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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.

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


"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.


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


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


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.


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."


"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.


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.


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
rig Jan 1
all i want -
one kiss from
you, angel.
HeWhoExplores Nov 2020
Oh queen! One of unjust passion
who leaves a gaping hole in my chest
With your two hands
One holding my beating heart
And the other a knife-
That rains down-
Down! From the heavens and impales with such sadness
With such ferocity, the damage is done
And with a single blow, the passion is over
Gone! As if never before seen again...
And in an instant, you destroy the living being that once loved you
Like Marc Anthony, a Roman conquerer
Whom to you was a lover, an overseas companion
Who captured your heart and womanly desires
Was just a mere mortal, in the end...
Undoubtedly imperfect for your ambitions
It pains one, oh dear Cleopatra
That our ways will more than likely
never cross again.
دل میں بس تجھ کو بسا رکھا ہے
لب پے بس تجھ کو سجا رکھا ہے
دیکھ  آ دل کے میکدے میں کبھی
درد ہی درد چھپا رکھا ہے
مجھ کو ویرانیاں ہی بھاتی ہیں
دشت میں ڈیرہ لگا رکھا ہے
بے ثباتی سے واسطہ ہے مرا
ریت کا گھر بھی بنا رکھا ہے
عشق کے رستہ پر خار پے بھی
بوجھ تیرا ہی اٹھا رکھا ہے
آج خود اپنے لہو سے ارسل
بزم میں دیپ جلا رکھا ہے

Dil main bas tujh ko basa Rakha ha
Lab pe bas tujh ko saja Rakha ha
Dekh aa Dil Ke maikaday main Kabhi
Dard hi dard chupa Rakha ha
Mujh ko veeraniyan hi bhaati Hain
Dasht main dera Laga Rakha ha
Bay sabati se waasta ha Mera
Rait ka Ghar BHI bana Rakha ha
Ishq ke Rasta e pur khaar pe BHI
Bojh tera hi utha rakha ha
Aaj khud apnay lahoo se ARSAL
Bazm main deep jala Rakha ha
Tiffany Arnett Jun 2020
Life presents you with many gifts.
Some may be opportunities,
Some may be material things.
My favorite gift is the people in my life,
Especially her.

Who is she?

She is a fierce dark angel who is not afraid to fight,
But do not be fooled by the masks she wears.
Her closet is filled with them,
And she chooses multiple options for her day ahead.
They have never fooled me.

My favorite mask is the one she was born with,
Her in her natural state.
She shakes off her beauty,
Denying it to the world.
Her blue-green eyes are hidden behind books,
Or they hide under her mane of dark hair when she writes.
She will smile when you approach her,
But it is just another mask she employs to hide the pain I see in her eyes.
The masks have never fooled me.

In my thoughts she is my Bellona,
Fighting battles on a terrifying battlefield.
Her choice of weapon is inconsequential,
Her eyes and words can be fatal.

Her friendship is rare and unique,
She is my Guildenstern and I am Rosencratz.
I would follow her across the galaxy,
And together we would be kicked out of Elysium.
Deep secrets are traded between us,
A currency worth more than money.

She is a woman of many layers.
Every day is full of surprise, laughter, and mischief.
No one could manage us.
Conversations are endless,
Hearts are placed on the table.
Trust is gained and built,
Each brick of trust adding to the celestial temple of our friendship,
Where masks are left at the door.

She is a precious and stubborn gift life presented me with,
No matter how much she denies her importance.
She is my dark master of masks.
She is my war protector and supporter.
She is my partner in creator of oh so delicious ides.
She is the thread that keeps me tethered today this enchanting life.
michael Jun 2020
Around time scarred columns,
Sun bleached waves swell.
No songs or poems
Can say
What these weathered walls tell.
Marco Jun 2020
“I love you” in its kaleidoscope dress dances
like sunshine upon the waves -
does it remind you of something?
Does it remind you of me, my love,
as I sit here and write and break my heart over
entertaining a fantasy;

For you to say my name, just once - just once -
to hear your gentle breath exclaim this personal ecstasy of mine,
this declaration of victory that yes, I am myself!
Finally, instantly -
just one word from your lips - this word - and the fever of
battle inside me rages,
the body ready to swim all seas and win all wars,
to tear up all earth just
for you -
to find you, my lover, yes,
to return to a home of you.
I promise I will, and forever more I shall,
in exchange for the sound of
your rose water perfumed voice
caressing the essence of my Self.

I could
spin this song forever
let it wash endlessly
through the streets of the world, just to
declare my love for you,
just to shout your name into the night
or sing it as gracefully as I could
to infect every heart and ear with my feeling,
this emotion that overpowers me,
makes me crumble, fall to my feet,
lift my voice to highest praise, a taste unfamiliar to my mouth;
praise does not come so easily to me as the blade to a throat.
So have I not done enough to prove myself to you?
Have I not given all my heart, and all my soul, too -

Still no word. No answer.
The hunger inside my heart throws me forward,
edges me closer to the abyss,
the forlorn nothing, the never-ending absence,
a loveless mist to swallow me forever,
and you, my only savior, looking on,
your face a stone-cold mask.
You don’t want to let me in.
Don’t take my hand - for I could pull you down with me,
couldn’t I, my love?
The only power I possess is destruction.
This fragile bird of ours,
I swallow it whole between gnashing teeth,
and snap the neck of delicacy with the careless tongue
of unrequited love.

And who am I, after all,
but covered in dirt and blood, kneeling
at the altar of your love,
begging for my life as if
all the wars and battles won
matter nothing now. Perhaps they don’t -
what good is honor to me if
you crush it with one bare foot?
What good are strength and death and victory if
I was never destined to succeed in the king’s battle -
the last stand my heart could take, only to
lose the fight?
I have died more viciously by the sharp cut of your cool shoulder,
my love,
than I have ever hurt at the hands of a thousand men.

I, warlike, once a God,
wounded and fallen, now,
collapsed without dignity at your feet,
pleading for mercy
and crying, with every sense of emotion,
“I love you.”
Liz Rossi Mar 2020
You wanted a love story, sweetheart—
    well, I’m an unwritten tragedy;
  hand me a skull and I’ll monologue
while Rome burns.
      We’re two acts in and falling fast,
         we’re half a city down and soon
            there’ll be nothing but ashes.

          You wanted a love song, baby—
        I’ll sing to you in a minor key,
harmonies in the rain under neon stars,
            screaming in tune with flowers in your lungs
      and blood in your hair
and city lights and city lights and
                                               city lights.

You wanted a love letter, honey—
“Dear Heartbreak,
   I’ve got purple bruises on my chest
     where my prose hits me. I’ve got
       a mess of clichés and a dark and stormy night
         and a pinch of melodrama,
           no talent but I’m trying, honest.
             I don’t suppose you could maybe
              unravel me a little?
               Cut me open like a knife through butter?
                Maybe then I’ll bleed words;
                 maybe then the poems will spill out of me,
                  entrails unravelling.”

You wanted a love poem, darling—
                meet me in your aspect and your eyes
               at ten o’clock tonight. Rome’s burning, baby,
              and all our lions are loose. No time for
    sonnets; we’ll climb the Colosseum with
    our flowers and our songs and
                             we’ll deny the gaudiness
                                                     of the day.

You wanted love, sweetheart—
I’ll give you everything I am:
           a burnt-out city,
           a soliloquy in G minor.
               I’ll play til my fingers bleed,
                     sing til my voice gives out and
                                                             ­            maybe—
it’ll do.
byron’s “she walks in beauty“ is the one i’m wittering on about in the fourth stanza.
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