The poem is recorded in its fullest form in the Vercelli Book, a late-tenth-century West Saxon manuscript which was left in Northern Italy in Anglo-Saxon times. Vercelli is on the road to Rome; the manuscript was either abandoned or forgotten by a pious Anglo-Saxon pilgrim. An Old Northumbrian version of part of the poem also appears, carved in runic script, on the late-seventh-/early-eighth-century Ruthwell Cross in Dumfries-shire. The poem is a dream-vision in which the Cross appears to the Dreamer-Narrator and speaks to him. Section (a) is the introduction to the poem, and section (b) is part of the speech of the Cross.
(a) Lines 1-12
Hwæt, ic swefna cyst secgan wylle,
hwæt me gemætte to midre nihte
siþþan reordberend reste wunedon.
þuhte me þæt ic gesawe syllicre treow
on lyft lædan leohte bewunden,
beama beorhtost. Eall þæt beacen wæs
begoten mid golde; gimmas stodon
fægere æt foldan sceatum,
swylce þær fife wæron
uppe on þæm eaxlegespanne.
Beheoldon þær engeldryhta fela
fægere þurh forþgesceaft;
ne wæs þær huru fracodes gealga,
ac hine þær beheoldon halige gastas,
men ofer moldan,
and eall þeos mære gesceaft.
Behold, I wish to tell the best of dreams
which I dreamt at the middle of the night,
after speakers remained in rest.
It seemed to me that I saw a wondrous tree
rise into [the] air surrounded by light,
brightest of trees. The entire symbol was
covered with gold; beautiful gems
stood on the earth's surface,
likewise there were five
up on the crossbeam.
Many angel hosts there looked on,
beautiful throughout creation;
nor was [it] there indeed a criminal's gallows,
but holy spirits looked on it there,
men above heaven
and all this glorious creation.
(b) Lines 29-50
'þæt wæs geara iu (ic þæt gyta geman)
þæt ic wæs aheawen holtes on ende,
astyred of stefne minum.
Genamon me þær strange feondas,
geworhton him þær to wæfersyne,
heton me hiera wergas hebban;
bæron me þær beornas on eaxlum,
oþ þæt hie me beorg asetton;
gefæstnodon me þær feondas genoge.
Geseah ic þa Frean mancynnes
efstan elne micle, þæt he me wolde on gestigan.
þær ic þa ne dorste ofer Dryhtnes word
bugan oþþe berstan, þa ic bifian geseah
eorþan sceatas. Ealle ic mihte
feondas gefyllan, hwæþre ic fæste stod.
Ongyrede hine þa geong hæleþ,
þæt wæs God ælmihtig,
strang and stiþmod; gestah he on gealgan heanne,
modig on monigra gesyhþe,
þa he wolde mancynn lyµsan.
Bifode ic þa me se beorn ymbclypte;
ne dorste ic hwæþre bugan to eorþan;
feallan to foldan sceatum,
ac ic scolde fæste standan.
Rod wæs ic aræred, ahof ic ricne cyning,
heofona hlaford, hyldan me ne dorste,
þurhdrifon hie me mid deorcum næglum;
on me sindon þa dolg gesiene,
ne dorste ic hiera ænigum sceþþan.
Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere;
eall ic wæs mid blode bestemed,
begoten of þæs guman sidan,
siþþan he hæfde his gast onsended.
That was many years ago (remember it still)
that I was cut down at the end of a wood,
stirred from my root.
Strong enemies seized me there,
made [me] there into a spectacle for them,
commanded me to lift up their criminals;
warriors bore me there on shoulders,
until they placed me on a hill;
many enemies secured me there.
I saw then mankind's Lord
hasten with great courage, so that he would ascend upon me. Then I dared not there against [the] Lord's command
bend or break, when I saw [the]
earth's surfaces tremble. I could fell all enemies,
nevertheless I stood firm.
Then [the] young warrior undressed himself,
who was almighty God,
strong and resolute; he ascended onto [the] high gallows, proud in the sight of many,
when he wished to redeem mankind.
I trembled when the man embraced me;
nevertheless I dared not bend to earth,
fall to [the] earth's surfaces,
but I had to stand fast.
I was raised up a cross, I raised up a powerful king,
lord of [the] heavens, I dared not bow.
They pierced me with dark nails;
on me the wounds are visible,
open wounds of malice;
I dared not warn any of them.
They insulted us both together;
I was entirely drenched with blood,
poured from the man's sides,
after he had sent on his spirit.