30 July 2018

And Death Shall Be No More -- The Dream of the Rood ll. 112-14

The Ruthwell Cross - geograph.org.uk - 939546
Lairich Rig / The Ruthwell Cross

Frineð he for þære mænige   hwær se man sie,
se ðe for dryhtnes naman    deaðes wolde
biteres onbyrigan,   swa he ær on ðam beame dyde.

He will ask before the multitude   where the man is,
Who for the Lord's name's sake  would taste
Of bitter death,   just he already did on the tree.
The Dream of the Rood  ll. 112-14 

The verb onbýrigan in line 114 means 'to taste of'. It is a compound of býrigan, 'to taste'. What I find cool here is the echo of a different, but very similar sounding verb, byrigan, which means 'to bury'. It  differs only in the length of the 'y'. But I like the distant suggestion that those who taste of death, as Christ has already done on the cross, also bury it. 


Scholars have likely noted this ten thousand times already. Nevertheless....


  1. This is a great catch, Tom. I have been at some pains to derive an etymology for býrigan, and the closest I have been able to trace it is as a derivative ultimately of a PGM word that simply means "to happen," usually with the sense of something happening to oneself (the original root word has the sense of receiving favorable winds). All that to say, the two words (býrigan and byrigan) aren't related. But the effect of the pun here, if I can call it that, is astounding. I cannot think but that it was intentional.

  2. Enjoyed reading this, very good stuff, thank you.