Monday, 17 October 2011

The Ruin

The Ruin is, at least to my mind, a highly evocative 8th century Old English poem. It comes from the Exeter Book, describing with wonder and veneration the ruins of a Roman city - probably Bath. The text is damaged with indecipherable portions, but still worth reading. Maybe its appeal lies in the familiar tragedy of a collapsed civilization. I wonder which way ours is going?

This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged,
chipped roofs are torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen,
the hard grasp of earth, until a hundred generations
of people have departed. Often this wall,
lichen-grey and stained with red, experienced one reign after another,
remained standing under storms; the high wide gate has collapsed.
Still the masonry endures in winds cut down
persisted on__________________
fiercely sharpened________ _________
______________ she shone_________
_____________g skill ancient work_________
_____________g of crusts of mud turned away
spirit mo________yne put together keen-counselled
a quick design in rings, a most intelligent one bound
the wall with wire brace wondrously together.
Bright were the castle buildings, many the bathing-halls,
high the abundance of gables, great the noise of the multitude,
many a meadhall full of festivity,
until Fate the mighty changed that.
Far and wide the slain perished, days of pestilence came,
death took all the brave men away;
their places of war became deserted places,
the city decayed. The rebuilders perished,
the armies to earth. And so these buildings grow desolate,
and this red-curved roof parts from its tiles
of the ceiling-vault. The ruin has fallen to the ground
broken into mounds, where at one time many a warrior,
joyous and ornamented with gold-bright splendour,
proud and flushed with wine shone in war-trappings;
looked at treasure, at silver, at precious stones,
at wealth, at prosperity, at jewellery,
at this bright castle of a broad kingdom.
The stone buildings stood, a stream threw up heat
in wide surge; the wall enclosed all
in its bright bosom, where the baths were,
hot in the heart. That was convenient.
Then they let pour_______________
hot streams over grey stone.
un___________ _____________
until the ringed sea (circular pool?) hot
_____________where the baths were.
Then is_______________________
__________re, that is a noble thing,
to the house__________ castle_______


Demetrius said...

It can happen and it has happened, many many, times over.

Sam Vega said...

I don't think this type of collapse back into nature is possible for great modern civilisations; overpopulation and globalisation have put a stop to it. Civilisations are more likely to be re-colonised from within, hollowing out and transforming and becoming alien to the indigenous population before their very eyes. We get a glimpse of this when we see some old boy gazing blankly at the retail park that used to be a huge factory. Or a couple on TV trying to understand why it no longer pays to work hard and pay your bills...

A K Haart said...

D - it has. I'd like to think we know how to prevent these things, but I'm not so sure.

SV - you may be right, but the hollowing out process also has its dangers. To me, complexity seems to be a real issue. I'm not convinced that we know why things go wrong and what to do about it.

rogerh said...

I agree about complexity, did those of old see it coming ? Who bailed out first? I suppose the young might emigrate. Then how long will it take to become labour-rate competitive - for I really do doubt we could ever survive by cleverer than the rest of the world.

When all you have is a one-act-pony it really does not pay to let the pony die, it is so tiresome to build up a new act.

A K Haart said...

rogerh - I think people do see these things coming, but internal vested interests have to succumb to external interests. They can't change by an act of will.

James Higham said...

One of the most remarkable parts of it is that we have a translation.

Sam Vega said...

"SV - you may be right, but the hollowing out process also has its dangers."

Too right, and apologies if I seemed at all complacent about it. I would rather start again from the Dark Ages than watch the UK become a museum for Rich Chinese, or a Muslim state. There is a small measure of dignity in growing our own turnips, and none at all in selling our culture in job lots.

A K Haart said...

JH - yes it is, the scholars who achieve these things deserve more recognition.

SV - I wasn't suggesting complacency and I agree with what you say.