An Old English Poem Attributed to Cynewulf
The poem is contained int he Vercelli Book, or Codex Vercellensis, a manuscript volume of the early part of the eleventh century, discovered by Dr. Friedbrich Blume in 1822 in the chapter library of the cathedral of Vercelli, where it still remains. It consists of 135 leaves, containing, besides a number of homilies and the life of St. Guthlac in prose, the following poems: Andreas, Fates of the Apostles, Address of the Soul to the Body, Falsehood of Men, Dream of the Rood, Elene.
How the manuscript reached Vercelli is a question upon which two leading hypotheses have been held. According to one, it would have been taken from England to Italy by Cardinal Guala-Bicchieri, who was Papal Legete in England from 1216 to 1218, who founded the monastery church of St. Andrew at Vercelli after his return from England, had it erected by an Englishman in the Early English style, and bestowed upon it relics of English saints. Moreover, he was the possessor of a library remarkable for that time, which he bequeathed to his monastery, and which contained a copy of the Bible in English handwriting. Finally, the monastery school, which in 1228 became a university, was attended by Englishmen, and, among others, by Adam de Marisco, the first teacher in the school which the Franciscans set up in Oxford; this must have been before 1226, the year of St. Francis death, since it is expressly stated that it was he who sent Adam, in company with St. Anthony of Padua, to the Vercelli school. As it is well known that Giala levied large sums upon the clergy before leaving England, there would be nothing surprising in his receiving books as well—perhaps, since he was so zealous a collector, as an equivalent for certain sums of money. Altogether, the considerations here presented would seem to render it probable that the Vercelli Book reached that city through Guala’s agency. For a fuller presentation of this theory, see my Cardinal Guala and the Vercelli Book, Library Bulletin No. 10 of the University of California, 1888.
The other hypothesis is that of Wülker. He was told in Vercelli that at a comparatively early period there was in that city a hospice for Anglo-Saxon pilgrims on their way to and from Rome. There may, he concludes, have been a small library of devotional books attached to the hospice, and from this our manuscript may have passed into the possession of the cathedral library (Grundriss eur Geschichte der Angelsächsischen Litterature, p. 237; *Codex Vercellensis, p. vi). I can only say that to me the probability of this hypothesis seems of the slenderest.
The poems of this collection were all published for the first time by Thorpe, probably from a transcript by Blume, as Appendix B to a Report on Rymer’s Foedera, intended to have been made to the Commissioners on Public Records by Charles Purton Cooper, their secretary. According to Kemble, writing in 1843 (Preface to The Poetry of the Codex Vercellensis), ‘It was intended as an Appendix, or rather as part of an Appendix, to another and very different composition, and was consequently compressed into the smallest possible space without introduction, translation, or notes of any description.’ The same writer says: ‘Circumstances prevented the publication of the book, but a few copies of it found their way into the hands of persons interested in the subject, both here and in Germany.’ At least, in 1869, Lord Romilly, as Master of the Rolls, ordered the Appendixes, which had been in store since 1837, to be distributed. The editions of the poems by Kemble (1843, 1856), and of the Andreas and Elene by Grimm (1840), were based upon the text published by Thorpe.
For further details concerning the manuscript, see Wulker, Grundriss, pp. 237-43, and the remarks prefixed to his photographic facsimile of th epoetical parts, under the title Codex Vercellensis (Leipzig 1894).
The Dream of the Rood begins on the back of leaf 104 (line 6), immediately following the fragments of the poem called Falsehood of Men, and continues through this page and three more, ending at the bottom of the first page of leaf 106. There is a blot near the bottom of the first page, which, however, renders nothing illegible. At the top of the second page, the beginning of leaf 105, a new hand appears, according to Wülker, and continues beyond the limits of this poem. The second hand, which is manifestly smaller in the facsimile, begins with wundun, 1. 22. The successive pages then end with ðam, 1. 61; on, 1. 105; and wæs, 1. 156. The verse is written as prose. Accents are found over the vowels of the following words: fāh, 1. 13; āheawen, 1. 29; āhof, 1. 44; āhofon, 1. 61; rōd, 1. 136. The poem begins, after a break, with a capital H, enclosing a smaller capital w, as the beginning of Hwæt. Other manuscript peculiarities are noted in the variants.
Complete editions are by Thorpe (1837), Bouterwek (1854), Kemble (1856), Grein (1858), Stephens (1866), Pacius (1873), Kluge (1888), Grein-Wülker (1888).
Partial editions are by Sweet (1876; 11. 1-89) and Robinson (1885; 11.14-56).
Editions accompanied by translations are those of Bouterwek, Kemble, Hammerich, Michelsen, Stephens, Pacius, and Robinson; Gein’s translation is in his Dichtungen der Angelsachsen. Explanatory notes are contained only in Pacius’ edition, and those of the scantiest. No edition contains a full special glossary.
Fourteen complete or partial translations have appeared.
Complete translations are:
Partial translations are:
Specimens of all the versions which include lines 1-12 are given in the Appendix.
With respect to the authorship of our poem, two chief opinions have been entertained:
The theory that the Dream of the Rood is by Cædmon depends upon certain considerations relative to the Ruthwell Cross. Of this notable piece of antiquity, no doubt the finest stone cross in existence, the following is slightly condensed from a standard writer on Scottish archeology1: ‘At Ruthwell, in Annondale, within eight miles of Dumfries, there stands a very remarkable monument. Its form is tha tof a tall fee-standing cross. As it stands at present, the Cross is reconstructed. The whole height of the Cross is about 17 1/2 feet, the shaft being 2 feet in breadth at the base, and 15 inches in thickness. The material is sandstone. It stood in the old church of Ruthwell till 1642 when the General Assembly which met at St. Andrews on 27th July of that year issued an order for its destruction as a monument of idolatry. The traverse arms are still wanting, those now on the monument having been supplied in 1823. The monument is sculptured with figure-subjects on the broad faces, and on its side with scroll-work. The figure-subjects on the broad faces of the Cross are arranged in panels surrounded with flat borders, on which are incised the inscriptions which give to this monument its special interest. They are in two languages and two alphabets, one set being carved in Roman capitals, the other in runes. The runes are on the raised borders enclosing the two panels of scroll-work, and are arranged in vertical columns, extending from top to bottom, with the exception of the first line, which runs horizontally across the top of the panel. Consequently it reads from left to right across the first line, in the usual way, then continues in a vertical line down the whole of the right-hand border, returning to the top of the left-hand border, and reading vertically again to the base. As the lower part of the cross i more wasted than the upper, there are places where the reading fails toward the bottom of each border, thus making four gaps in the continuity of the inscription2.’
The general meaning of the runic inscriptions was first made known by Kemble in a paper published in vol. 28 of Archaeologia (1840), and the substantial identity of the fragments with corresponding portions of the Dream of the Rood was disclosed by the same scholar in a paper read November 24, 1842, and published in Archaeologia, vol. 30 (1844).
The two inscriptions given below on pp. 3 and 4 are found respectively at the rihght and the left of one face, and the remaining two on the right and the left of the other face, the words christ wæs on representing the horizontal line referred to above.
The first person to attribute the verses on the Ruthwell Cross to Cædmon was Daniel H. Haigh (1819-79). Writing in the Archaeologia Æliana for November, 18563, Haigh said: ‘Are we not justified in regarding the lines upon the Ruthwell Cross as fragments of a lost poem of his, a poem, however, which a later poet in the tenth century undertook to modernize and adapt to the taste of his own times, as Dryden did with some of the poems of Chaucer? I submit to the judgement of others this conjecture, based upon these grounds, viz. that on this monument, erected about A.D. 665, we have fragments of a religious poem of very high character, and that there was but one man living in England at that time worthy to be named as a religious poet, and that was Cædmon.’ Haigh’s reason for dating the Ruthwell Cross so early was its resemblance to the Bewcastle Cross, which, as he read the name of Alcfrid4 upon it, he dated about 665.
Again, writing in 1861, he said5: ‘The poem of which these are fragments was probably one of those which Cædmon, who was living at the time when these monuments were erected, composed. That they belong to the seventh century cannot be doubted; they contain forms of language which are evidently earlier than those which occur in the contemporary versions of Bæda’s verses in a MS. at S. Gallen, and the copy of Cædmon’s first song at the end of the MS. of the Historia Ecclesiastica, which was completed two years after its author’s death.’
This view of Haigh’s was supported by George Stephens (1813-95), the runic collector, a friend and correspondent of Haigh’s, and it is with Stephens’s name that the theory is usually associated. Stephens, like Haigh, referred the cross to the seventh century, and ascribed the authorship of the verses to Cædmon. Stephens wrote as follows6:
‘There is no doubt of the reading, though a letter or two is now injured. It is, on the right side: CÆDMON and, on the left side: MÆFAUŒÞO. That is, the MÆ being a bind-rune: CÆDMON ME FAWED (made)…; So, by another form of the same verb, King Alfred has the expression ged gefegean for “to indite, compase, make, a song…”
‘This, then, is clear, outward evidence that Cædmon, whose name is also spelled Cedmon, here found in its North English and more original shape as Cadmon, was the author of these runic verses.
‘But we have three arguments or proofs that the beautiful poem, of which the lines on the Cross are an extract or episode or fragment, was written by no other than Cædmon.
‘First, there is the above direct evidence of the runic carvings on the top-stone of the Cross itself. The words are plain enough, and even the unsupported theory that this top-stone may be somewhat younger than the Pillar will not in the least weaken this broad statement. Even if later, the stone only asserted a known fact.
‘Second. It was long ago suggested by Mr. Haigh, in his excellent paper in the Archæologia Æliana, that at the period when this monument was raised—the seventh century or thereabouts—there was no known man in all England, or in fact in all Europe, who could have written so noble an English lay save the author of the Biblical Paraphrase, which has always been acknowledged as his, even though we may admit some natural change and interpolation in later times in the course of tis transcription into Old South English. Of course we here do not refer to the piece called The Harrowing of Hell. He therefore boldly concluded that, in his opinion, the Dream of the Holy Rood was from the pen of Cædmon. This splendid, though daring, assumption or implication has now been approved by the very stone itself.
‘Thirdly. We have decisive internal evidence. A careful examination of the South English copy (see the Glossary) shows that the scribe was working from a North English original, even in those lines which are not carved on the Cross. But, in addition hereto, a slight acquaintance with the Dream will at once make us aware of one very striking peculiarity of style. This is, an extraordinary mixture of accents. Commonly we have the usual two-accented line. But every now and then, under the pressure of poetic excitement, or personal taste, or the traditions of a local school, the bard breaks into three, sometimes four, accents in one line, then sinking back again into the regular double tone-weight. One example will suffice to show what I mean [quoting lines 4-12 inclusive].
‘Now, as far as I know, this rhythmical peculiarity is unknown in Old English verse except here, in Cædmon’s Paraphrase, and in that noble epical fragment Judith. And I venture to assert that all these three are by one and the same Scóp. Cædmon wrote them all. They have all the same color, all the same Miltonic sublimity, the same “steeling” of phrase, the same sinking back not only to the two-accented line, but sometimes to an almost prosaic simplicity in the intervals of his flights of genius. I am thus led to do the Judith what Mr. Haigh did for the Dream. I attribute it to Cædmon. After-discovery has proved the later in the right; probably we shall never be able to produce direct evidence with regard to Judith.’
Elsewhere Stephens asserts: ‘It cannot be later than the latter half of the seventh century, for it bears a grammatical form so antique (the accusative dual ungcet) that it has hitherto only been met with in this place, while the art-workmanship also points to the same7 period.’
This theory of Stephens’s, then, rests on three main postulates:
As to the first of these postulates, the chief authority on the ornamentation, Sophus Müller, is thus reported by Bugge8: ‘The Ruthwell Cross must be posterior to the year 800, and in fact to the Carlovingian Renaissance, on account of its decorative features. The free foliage and flower-work, and the dragons or monsters with two forelegs, wings, and serpents’ tails, induce him to believe that it could scarcely have been sculptured much before A.D. 1000.9‘
As to the second postulate, I first showed in 189010, and again in 190111, that the language of the inscription on the Cross must be as late as the tenth century, and very likely posterior to 950. To repeat the conclusions formulated in the more recent article: while the general aspect of the inscription has led many persons to refer it to an early period, it lacks some of the marks of antiquity; every real mark of antiquity can be paralleled from the latest documents; some of the phenomena point to a period subsequent to that of the Lindisfarne Gospels (about A.D. 950), and the Durham Ritual (A.D. 950-1000); and none flatly contradicts such an assumption. Moreover, a comparison of the inscription with the Dream of the Rood shows that the former is not an extract from an earlier poem written in the long Cædmonian line which is postulated by Vigfusson and Powell12 and by Mr. Stopford Brooke13, since the earliest dated verse is in short lines only, and since four of the lines in the Cross inscription represent short lines in the Dream of the Rood14; it shows that the latter is more self-consistent, more artistic, and therefore more likely to be or to represent the original15; and it shows that certain of the forms of the latter seem to have been inadvertently retained by the adapter who selected and rearranged the lines for engraving on the Cross16. All this harmonized with the evidence from grammar, and with the conclusions drawn from the character of the sculptured ornament.
As to the third postulate, it may be remarked that the forms mæ and fauœþo are impossible as Old English17; that, were they existent, fauœþo could not mean ‘made’; and that, even allowing this to be true, the maker could in that case mean only the sculptor of the whole Cross, and not the author of the runic verses. But what is still more conclusive, Vietor, the latest competent scholar who has made a thorough examination of the Cross declares that he can read no such inscription18.
Summing up the evidence, then, the indications are as follows:
Accordingly, there is no shadow of proof or probability that the inscription represents a poem written by Cædmon.
We pass now to the second hypothesis with respect to the Dream of the Rood, that which assigns its authorships to Cynewulf. Kemble19 was the first to make the suggestion that all the poems of both the Exeter and Vercelli Books might be by Cynewulf, whom, however, he conceived to be an Abbot of Peterborough, living at the beginning of the eleventh century. Thorpe20 believed that Cynewulf, the Abbot of Peterborough, was the author of the Juliana and perhaps all the Vercelli poetry. In all this, it will be observed, there is no specific attribution of the Dream to Cynewulf, but merely a conjectural assignment of the whole body of poetry in the manuscript which contains it. For an attempt to show why Cynewulf might be reasonably regarded as the author of the Dream of the Rood in particular, we must refer to the celebrated scholar Franz Dietrich.
Dietrich’s view. Dietrich21, in 1865, adduced a variety of arguments in support of his theory. Some of these, such as the presence of lyric passages in a narrative poem, are applicable to other Old English poems as well, and therefore have lost what cogency they may once have seemed to possess, but the rest are still worthy of attention.
As at least two of these arguments depend upon Cynewulf’s statements concerning himself in the rune-passages as the Christ, the Juliana, the Fates of the Apostles, and the Elene, I adduce the relevant parts. The Christ has22 (789-801): ‘Alas! I expect, yea, and fear a sterner doom when the Prince of angels cometh again, since I have ill kept those things which the Savior bade me in the Scriptures. For this, as I account truth, I shall behold terror, the punishment of sin, when many shall be led into the assembly before the presence of the eternal Judge. Then shall the Courageous23 tremble; he shall hear the King, the Ruler of heaven, speak stern words unto those who in time past ill obeyed Him on earth, while as yet they could easily find comfort for their Yearning and their Need.’
The Juliana has (695 ff.): ‘Greatly do I need that the saint afford me succor when the dearest of all things shall forsake me, when the two consorts shall dissolve their union, when my soul shall leave the body and go on a journal, whither I know not, to an alien abode. C, Y, and N shall depart in sadness. The King will be wroth, the Bestower of victories, when E, W, and U, stained with sins, awaits with trembling what sentence shall be passed upon him according to his deeds, as the award for his life. L F trembles, rests full of anxiety, remembering all the anguish, the woundings of the sins which I committed first or last in the world.’ Cynewulf goes on to say that he must repent in tears, that he will need the intercession of Juliana, and that he begs every one who shall read the poem to pray for him by name that God would be merciful to him in that Great Day.
The Fates of the Apostles has: ‘Here may he that is wise of prescience, he who rejoiceth in songs, discover who composed this lay.’ Then follow the Cynewulfian runes.
The passage from the Elene is24 (1237-77): ‘Thus I, old and ready to depart by reason of the failing25 house, have woven wordcraft and wondrously gathered, have now and again pondered and sifted my thought in the prison of the night. I knew not all concerning the right…26 before wisdom, through the noble power, revealed a larger view into the cogitation of my heart. I was guilty of misdeeds, fettered by sins, tormented with anxieties, bound with bitterness, beset with tribulations, before he bestowed inspiration through the bright order27 as a help to the aged man. The mighty King granted me his blameless grace and shed it into my mind, revealed it as glorious, and in course of time dilated it; he set my body free, unlocked my heart, and released the power of song, which I have joyfully made use of in the world. Not once alone, but many times, had I reflected on the tree of glory, before I had disclosed the miracle concerning the glorious tree, as in the course of events I found related in books, in writings, concerning the signs of victory. Until that the man28 had always been buffeted by billows of sorrow, as was an expiring Torch, though he in the mead-hall had received treasures, appled god. Y(?) lamented; the Forced companion suffered affliction, an oppressive secret, though29 before him the Steed measured the mile-paths and proudly ran, decked with wires30. Joy has waned, pleasure has decreased with the years; youth has fled, the former pride. U (?) was of old the splendor of youth; now, after the allotted time, are the day departed, the joys of life have vanished, as Water glides away, the hurrying floods. Every one’s Wealth is transitory under the sky; the ornaments of the field pass away under the clouds like the wind when it rises loud before men, roams among the clouds, rushes along in rage, and again on a sudden grows still, close locked within its prison, held down by force.’
This may be condensed about as follows31:
Dietrich, in advocating the assigment of the Dream of the Rood, to Cynewulf, insists upon the following points of connexion between Elene and the Dream:
The theme of both is the cross. Indeed, Cynewulf has much to say of the cross in the Christ32. We might especially compare the following extract (Chr. 1081-1102): ‘There shall sinful men, sad at heart, behold the greatest affliction. Not for their behoof shall the cross of our Lord, brightest of beacons, stand before all nations, wet with the pure blood of heaven’s King, stained with His gore, shining brightly over the vast creation. Shadows shall be put to flight when the resplendent cross shall blaze upon all peoples. But this shall be for an affliction and a punishment to men, to those malefactors who knew no gratitude to God, that He, the King, was crucified on the holy rood for the sins of mankind, on that day when He whose body knew no sin nor base iniquity lovingly purchased life for men with the price with which He ransomed us. For all this will He rigorously exact recompense when the red rood shall shine brightly over all in the sun’s stead.’
In the Dream of the Rood the author says (126-31):
And now my life’s great happiness is this,
That to the cross victorious I may come,
Alone, above the wont of other men,
To worship worthily. Desire for this
Is great within my heart, and all my help
Must reach me from the rood33.
In the Elene Cynewulf says:—‘Not once alone, but many times, had I reflected on the tree of glory before I had disclosed the miracle concerning the glorious tree, as in the course of events I found related in books, in writings, concerning the sign of victory.’ Dietrich interprets the former passage as a prophetic of a future work on the cross, and the latter as a backward reference to the Dream of the Rood. The impulse to compose the Elene is traceable to the vision which appeared to the author of the Rood 34.
Cynewulf is fond of speaking of himself and his feelings in the epilogues of his other poems35, where he adds his name in runes. In like manner he comes forward in his own person in the Dream of the Rood (cf. the next section).
In both poems the author represents himself as old, having lost joys or friends and as ready to depart. Thus in the Dream of the Rood we have (124-6, 131-4):
My soul within
Was quickened to depart, so many years
of utter weariness had I delayed
Of powerful friends
Not many do I own on earth, for hence
Have they departed, from the world’s delights;
They followed after Him, their glorious King,
And with the Father now in heaven they live,
Dwelling in bliss
And in the Elene: ‘Thus I, old and ready to depart by reason of the failing house… Joy has waned, pleasure has decreased with the years; youth has fled, the former pride. U (?) was of old the splendor of youth; now, after the allotted time, are the days departed, the joys of life have vanished.’
The diction of the Dream resembles in various particulars that employed by Cynewulf. As, according to Dietrich, Cynewulf wrote not only the Juliana, Christ, and Elene but also the Andreas, Guthlac, Phœnix, and Riddles, all references drawn from the latter group are excluded in adducing the correspondences which will be cited. Dietrich quotes three sets of correspondances in three successive notes, as follows:
Anderson, Scotland in Early Times, Second Series, pp. 232 ff. ↩
It may be added that there is a fine engraving of the Cross in Archeology Scotica, vol. 4 (1833). The first archeologist to call attention to this monument was William Nicolson, then Archdeacon, and afterwards Bishop, of Carlisle, who visited it in April, 1697, after having been informed about it by Rev. James Lason in September, 1690. Nicolson sent a copy of the inscription to Hickles before September 11, 1697, and the latter published it in his Thesaurus in 1703. On July 5, 1704, Nicolson collated his transcript with the original. See my ‘Notes on the Ruthwell Cross,’ in Pub. Mod. Lang. Assoc. of America* 17. 367-90. ↩
p. 173. ↩
He says (The Conquest of Britain by the Saxons, p. 37): ‘The first [inscriptions] on the western face of the Cross at Bewcastle, in Cumberland, is simply a memorial of Alcfrid, who was associated by Oswiu with himself in the kingdom Northumbria, and died probably in A.D. 664.’ The inscriptions on the Bewcastle Cross is very uncertain (see Sievers in Paul’s Grundriss der Germanischen Philologie 1. 256; Anglia 13. 12, 13; cf. Victor, Die Northumbrischen Runensteins, p. 46), and in its present form probably late. ↩
Conquest of Britain, p. 39. ↩
Run, Mon. I. 419-420. ↩
Run. Mon. 2 420. The remark about ungcet came originally from Kemble (Archæologia 28. 359): ‘The word Ungket is another incontrovertible proof of extreme antiquity, having, to the best of my knowledge, never been found but in this passage.’ On this word see my ‘Notes on the Ruthwell Cross,’ p. 384. ↩
Cf. my ‘Notes,’ p. 390 (Make Link) ↩
Cf. Müller, Dyreornamentiken i Norden, p. 155, note. ↩
The Academy 37. 153. ↩
Cf. p. xiv, note 1. ↩
Corpus Poeticum Boreals I. 435. ↩
Eng. Lit. before the Norman Conquest, p. 197 ↩
‘Notes,’ pp. 376-7. ↩
Ibid., p. 378. ↩
Ibid., p. 390. ↩
Cf. Bugge, studien, tr. Bremner, 1. 494; Sweet, Oldest English Texts, p. 125. ↩
What he reads, and that, as will be seen, quite uncertainly, is this (Die Northumbrischen Runensteins, p. 11; cf. p. 12): :(R?) D (D?) ÆÞ (:) (MÆ?) (F) A Y R Þ O ↩
Archœologia 28. 362-3 ↩
Codex Exoniensis (1842), p. 501. ↩
Disputatio de Cruce Ruthwellensi. Marbuguer Universitātæchrift. ↩
Whitman’s translation (Boston, U.S.A., 1900). ↩
These words represent the runes that form the beginning of the name Cyn(e)wulf. ↩
Slightly changed from my rendering in Cook and Tinker’s Select Translations from Old English Poetry, pp. 141-2. ↩
Emending fǣcne to fǣge. ↩
Perhaps something lost. ↩
Or, gloriously. ↩
Emending sæc to secg. ↩
Emending þǣr to þēah. ↩
i.e. metal ornaments. ↩
Cf. my edition of The Christ of Cynewulf, p. lcvii ↩
‘Ubrerrime de cruce Cynevulfus locutus erat iam in carmine Crist appelato’ (p. 12, note). ↩
Miss Iddings’ translation, published in COok and Tinker’s Select Translations, pp.93-9. ↩
‘Quod acilicet sibi summo animi ardore crucis contemplator proposiut, id poematis de crucis inventione compositi auctor luculenter exsecutus est. Credibile igitur est, Cynevulfum ad Elenam canendam illo somnio, quod poeta de cruce v. 137 sibi revera apparuisse asserit, animo impulsum esse.’ ↩