onbyrigan, swa he aer on oam beame dyde.
Context and sense demand that the first third-person pronoun he must refer to se wealdend of line 111b. Similarly context and sense demand that se oe must refer to the immediately preceding se man. The third-person pronoun he in line 114b seems equally clear-cut. It has an obvious referent in se wealdend of line 111b (picked up incidentally in the genitive dryhtnes of line 113a): the Ruler is looking for someone who prepared to taste bitter death just as He did on the Cross. The metaphor of tasting death, however, recalls the earlier use of that metaphor at line 101a. In the light of that earlier use, the language used here also seems curiously ambiguous. The phrase `swa he aer on oam beame dyde' certainly refers to Christ on the Cross but might also exploit another level of meaning. The semantic ambiguity of he, beame (`tree' rather than `Cross'), and dyde (`did' not `died') extends the implications of the phrase to include Adam's tasting of death through the fruit on the tree. As with 101a the ambiguity allows the poet to integrate the typological link of Adam -- Christ and tree -- Cross into the meaning of his poem in a subtle and allusive way.
The metaphor of tasting death has further implications for the poem. Its origin, as various critics have noted, is biblical.(40) It occurs once in each of the four Gospels and once in Hebrews. The four instances in the Gospels all apply to mankind's inevitable tasting of death: `quia sunt quidam de hic stantibus qui non gustabunt mortem donec videant regnum Dei veniens in virtute' (Mark 8: 39; cf. Matt. 16: 28 and Luke 9: 27); `Si quis sermonem meum servaverit non gustabit mortem in aeternum' (John 8: 52).(41) The latter is particularly relevant to the use of the metaphor at lines 113-14 in The Dream of the Rood, where the relationship between man and obedience to Christ is also introduced. Only one biblical example refers to Christ tasting death rather than mankind: `ut gratia Dei pro omnibus gustaret mortem' (Heb. 2: 9).(42) The link with lines 101a and 114b of the poem is clear.
Although the phrase `bitter death' appears elsewhere in Old English poetry (`se bitere deao', Daniel, line 223; `bi pam bitran deaoe', Christ, lines 1474-5),(43) the actual metaphor of tasting death may have been considered rather abstruse for a less well educated Anglo-Saxon audience. Certainly some of the Old English translations of the Gospels avoid an exact translation of the metaphor. The Vulgate `qui non gustabunt mortem' (Luke 9: 27) is translated in the West Saxon Gospels as `ba deade ne wuroab' and `non gustabit mortem' (John 8: 52) as `ne bio he naefre dead'.(44) For whatever reason, inclusion of the exact metaphor does not seem to have been considered a necessary element of biblical translation into the vernacular. The doctrinal message could be conveyed without recourse to this image.
For the poet of The Dream of the Rood, however, the metaphor of tasting death is one ideally suited to his purposes. It embodies that `close interplay of physical and abstract' which Swanton has noted elsewhere in the poem.(45) The poem has already incorporated other physical senses as a way of developing its meaning, those of sight, hearing, and touch.(46) The poet has shown us each of these being experienced in an extraordinarily heightened way: the sight of the Cross, the hearing of the Cross's voice, and the embrace of the Cross and Christ. At line 101a, the poet introduces a new physical sense, that of taste. `Tasting death' represents in literal terms Adam tasting the apple on the tree and in metaphorical terms Christ tasting death on the Cross, a death which paradoxically leads to the possibility of eternal life for all mankind. This implication is picked up at lines 113b-14, when the Ruler offers to each of mankind the taste of bitter death just as He metaphorically tasted it on the Cross (and thus redeemed Adam's literal taste of it on the tree).
The literal and metaphorical image of tasting death is resolved triumphantly in the poem. At line 141 the Dreamer is shown anticipating a heaven where amongst the delights in store are the Lord's people `geseted to symle'; the image of tasting is carried through to this vision of a heavenly banquet which can only be reached by tasting bitter death. `To purchase salvation and the forfeited paradise', Leiter observes, `with its eschatological banquet like that at the end of The Dream of the Rood, man must taste bitter death as Christ tasted bitter death because Adam tasted the fruit that exiled us from a blissful kingdom.'(147) The role of the Dreamer as a connection between Adam and Christ in the poem's structure is clarified: the Dreamer, presented initially as fallen and sinful through his association with the fall of Adam (`ic synnum fah, | forwunded mid wommum ... ic baer licgende lange hwile', lines 13-14, 24), becomes ready to taste death for Christ, as a result of which, by the end of the poem, he hopes to participate in a heavenly banquet with Christ.
The poet's interest in the typological link between Adam and Christ is consolidated by another series of puns in the poem, centring on the concept of `fall'. In lines 37-8 the Cross state: `Ealle ic mihte | feondas gefyllan, hwaeoere ic faeste stod.' Here the transitive verb gefyllan means `to fell' or `to make fall'. At lines 42-3 the Cross continues: `No dorste ic hwaeore bugan to eoroan, | feallan to foldan sceatum, ac ic sceolde faeste standan'. The verb feallan is the intransitive verb `to fall'; the Cross itself does not dare to fall. Eugene R. Kintgen has noted the echoic link between gefyllan and feallan in terms of their relationship to the echoic set of faest: `The delicate play on gefyllan -- feallan unobtrusively stresses the difference in content of the two instances of standing fast, and it is the endurance of both that leads to the Cross becoming prymfaest.'(48) The repetition of the idea of `fall' here, however, has further reverberations. These reach a climax at lines 55-6 of the poem: `Weop eal gesceaft, | cwiodon cyninges fyll'. The death of Christ on the Cross is described as a fyll or `fall'. Leiter has examined the implications of this particular usage in some detail:
Literally, fyll refers to the disobedience and fall of Adam, the connotation needed at this juncture to link the death of warrior-Christ in the present drama with the fall of Adam in that old chaos of the Garden, the effect of which is still evident in the felled tree and prostrate speaker ... Singing of the cyninges fyll, the poet could quite naturally depend on his audience's hearing `fall', automatically recalling Adam, remembering the Dreamer -- and making the proper identifications.(49)
At the moment when the poet, with the Cross as narrator, explicitly presents Christ's death on the Cross, he links that death through word-play with the fall of Adam which Christ's own death redeems. The typological relationship is fully incorporated into the most significant moment of the poem.
One further instance of this word-play occurs in the poem at lines 73-4: `ba us man fyllan ongan | ealle to eoroan'. As Christ's body cools, the Cross responsible for His `fyll' is itself felled. The tree/Cross through which Adam fell could have felled others (lines 37-8), or have fallen voluntarily (lines 42-3), but after the fall/death of Christ (line 56) is itself ultimately felled (lines 73-4). The fall of Adam is intricately bound up in this poem with the death of Christ, a relationship which revolves around and is revealed through the central image of the tree/Cross.
A further way in which this is established by the poet is through the imagery of clothing. While Adam after his fall immediately puts on clothes (Gen. 3:7), Christ is stripped before the crucifixion (Matt. 27: 28, 31).(50) In the poem this becomes a voluntary act by Christ, who paradoxically strips rather than arming himself as a preparation for battle: `Ongyrede hine ba geong haeleo (line 39). The cross too undergoes a stripping as Christ's body is taken from it (lines 60-1). As a consequence of the crucifixion, however, the Cross can both be adorned with garments (`waedum geweoroode', line 15; `wendan waedum ond bleom', line 22), and can itself act as a garment by which people can be saved: `Ne bearf oaer bonne aenig anforht wesan | be him aer in broestum bereo beacna selest' (lines 117-18).(51) The image of clothing, taken off or put on, is another reminder of the significance of the Adam -- Christ link in the poem.
The poet's interest in the typological link between Adam and Christ may have implications, I would suggest, for interpreting one of the most notoriously obscure passages of the poem, the phrase earmra aergewin at line 19a. The compound aergewin is a hapax legomenon whose two elements combine to mean something like `former struggle'. The main difficulty lies in the syntactic function of the word earmra. Without emendation, the form must represent either the nominative singular comparative of the adjective earn or the genitive plural of that adjective. In other words it translates either in agreement with the nominative singular ic in the previous line as `I, most wretched [literally "more wretched"]', or in relation to aergewin as `the former struggle of wretched ones'.(52) If the latter is to be accepted, then what is the former struggle and who are the wretched ones? The phrase might refer to the suffering of Christ and the Cross, or Christ and all those others hanged on the Cross (wergas mentioned in line 31).(53) Alternatively earmra might refer to `adversaries of Christ':(54) Huppe suggests that `former hostility' rather than `former agony' is a more appropriate rendering of aergewin, and that `the reference of earmra would be to the Jews and Roman soldiers'.(55) John P. Hermann, while accepting Huppe's gloss of `former hostility', sees wider implications in the use of this word; semantic parallels for aergewin in other Old English poetry, he suggests, show that this concept `seems meant to be traced from the early medieval present, through the literal time of the Crucifixion, back to the Fall of Adam and the prior fall in heaven by Satan and the rebel angels'.(56) Similarly Swanton maintains that aergewin `refers to the ancient hostility of God's primeval adversaries, which being transferred to the Son culminated in the Crucifixion'.(57) Eamonn O Carragain further links earmra aergewin with faegere purch forogesceaft at line 10a: `In the compound "forogesceaft", the element "foro" had suggested future time; now, in contrast, the element "aer" directs our attention to past history'; the echo and contrast of the two half-lines `already suggests in an enigmatic way the patterns of salvation history which the Cross will later explain'.(58)
While fully supporting the argument that line 19a alludes to the whole of salvation history, I would suggest that the sense of `ancient hostility' is too restricting for this word. One important aergewin not previously considered is Adam's unsuccessful struggle against the devil's wiles, as a result of which he and mankind have suffered greatly. Christ's suffering on the Cross (transferred in lines 19b-20a to the Cross itself) is intended to redeem that initial sinful act by Adam. Adam is one of the earmra, whose act necessitates that all of mankind and Christ too must belong to that category. The adjective earm may indeed have what Swanton calls `the connotation of moral wretchedness', but it does not necessarily convey that meaning, and does not actually do so in its only the use in the poem at the line 67.(59) Adam in fact is both morally wretched and a sufferer. It may be significant that when Adam is mentioned by name in the poem it is in conjunction with another compound whose first element refers to the past: ealdgewyrhtum (line 100b) can be seen as echoing aergewin. The typological link between Adam and Christ may give us an important clue to interpreting the enigmatic phrase earmra aergewin, one which fits better with the immediate interests of the poet of The Dream of the Rood than the conflict between and God and Satan.
The pronominal ambiguity of line 101a not only reflects thematically the poet's interests as shown elsewhere in the poem, but also fits in with his techniques. Swanton gives a useful account of these:
Beyond and beneath the overall rhetorical pattern and extraordinary verse texture of the work, there lie minor constructional features in which semantic and syntactic ambiguities together and considerably to its poetic density, at once extending the connotational range of details available to the reader, and tightening the structure of the whole.... The less straightforward semantically is plain syntactically, while the more usual is made meaningful rather by association, collocation or memory echoes, making for a more equal balance overall.(60)
These methods employed by the poet to convey his ideas can be seen as particularly apt in relation to two genres on which he draws. The first is the riddle. I noted above a specific link between The Dream of the Rood and Tatwine's riddle De Cruce Christi. The poem as a whole, however, can be related in its methods to the riddle.(61) It embodies both kinds of riddle found in Old English: the `first-person riddles of personification' which begin with ic eom or ic waes (here represented by the Cross) and the `third-person riddles of description' which often begin with ic seah (here represented by the Dreamer).(62) The word for Cross `rod' is not used in The Dream of the Rood until line 44, `Rod waes ic araered', and the identify of Christ is not specifically stated until line 56, `Crist waes on rode'. A plentiful variety of synonyms allows us to infer the identity of both the Cross and Christ early on, but also gives us important and unexpected perspective on their significance. A pronominal pun, offering a reference to Adam or Christ, or both, seems to fit well with the methods of a poet who elsewhere shows his awareness of the power of riddling ambiguity.
The second genre relevant here is the dream vision genre, which allows for, indeed demands, a blending and blurring in the presentation of its material. In The Dreams of the Rood, as Swanton notes, `the mutability appropriate to the dream convention' can be seen to be in force.(63) John Burrow sees `a kind of "dream condensation" between Christ and the Cross' in line 47b of the poem.(64) The same kind of `dream condensation' can be attributed to line 101a, where the pronoun he refers to both Adam and Christ, and where the ambiguity is important for developing that link between the two which the poet is so concerned to convey. This is a fine example of `the various dreamlike transferences and parallels, both in the sense and in the wording' which Constance Hieatt sees as creating the meaningful sequence of the poem.(65)
The last part of The Dream of the Rood (from line 78) has often attracted a rather muted response by critics. It has been seen as more doctrinal than poetic in emphasis.(66) Some, such as Dickins and Ross and Rosemary Woolf, have even judged it to be a later addition, thus limiting the poem to a study of the crucifixion.(67) The poet, however, had a wider vision. There is a subtle and sophisticated word-play at work in this last part of the poem which belies its apparent simplicity and connects it in unexpected ways to images and ideas introduced earlier on. The poet's methods in the early part of the poem are still in evidence here, and his linking of the literal and metaphorical continues to produce a powerful impact. Challenging the assumption that he in line 101a and then again in 114b must refer exclusively to Christ allows us to glimpse with just a little more clarity the full range of this author's poetic powers.
(1) All citations from The Dream of the Rood are from The Vercelli Book, ed. G.P. Krapp, The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records II (New York, 1932).
(2.) See J. V. Fleming, `"The Dream of the Rood" and Anglo-Saxon Monastiscism,' Traditio, 22 (1966), 43-72: 53 n. 36; B. F. Huppe, The Web of Words (Albany, NY, 1970), 104; F. H. Whitman, `The Dream of the Rood, 101a,' Explicator, 33 (1975), item 70.
(3) Fleming, `"The Dream of the Rood"', 53.
(4) See B. Mitchell, Old English Syntax, (Oxford, 985), i. 105 ([sections] 247), and also his further discussion of the subject in `Relative and Personal Pronouns in Beowulf: Eight Notes', in K. Oshitari, Y. Ikegami, E. Suzuki, et al. (edd.), Philologia Anglica: Essays Presented to Professor Yoshio Terasawa on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Birthday (Tokyo, 1988), 3-12: 7-10.
(5) A. G. Brodeur, The Art of Beowulf (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1960), 203; B. Mitchell, A Critical Bibliography of Old English Syntax to the End of 1984 (Oxford, 1990), 107.
(6) K. Sorensen, `The Growth of Cataphoric Personal and Possessive Pronouns in English,' in M. Davenport, E. Hansen, and H. F. Nielsen (edd.), Current Topics in English Historical Linguistics (Odense, 1983), 227.
(7) H.-J. Diller, `Pronoun and Reference in Old English Poetry,' in D. Kastovsky (ed.), Historical English Syntax, Topics in English Lingustics 2 (Berlin and New York, 1991), 125-40; 126.
(8) Ibid. 125, 138.
(9) Ibid. 135-6.
(10) See W. F. Bolton, `Connectives in The Seafarer and The Dream of the Rood,' Modern Philology, 57 (1959-60), 260-2, for a discussion of the adversative function of hwaeoere in the poem.
(11) The Vercelli Book, ed. Krapp, pp. xxviii-xxii; K. O'Brien O'Keeffe, Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 4 (Cambridge, 1990), 165-72.
(12) The Dream of the Rood, ed. M. Swanton (Exeter, rev. edn., 1987), 6.
(13) The Vercelli Book, ed. C. Sisam, Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile 19 (Copenhagen, 1976), 28.
(14) Fo. 105, lines 26-31. Manuscript lineation is retained. Abbreviations are silently expanded, and conventional world-divisions are employed.
(15) The Vercelli Book, ed. Krapp, 64: The Dream of the Rood, ed. B. Dickins and A. S. C. Ross (London, 4th edn. repr. with additions and corrections, 963), 31; The Dream of the Rood, ed. Swanton, 99.
(16) The Dream of the Rood, ed. A. S. Cook (Oxford, 1905), 8; Huppe, The Web of Words, 104. The exception here is The Poetry of the Codex Vercellensis with an English Translation, ed. J. M. Kemble, (London, 1856), ii. 90, in which a colon appears after ealdgewyrhtum, and a semi-colon after byrigde.
(17) RES 31 (1980), 385-413; repr. in B. Mitchell, On Old English (Oxford, 1988), 172-202: 199-200.
(18) I am grateful to Bruce Mitchell for incorporating this argument into the punctuation of his forthcoming `The Dream of the Rood Repunctuated.'
(19) Biblical references are from the Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam Versionem, ed. R. Weber (Stuttgart, 1969). Trans.: Adam `is the figure of him that was to come'; `For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive'; `The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [was made] a quickening spirit.'
(20) See History of the Holy Rood-Tree: A Twelfth Century Version of the Cross-Legend, ed. A. S. Napier, EETS os 103 (London, 1894), pp. xi-xlvii. Some other early English legends of the Cross are printed in Legends of the Holy Rood, ed. R. Morris, EETS os46 (London, 1871).
(21) Ed. Napier. For other fragments of this text deriving from 11th-c. Old English manuscripts, see N. R. Ker, `An Elevent-Century Old English Legend of the Cross before Christ', Medium Aevum, 9 (1940), 84-5, and B. Colgrave and A. Hyde, `Two Recently Discovered Leaves from Old English Manuscripts', Speculum, 37 (1962)0,60-78.
(22) L. H. Leiter, `The Dream of the Rood: Patterns of Transformation,' in R. P. Creed (ed.), Old English Poetry: Fifteen Essays (Providence, RI, 1967), 93-127: 99.
(23) M. Clayton, The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 2 (Cambridge, 1990), 207.
(24) R. Woolf, `Doctrinal Influences on the Dream of the Rood', Medium Aevum, 27 (1958), 137-53; repr. in H. O'Donoghue (ed.), Art and Doctrine: Essays on Medieval Literature: Rosemary Woolf (London and Ronceverte, 1986), 29-48: 44.
(25) Patrologiae Latina, ed. J. P. Migne (Paris, 1844-64), vol. xlvii, col. 1155. Trans. D. G. Calder and M. J. B. Allen, Sources and Analogues of Old English Poetry (Cambridge and Totowa, NJ, 1976), 53: `"I do not recognize that the man I punish is a criminal", the Cross says. "These apples are not of my seed; this man is not mine. You are deceived, for you graft alien fruit onto me. He derives nothing from me. Why does He hang upon me? I see only image of my apples' shape, for I do not recognize my native poison in Him."'
(26) PL xlvii, col. 1156. Trans. Calder and Allen, Sources and Analogues, 53: `The innocent blood ran through the wood's fibers, once the instrument of punishment and suffering. With this medicinal blood the fibers in turn prepare the sacraments of salvation, where previously they had provided death's food for those about to live.'
(27) H. R. Patch, `Liturgical Influence in The Dream of the Rood', PMLA 34 (1919), 233-57. For evidence that the writing of Venantius Fortunatus was known in England in the 8th cent., see R. W. Hunt, `Manuscript Evidence for Knowledge of the Poems of Venantius Fortunatus in Late Anglo-Saxon England (with an Appendix, "Knowledge of the Poems in the Earlier Period", by M. Lapidge)', Anglo-Saxon England, 8 (1979), 279-95: 287-95.
(28) The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse, ed. F. J. E. Raby (Oxford, 959), no. 55, lines 25-8. Trans. Calder and Allen, Sources and Analogues, 54: `From your bark you give off spice; in taste you surpass nectar. You are delightful with abundant fruit; you clap your hands in noble triumph.'
(29) The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse, no. 54 lines 4-9. Trans. Calder and Allen, Sources and Analogues, 54: `The Maker, grieving over the deception of our first-created parent when he tumbled into death at the bite of a fatal apple, the chose a tree Himself to redeem the injuries caused by a tree. The order of our salvation required this miracle, so He might artfully outwit the art of the evercrafty deceiver, and produce a cure from the very tree the enemy had used to inflict pain.'
(30) Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina (Turnhout, 1953-), cxxxiii. 176, including trans.: `He who eats of my fruit will be healed at once, for I was given the power to bring salvation.'
(31) For the links between this riddle and the poem, see W. F. Bolton, `Tatwine's De Cruce Christi and The Dream of the Rood", Archiv fur das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, 200 (1964), 344-6.
(32) This carving is cited in R. E. Kaske, `A Poem of the Cross in the Exeter Book: "Riddle 60" and "The Husband's Message"', Traditio, 23 (1967), 41-71: 66, including a photograph (fig. 3).
(33) Oxford, Bodleian Library, Junius 11, p. 7.
(34) Gen. 2: 9 (`lignum ... vitae').
(35) See W. O. Stevens, The Cross in the Life and Literature of the Anglo-Saxon, Yale Studies in English (New York, 1904), esp. 63-4.
(36) The Junius Manuscript, ed. G. P. Krapp, The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records I (London and New York, 1931), 17-18, lines 460-2, 466-70 and 477-9.
(37) B. Raw, Anglo-Saxon Crucifixion Iconography and the Art of the Monastic Revival, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 1 (Cambridge,1990), ch. 8, p. 176.
(38) B. C. Raw, `The Dream of the Rood and its Connections with Early Christian Art', Medium AEvum, 39 (1970), 239-56, esp. 244.
(39) G. Ladner `Vegetation Symbolism and the Concept of Renaissance', in M. Meiss (ed.), De Artibus Opuscula XL: Essays in Honor of Erwin Panofsky (New York), 1961), i. 312; cited in Kaske, `A Poem of the Cross', 65.
(40) See e.g. The Dream of the Rood, ed. Dickins and Ross, 32; The Dream of the Rood, ed. Swanton, 133; A. A. Lee, `Toward a Critique of The Dream of the Rood', in L. E. Nicholson and D. W. Frese (edd.), Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Essays in Appreciation (Notre Dame, Ind., Ind., 1975), 163-91: 186-7.
(41) Trans.: `that there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God coming in power'; `if a man keeps my saying, he will never taste death'.
(42) Trans. `that He by the grace of God should taste death for all men.' The metaphor is also found in liturgies dating from the Anglo-Saxon period; see The Missal of the New Minster, Winchester, ed. D. H. Turner, Henry Bradshaw Society 93 (London, 1962), 92: `Qui ... antiquae arboris amarissimum gustum crucis medicamine indulcauit' (discussed in Raw, Anglo-Saxon Crucifixion Iconography, 176). The same passage also appears in the Leofric Missal; see The Leofric Missal, ed. F. E. Warren (Oxford, 1883). 141.
(43) The Junius Manuscript, ed. Krapp, 117; The Exeter Book, ed. G. P. Krapp and E. V. K. Dobbie, The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records III (London, 1936), 44.
(44) The Holy Gospels in Anglo-Saxon, Northumbrian, and Old Mercian Versions, Synoptically Arranged, with collations Exhibiting all the Readings of all the Manuscripts, ed. W. W. Skeat, 4 vols. (Cambridge, 1871-87). A literal translation, however, is offered in the West Saxon Gospels for Matt. 16: 28 and Mark 8: 39, and for all instances in the Rushworth and Lindisfarne glosses.
(45) M. J. Swanton, `Ambiguity and Anticipation in "The Dream of the Rood"', Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 70 (1969), 407-25: 409.
(46) For sights, see e.g. lines 4, 9, 11, 14, 18, 21, 25, 33, 36, 41, 46, 51, 58, 64, 66, and 96; for hearing, see lines 26, 59, 71, and 78; for touch, see line 42.
(47) Leiter, `The Dream of the Rood', 102-3.
(48) E. R. Kintgen, `Echoic Repetition in Old English Poetry, especially The Dream of the Rood', Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 75 (1974, 202-23: 218.
(49) Leiter, `The Dream of the Rood', 98.
(50) Woolf, `Doctrinal Influences', 40-1, discusses the stripping of Christ in patristic and artistic tradition.
(51) See Leiter, `The Dream of the Rood', 104-7 for further discussion of the imagery of stripping and adorning in the poem. Brief reference is also made to it by F. H. Patten, `Structure and Meaning in The Dream of the Rood', English Studies, 49 (1968), 385-401: 398.
(52) This translation is offered in The Dream of the Rood, ed Swanton, 112.
(53) See e.g. the translation in The Poetry of the Codex Vercellensis, ed. Kemble, 84: `the ancient struggle of the sufferers'; see also Seven Old English Poems, ed J. C. Pope (Indianapolis, 1966), 65, and Bright's Old English Grammar and Reader, ed. F. G. Cassidy and R. N. Ringler (New York, 3rd edn., 1971), 312.
(54) The Dream of the Rood, ed. Cook, 18.
(55) Huppe, The Web of Words, 81.
(56) J. P. Hermann, `The Dream of the Rood, 19a: earmra aergewin', English Language Notes, 15 (1978), 241-4: 243.
(57) The Dream of the Rood, ed. Swanton, 112.
(58) E. O Carragain, `Vidi Aquam: The Liturgical Background to The Dream of the Rood 20a: "swaetan on ba swioran healfe"', N & Q 228 (1993), 8-15: 13.
(59) The Dream of the Rood, ed. Swanton, 112.
(60) Swanton, `Ambiguity and Anticipation', 407, 410.
(61) See M. Schlauch, `The "Dream of the Rood" as Prosopoppoeia', in Essays and Studies in Honor of Carleton Brown (New York, 1940), 23-34; see also The Dream of the Rood, ed. Swanton, 67.
(62) See The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book, ed C. Williamson (Chapel Hill, NC, 1977), 25-6.
(63) The Dream of the Rood, ed. Swanton, 65.
(64) J. A. Burrow, `An Approach to The Dream of the Rood', Neophilogus, 43 (1959), 123-33: 127.
(65) C. B. Hieatt, `Dream Frame and Verbal Echo in the Dream of of the Rood', Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 72 (1971), 251-63: 254.
(66) O.D. Macrae-Gibson, `Christ the Victor-Vanquished in The Dream of the Rood', Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 70 (1969), 667-72, refers to `the doctrinal passage of lines 98 ff.' in which `Christ's bodily resurrection ... is not dramatically presented' (p. 672); N. A. Lee, `The Unity of "The Dream of the Rood"' Neophilologus, 56 (1972), 469-86, sees the last part of the poem as amplifying `the austerely doctrinal statement of lines 101-103' (p. 482).
(67) In The Dream of the Rood, ed. Dickins and Ross, the remainder of the poem from line 78 is judged to be `definitely inferior' (p. 18); Woolf, `Doctrinal Influences', asserts categorically that `that part of the poem which follows the description of the Crucifixion must surely be a later addition' (p. 48).
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|Publication:||The Review of English Studies|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1997|
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