It has been 20 years since I sat in Professor O’Shea’s Old English class, so I really can’t say what brought on this sudden desire to revisit some traditional OE poetry. All I can say is that it is April vacation and I find myself with a copy of The Dream of the Rood by (probably) Caedmon and an OE dictionary. The Dream of the Rood is one of the earliest Christian poems in OE and an example of dream poetry. Rood is from the OE word rod ‘pole’, or more specifically ‘crucifix’ and it relates a vision of the writer speaking to the Cross on which Jesus was crucified.
I figured I would try my hand at a literal translation and then work up a more fluid and, well, poetic version. What follows are the first ten lines of the project. The Original OE Hwæt! Ic swefna cyst secgan wylle, hwæt me gemætte to midre nihte, syðþan reordberend reste wunedon! þuhte me þæt ic gesawe syllicre treow on lyft lædan, leohte bewunden, beama beorhtost. Eall þæt beacen wæs begoten mid golde. Gimmas stodon fægere æt foldan sceatum, swylce þær fife wæron uppe on þam eaxlegespanne. Beheoldon þær engel dryhtnes ealle, fægere þurh forðgesceaft. My Literal TranslationListen, my vision best report I will what I dreamed in the midnight Went speech men to their sleeping place to dwell Seems to me then was visible an amazing tree On high bringing forth bright light converting giving light to the wood. All that beacon was surrounded with gold. Gem studded beautifully at its earth edge, while there five were up on that crossing place. Behold there the angel noble fully beautifully through the all through-out. My (extremely amateurish attempt at a) Poetic TranslationLo’ the best vision I will tell, what I dreamed at midnight, After men went to their beds to sleep It seems I saw a wondrous tree On high bring forth glowing light turning the wood to light. The entire beacon was covered in gold. Beautifully gem-studded at its earthen base, while there were five upon the crossbeam. I beheld there the princely angel, beautiful throughout all eternity.