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“The Battle with the Monster”: Transformation of a Traditional Pattern in “The Dream of the Rood”

Leslie Stratyner

Oral Tradition, 12/2 (1997): 308-321

In his preface to his edition of the Old English poem “The Dream of the Cross,” more often called “The Dream of the Rood,” Michael Swanton describes the poem as “immediately attractive,” stressing that “its poetic content is readily accessible to the modern reader” (1970:v). The question of accessibility is a good place to begin, but concern with the poem’s accessibility to the modern audience should not be the ultimate issue. Of far greater importance is how the poem was “accessible” to its contemporary readers. It seems that much of the criticism surrounding this poem has at its heart an intent to expound upon what Swanton calls the poet’s “literary sophistication” (v), which becomes more apparent, Swanton suggests, as we familiarize ourselves with the poem. To an Anglo-Saxon audience, however, “literary sophistication” was not necessarily a determinant of poetic merit. Even so, the status of “The Dream of the Rood” as having roots in oral tradition is not yet fully acknowledged.

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