Signs of Prayer in The Dream of the Rood

Imogen Volkofsky


The Dream of the Rood is poem about the mental and emotional processes that underlie the experience of prayer. The poem explores how words and signs form an interface between God and the human mind. As such, they are able to transform mental and emotional states. The poet does this, I argue, using two literary tropes. The first is the setting, in the middle of the night, which is a familiar setting for private prayer in Anglo-Saxon narrative sources. The second is through the figure of the cross, which represents Christ as the 'word of God' who, in prayer, gives words to the solitary mystic. The patterns of transformation seen in The Dream of the Rood - from fear and passivity to joy and expressiveness - follow a pattern that is also found in many accounts of nocturnal prayer, particularly in the Anglo-Latin poem De Abbatibus and in Felix's Life of Guthlac, as well as in Bede's writings. In each of these accounts, true prayer is a response to signs of God's presence.


Old English; Affect; Medieval Devotion; Emotions; Anglo-Saxon; Poetry

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