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LUCIEN SMITH: THE DREAM OF THE ROOD

The Dream of the Rood

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The Fourth Book of Ezra is not a biblical favorite today. It comes from one of the lesser-known apocryphal books – i.e., the reject books of the Bible that were considered unnecessary, irrelevant or simply too weird for inclusion (and for the Bible, that’s saying something). It seems, however, that at least some Anglo-Saxons thought this verse was – if you will excuse the pun – bloody good.  In the Old English poem Christ III, we have a fascinatingly horrific description of Judgment Day:

‘Ða wearð beam monig   blodigum tearum birunnen under rindum   reade ond þicce; sæp wearð to swate.’  (Christ III, ll. 1174-1176a)

Translation: ‘Then many a tree became bedewed with bloody tears under their bark, red and thick; the sap was turned to blood.’

As sinful human beings become less human morally in their behaviour, the trees become more human physically by their bleeding.