Dreaming poems; editing “Julian of Norwich” and ‘The Dream of the Rood’

1. ‘Lo! I will tell of the best of dreams,
what I dreamed in the middle of the night,
after the speech-bearers were in bed.
It seemed to me that I saw a very wondrous tree
5. lifted into the air, enveloped by light,
the brightest of trees.’
from The Dream of the Rood (electronic edition),  created by Mary Rambaran-Olm.

A few weeks ago my attention was called to an annotated electronic edition of the Dream of the Rood , created by Mary Rambaran-Olm.  I thought to link this edition on Poethead  to compliment some of my earlier posts about women editors and writers. There are an amount of works on the blog dedicated to the poetry of the mystic-writer, these posts deal specifically with the woman’s mystic voice rather than approaches to contemporary editing by women.

The sole exception to the above is based in a few scattered posts that allude to Marion Glasscoe’s magnificent editing of Julian Of Norwich’s  A Revelation of Divine love. Glasscoe’s Julian is in my opinion a seminal text, and I have retained my copy since I studied it in UCD some years ago. There are many modern versions of Julian’s Revelation which attempt to bring her luminous writing toward a contemporary audience, however, mostly the texts that I have read go nowhere near the Glasscoe for clarity of expression. I have referenced ideas and images from the Glasscoe in a couple of  Poethead posts , which I am adding here and here. 

To my mind a masterpiece is a work of art that has the ability to generate interest and to inspire derivatives in the visual and musical arts. The work that has gone into the creation of the electronic edition of The Dream of the Rood allows for a contemporary audience to access it’s unique quality of expression. Here, in Mary Rambaran-Olm’s pages are her transcriptions, translations and notes from the original manuscript. The translation pages  run along the left-hand column of the Rood home page and are subdivided to allow for easier reading. There are also extensive images of the Vercelli Book (Folios 104v-106r).  It’s an online treasure-trove.  The poem is available on the right-hand of the home-page under the heading of Translation and Original Poem.

I did question whether I should write a post about Julian of Norwich and the Dream of the Rood for this Saturday, and I hope my regular readers enjoy the piece. I believe that poets are inspired across a variety of modes of expression and that the contemporary modes of dissemination can ameliorate access to masterpieces such as the two above-mentioned triumphs of editing by both Glasscoe and Rambaran-Olm.  Dreaming and vision-poems have an agelessness about them that defies time.

I am wary of some translations which I have discussed before now, but there is an endurance in this writing which has influenced many a writer. One quick search for Julian’s writing uncovers a vast array of related works. It is really up to the reader in how they wish to access the works mentioned above, but I’d feel somehow that I’d have let down my readers if I did not acknowledge the trojan work by these two women editors in their creation of accessible translations for modern readers.

Note. It’s rather alarming that  a dreaming poem such as  Dante’s The Divine Comedy has been subject to an attempt at evisceration and censorship at this moment.  If there is a loss anywhere in this issue it is in the Gherush92 campaign.   I have said online and elsewhere this past week that this campaign is about getting into newspapers in the most risible  fashion, rather than about  any offense caused by a  poem that continues to inspire  a great deal of visual and literary art.

Beati in Apocalipsin libri duodecim 900-950 (Spain)

5 responses to “Dreaming poems; editing “Julian of Norwich” and ‘The Dream of the Rood’”

    • Yes I do. I think dreaming a poem is more active or participative on the part of the poet. I should have written more about Dante, but I think the same applies to Julian. There is a sense of physicality in dreaming poems, whereas in visionary poems there is a fabulous sense that places the poet at a remove from the reader.


      • I think it is also to do with Irish and aboriginal traditions of ‘Walkabout’.One of the best books on the process was written by the late John Moriarty http://www.johnmoriarty.info/publications/dreamtime.php I would make a distinction between the writings of Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen (absolutely), for instance.

        The ‘dreamtime’ becomes an actual physicality for the poet and that works in the reader’s imagination.


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