20 June 2014
Persuasive Poetic Devices in “The Dream of the Rood”
In the Anglo-Saxon poem, “The Dream of the Rood,” the author’s purpose is to impress upon his audience the power of salvation offered by Christianity, as represented by the crucifix. For the author, the crucifix, or Rood, is no mere symbol, but a literal embodiment of salvation. At the time it is believed to have been written, the poet’s audience consisted of a spectrum of Christian followers and pagans who retained the traditions and culture of their Germanic, Norse, and Danish ancestors. Even many of the Christian followers in the audience would have had strong ancestral ties to pagan beliefs. To effectively reach this disparate and evolving crowd with his message of Christian salvation, the author employs several established poetic devices, common in the oral traditions of the various and blended Anglo-Saxon tribes. Narrative structure, vivid imagery, and anthropomorphism are key poetic devices used to appeal to Christians and non-Christians alike. Using these devices, “The Dream of the Rood” incorporates the ideals and entertainment value of a non-Christian oral tradition into a homiletic allegory about the Passion of Christ and the promise of Christian salvation. “Lo! Choicest of dreams I will relate, / What dream I dreamt in middle of night / When mortal men reposed in rest” (1-3). These opening lines of the poem immediately announce the narrative arrangement of the poem, a familiar form to any audience, but especially influential in Germanic literature. Oral tradition and story-telling are hallmarks of the blended, non-Christian culture, and the device effectively disarms the audience, supplanting cynicism with intrigue. As the speaker recounts the subject of his dream, “A wondrous wood” (4), he is careful not to digress too far from the narrative strand, introducing a shift in both action and voice in line 26, “The best of woods gan speak these words.” Thus, the...
Cited: “The Dream of the Rood”. Trans. James M. Garnett.
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