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THE RUIN in a Modern English Translation

"The Ruin" is one of the great poems of English antiquity. This modern English translation of one of the very best Old English/Anglo-Saxon poems is followed by footnotes, a summary and analysis, a discussion of the theme, and the translator's comments.


THE RUIN
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

well-hewn was this wall-stone, till Wyrdes wrecked it
and the Colossus sagged inward ...

broad battlements broken;
the Builders' work battered;

the high ramparts toppled;
tall towers collapsed;

the great roof-beams shattered;
gates groaning, agape ...

mortar mottled and marred by scarring ****-frosts ...
the Giants’ dauntless strongholds decaying with age ...

shattered, the shieldwalls,
the turrets in tatters ...

where now are those mighty Masons, those Wielders and Wrights,
those Samson-like Stonesmiths?

the grasp of the earth, the firm grip of the ground
holds fast those fearless Fathers
men might have forgotten
except that this slow-rotting siege-wall still stands
after countless generations!

for always this edifice, grey-lichened, blood-stained,
stands facing fierce storms with their wild-whipping winds
because those master Builders bound its wall-base together
so cunningly with iron!

it outlasted mighty kings and their claims!

how high rose those regal rooftops!
how kingly their castle-keeps!
how homely their homesteads!
how boisterous their bath-houses and their merry mead-halls!
how heavenward flew their high-flung pinnacles!
how tremendous the tumult of those famous War-Wagers ...
till mighty Fate overturned it all, and with it, them.

then the wide walls fell;
then the bulwarks were broken;
then the dark days of disease descended ...

as death swept the battlements of brave Brawlers;
as their palaces became waste places;
as ruin rained down on their grand Acropolis;
as their great cities and castles collapsed
while those who might have rebuilt them lay gelded in the ground:
those marvelous Men, those mighty master Builders!

therefore these once-decorous courts court decay;
therefore these once-lofty gates gape open;
therefore these roofs' curved arches lie stripped of their shingles;
therefore these streets have sunk into ruin and corroded rubble ...

when in times past light-hearted Titans flushed with wine
strode strutting in gleaming armor, adorned with splendid ladies’ favors,
through this brilliant city of the audacious famous Builders
to compete for bright treasure: gold, silver, amber, gemstones.

here the cobblestoned courts clattered;
here the streams gushed forth their abundant waters;
here the baths steamed, hot at their fiery hearts;
here this wondrous wall embraced it all, with its broad *****.

... that was spacious ...



Footnotes and Translator's Comments
by Michael R. Burch

Summary

"The Ruin" is an ancient Anglo-Saxon poem. It appears in the Exeter Book, which has been dated to around 960-990 AD. However, the poem may be older than the manuscript, since many ancient poems were passed down ****** for generations before being written down. The poem is an elegy or lament for the works of "mighty men" of the past that have fallen into disrepair and ruins. Ironically, the poem itself was found in a state of ruin. There are holes in the vellum upon which it was written. It appears that a brand or poker was laid to rest on the venerable book. It is believed the Exeter Book was also used as a cutting board and beer mat. Indeed, we are lucky to have as much of the poem as we do.

Author

The author is an unknown Anglo-Saxon scop (poet).

Genre

"The Ruin" may be classified as an elegy, eulogy, dirge and/or lament, depending on how one interprets it.

Theme

The poem's theme is one common to Anglo-Saxon poetry and literature: that man and his works cannot escape the hands of wyrde (fate), time and death. Thus men can only face the inevitable with courage, resolve, fortitude and resignation. Having visited Bath myself, I can easily understand how the scop who wrote the poem felt, and why, if I am interpreting the poem correctly.

Plot

The plot of "The Ruin" seems rather simple and straightforward: Things fall apart. The author of the poem blames Fate for the destruction he sees. The builders are described as "giants."

Techniques

"The Ruin" is an alliterative poem; it uses alliteration rather than meter and rhyme to "create a flow" of words. This was typical of Anglo-Saxon poetry.

History

When the Romans pulled their legions out of Britain around 400 BC, primarily because they faced increasing threats at home, they left behind a number of immense stone works, including Hadrian's Wall, various roads and bridges, and cities like Bath. Bath, known to the Romans as Aquae Sulis, is the only English city fed by hot springs, so it seems likely that the city in question is Bath. Another theory is that the poem refers to Hadrian's Wall and the baths mentioned were heated artificially. The Saxons, who replaced the Romans as rulers of most of Britain, used stone only for churches and their churches were small. So it seems safe to say that the ruins in question were created by Roman builders.

Interpretation

My personal interpretation of the poem is that the poet is simultaneously impressed by the magnificence of the works he is viewing, and discouraged that even the works of the mighty men of the past have fallen to ruin.

Analysis of Characters and References

There are no characters, per se, only an anonymous speaker describing the ruins and the men he imagines to have built things that have survived so long despite battles and the elements.

Related Poems

Other Anglo-Saxon/Old English poems: The Ruin, Wulf and Eadwacer, The Wife's Lament, Deor's Lament, Caedmon's Hymn, Bede's Death Song, The Seafarer, Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings

Keywords/Tags: Anglo-Saxon, Old English, England, translation, elegy, lament, lamentation, Bath, Roman, giant, giants, medieval, builders, ruin, ruins, wall, walls, fate, mrbtr
Amy Perry Mar 6
I’ve never felt
More luxurious
Than when
I was on a newly
Prescribed drug
With a total body high,
Coming down from mania,
Still exuberant,
But in a private space,
In my bathroom
In the ward,
In a bathtub
That does not fill up.
So I put on the shower
And I let the water hit my skin
And I took bite after bite
Of crisp and juicy apple slices.
I was at the mental hospital
Marilyn Monroe stayed in.
I imagined her here in the same bath
Also feeling luxurious and all sorts
Of ****** up like me.
abp
neth jones Dec 2020
bath salts
single malt
a mouth of candles crown
                        the tub
                  the body
                     from spilling out
             into the cold surround

the brimming sill
    capsize the moat
         foam disgorges in a luppy spawn...

doff your gown
        evacuate
           your own company ?
pour sacredly
to drown
                  
                                        ­                 - 'Chin-chin'
crystal cubed ice afloat
vocalize
tell
cast anchor your vote
Ashlyn Yoshida Nov 2020
Coffee and muffin on a Saturday outing by yourself
Cuddles on a winter day with no one but a blanket
Bubble bath and candles, in a dimly lit room
Reading on a rainy day

You don't always need others
To be happy
someone told me to write a happy poem so here
neth jones Nov 2020
immersed
crowding the inner-ear
warm
and clung

drum lightly
digits
on the porcelain
'Tung - tung'
and its a simple world
peacefully distant
immersed
in a bathing bell

purse the breathing
an interspersed need for air
submerged ****
i lung for longer
with peace
i could
be
..
:
.
:
Traci Sims Oct 2020
My muse is fickle at times,
Nagging me when I'm busy
Doing the real world,
Taking a bubble bath when I need her most...
v Oct 2020
Nourish thy soul
with the rhythms in your mind
bounce back bounce front
thy rhythm of time

Nourish thy body
feeling the pulses yelling your name
they shout they ache they're calling your name

Nourish thy body
with the love that you know
Nourish thy body
make sure it stays warm

Nourish thy body
by feeding the soul
1 scoop 2 scoops its never too full

Nourish thy pain
the one that's eating you away
reminding it does not exist without calling your name
AStarsHeartbeat Sep 2020
I used to wish I had a reason to feel so sad.
Maybe a death in the family or a traumatic injury, morbid as it sounds.
A reason to feel scared, and lost, and all at once a child begging for someone else to takeover for a while.
Crying in the bath is such a cliche but when you're underwater no one can ask what's wrong and be disappointed by the answer.
I don’t have a good enough reason to be sad, I’m only 23 and have an entire life to live but I feel like this is gonna be it, and every week is another long week and every day drags like it will never end.
I feel like I should talk to someone but I’m not sad enough, or I’m not rich enough, or I’m not desperate enough.
People say life finds a way and that it will all sort itself out, but right now in this bath it’s just me and my fears so life can wait a while.
🙃
Michael R Burch Jun 2020
Warming Her Pearls
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

Warming her pearls, her *******
gleam like constellations.
Her belly is a bit rotund ...
she might have stepped out of a Rubens.

Published by Erosha, The Eclectic Muse, Muse Apprentice Guild, Nisqually Delta Review, Erbacce, Poetry Life & Times and Brief Poems. Keywords/Tags: warming, pearls, bath, *******, constellations, belly, rotund, Rubens, mrbsex, body, art, painting, ******, erotica, ****, ******, naked, flesh
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