Sung-Il Lee, Repetition of the Same Phrases in The Dream of the Rood and What It Signifies


The Dream of the Rood is taken as the earliest manifestation of the literary device commonly referred to as ‘dream vision.’ Although this view is embraced by most students of Old English literature, in-depth reading of the poem enables us to consider the poem also as a manifesto of literary theory ‘enacted’—a work that embodies the critical thought that its author harbored.

The presence of some phrases that repeatedly appear in the poem can be seen as proof of the poet’s utilizing oral formulae. But the very fact that the poet employed the same phrases in three distinct stages of the poetic development of the work implies that there was a certain critical consciousness at work while he was composing it. In this essay, I have tried to trace how the poet’s critical consciousness may have affected his composition of the poem, even if we grant that many scholars argue for Anglo-Saxon poets’ conforming to oral formulae.

The recurrence of the same phrases in different stages of the development of the poem evidences the presence of a stream of consciousness. Although there are two voices in the poem—the dreamer’s (or the poet’s) and that of the rood personified in his vision—there is unbreakable linkage in its tripartite division. The poem, as a whole, is a marvelous specimen of meta-poetry in the sense that its writer, either consciously or unwittingly, incorporated in his work his critical thought on the inter-relationship between story-telling and listening, ultimately between poetic composition and reading.

dream vision, oral formulae, stream of consciousness, theory enacted (meta-poetry), repetition haphazard vs. intentional