24 January 2007

The Ruin

This is one of my favorite Old English poems. This version is from S.A.J. Bradley's Anglo-Saxon Poetry, which is a great little book that contains prose translations of nearly all of the extant poetry in the Old English corpus.

The ellipses in the poem represent spots that are illegible because of damage that the manuscript sustained in a fire. So, in a way, the text itself is also something of a ruin.

The Ruin

Wondrously ornate is the stone of this wall, shattered by fate; the precincts of the city have crumbled and the work of giants is rotting away.

There are tumbled roofs, towers in ruins, high towers rime-frosted, rime on limy mortar, storm-shielding tiling scarred, scored and collapsed, undermined by age. An earthy grasp holds the lordly builders, decayed and gone, the cruel grip of the ground, while a hundred generations of humanity have passed away. Often has this wall, hoary with lichen, stained with red, lasted out one kingdom after another, left upstanding under storms: lofty and broad, it fell. Still the rampart, hewn by men, crumbles away... they were joined together... cruelly sharpened... shone... skilful work ancient structure... a ring with encrustations of soil prompted the mind and drew forth a swift idea. Ingenious in the making of chains, the bold-minded man amazingly bound together the ribs of the wall with cables.

There were bright city buildings, many bathhouses, a wealth of lofty gables, much clamour of the multitude, many a mead-hall filled with human revelry until mighty Fate changed that. Far and wide men fell dead: days of pestilence came and death destroyed the whole mass of those renowned swordsmen. Their fortress became waste places; the city rotted away: those who should repair it, the multitudes, were fallen to the ground. For that reason these courts are collapsing and the wide red roof of vaulted beams is shedding its tiles. The site is fallen into ruin, reduced to heaps, where once many a man blithe of mood and bright with gold, clothed in splendours, proud and flown with wine, gleamed in his war-trappings, and gazed upon treasure, on silver, on chased gems, on wealth, on property, on the precious stone and on this bright citadel of the broad kingdom; and the stone courts were standing and the stream warmly spouted its ample surge and a wall embraced all in its bright bosom
where the baths were, hot at its heart. That was convenient. Then they let pour... the warm streams across the grey stone... until the round pool hotly... where the baths were. Then is... It is a fitting thing how the... city...

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