A Retreat with Hopkins: The Sixth Hour

From The Dream of the Rood

So I lay watching there the Saviour’s tree,
Grieving in spirit for a long, long while,
Until I heard it utter sounds, the best
Of woods began to speak these words to me:

“It was long past – I still remember it –
That I was cut down at the copse’s end,
Moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me,
Told me to hold aloft their criminals,
Made me a spectacle. Men carried me

Upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
A host of enemies there fastened me.
And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
Hasten with eager zeal that He might mount
Upon me. I durst not against God’s word

Bend down or break, when I saw tremble all
The surface of the earth. Although I might
Have struck down all the foes, yet stood I fast.
Then the young hero (who was God almighty)
Got ready, resolute and strong in heart.

He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
Bold in the sight of many watching men,
When He intended to redeem mankind.
I trembled as the warrior embraced me.
But still I dared not bend down to the earth,

Fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand.
A rood I was raised up; and I held high
The noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails;
The scars can still be clearly seen on me,

The open wounds of malice. yet might I
Not harm them. They reviled us both together.
I was made wet all over with the blood
Which poured out from his side, after
He had Sent forth His spirit. And I underwent

Full many a dire experience on that hill.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler’s corpse with clouds
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. All creation wept

Translation by Richard Hamer

Surely Anglo-Saxon loving and kenning-making poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, would have read this poem. “The Windhover” adopts the same metaphor of Christ as warrior, which fits seamlessly in the militant self-conception of Jesuits. In Dayspring in Darkness, Loomis points out that the gold-vermilion color combination that Hopkins uses is reminiscent of the dreamer’s vision of a gold-plated cross with blood coming out of it in The Dream of the Rood.

I can’t get over the imagery of the line: “All creation wept.” The way it is juxtaposed with the powerful metaphors of Rood and Christ as unyielding warriors amazes me. The Rood as suffering soldier is part of a world of weeping. The next poem in the retreat will look more at weeping and suggest that “some drops are due.”

Here’s a great site to learn more about The Dream of the Rood. Yeah, I know, frames, but the content is gold!

And here’s a reading of the poem in the original Anglo-Saxon:

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