Friday, December 11, 2009

Those Anglo-Saxons knew how to compose poems about Christ!


I had a roaring good time in the Kennett Square Resale Book Shoppe yesterday. My Big Find was a copy of a book that I did not even know existed - a compilation of poems by Frank Sheed of Sheed and Ward Publishing. I've been a Sheed aficionado since Marty Helgesen recommended him years ago. I can't count the number of times I've given away copies of his Theology and Sanity -- a book whose title even his own staff once misspelled, writing it as Theology and Sanctity. He had to point out to them that his carefully chosen title reflected the main theme of the book, namely that it's a matter of sanity, not sanctity, to understand reality as God has revealed it and the Catholic Church teaches it.

The unknown (to me) book of Sheed's I found is Poetry and Life: An Anthology of English Catholic Poetry compiled by Sheed. Opening its pages at home, I immediately re-acquainted myself with a piece of Anglo-Saxon poetry that I absolutely loved when I wore a younger girl's clothes. We were well met in Newark, like an old friend I'd fallen out of touch with. I reproduce it for your enjoyment:


THE CROSS SPEAKS
"It was long ago, / I yet remember,
that I was hewn down / at the wood's end
torn from my place. / They took me there, strong foes,
they set me up as a gazing-stock, / bade me lift on high their felons.
Men bore me on their shoulders, / till on a hill they set me,
many foes fastened me there. / Then I saw mankind's Lord
swiftly come with courage, / for He willed to mount on me.

Then dared I not, / against the Lord's word,
bend or break, / when I saw
the earth trembling. / I might there
have felled all my foes, / but I stood fast.
Then He stripped Himself, the young Hero, / that was God Almighty,
strong and firm-hearted / He mounted the mean gibbet;
noble-hearted in the sight of many / He would set free mankind.

I shook when the Prince clasped me, / but I durst not bow to earth,
fall to the ground, / but must needs stand fast.
A rood I was raised aloft, / I lifted the mighty King,
Lord of Heaven, / I durst not bend.
They drove me through with dark nails, / on me the marks are plain,
wide wounds of hate. / I durst not harm any of them.

They mocked us both together. / I was all wet with blood
poured from the Man's side / when He had sent forth His soul.

There on the hill / I underwent
many bitter things. / I saw the God of Hosts
sorely stretched out. / Darkness there
had wrapped in clouds / the Ruler's Body,
its fair radiance. / A shadow went forth
wan under clouds. / All creation wept,
bewailed the King's death, / Christ on the rood.

But there came from afar / eager nobles
to Him all alone; / I beheld all that.
Sore was I troubled with sorrows, / but I bent down to the hands of the men
humbly, with hearty will. / There they took Almighty God,
lifted Him down from the heavy pain. / They left me standing
wet with blood; / I was all wounded with shafts.

They laid Him down, limb-weary; / they stood at His body's head;
they gazed on Him, Heaven's Lord, / and He rested there awhile,
tired from the great strife. / They began to make His grave
in the sight of His foes. / They carved it from the bright stone,
they laid in it the Lord of Hosts. / They began to sing a sorrow-song
alone in the evening tide. / Then they went away,
weary away from the great crowd. / With a few He rested there.

(from The Dream of the Rood, 8th century, author unknown)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, HO! You know it! Anglo Saxon poetry rocks, and the Dream of the Rood is one of the best! Glad you stumbled across it! T