“They Began to Sing Him a Sorhleoð”: Possible Echoes of the Anglo-Saxon Funerary Rites in ‘The Dream of the Rood’

Łukasz Neubauer

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/APH.2019.120.01


The Dream of the Rood constitutes one of the most intriguing products of Old English literature, both in terms of its highly imaginative, heroicised depiction of Christ and the Cross and on account of its numerous Christian and pre-Christian intersec- tions. One of the most arresting issues in it, however, particularly as regards the poem’s cultural background, is its mention of a sorhleoð (l. 67), the ‘sorrow-song’, or ‘dirge’ that the disciples begin to sing once they have placed the body of the Saviour in the sepulchre. Given that there is no mention of any songs being chanted at the time of Christ’s burial in the canonical Gospels, it seems rational to suggest that the anonymous poet must have supplied this ‘missing’ information on the basis of his own, perhaps somewhat antiquarian, knowledge of the burial customs in Anglo-Saxon England.


Jesus Christ; Gospels; elegy; Old English poetry; The Dream of the Rood; Beowulf

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