Ruin, The

Ruin, The
(10th century)
   The Ruin, a brief OLD ENGLISH poem found in the 10th-century collection known as the EXETER BOOK, is an unusual poem in the Old English canon: Rather than presenting a dramatic situation or a focus on the narrator’s condition, the speaker of The Ruin presents a meditation on the crumbling walls of an ancient Roman city. Although the text is badly damaged by a fire, the lines that survive skillfully create the melancholy mood associated with Old English ELEGAIC POETRY. In this case the loss mourned is the general loss of human civilization ravaged by time. The subject of the poem is likely the Roman city of Bath in England. As the Anglo-Saxons generally did, the speaker refers to the stone works of the Romans as “the work of the Giants.” The Saxons did not build with stone, but even the Romans, the speaker muses, had passed into nothingness, and these wasted ruins are all that is left. Where are they who built the walls, the speaker asks:
   Earthgrip holds themgone, long gone,
   fast in gravesgrasp while fifty fathers
   and sons have passed.
   (Alexander 1966, 30)
   Although at 45 lines The Ruin is one of the shorter Old English elegies, it remains, nevertheless, one of the most moving.
   ■ Alexander,Michael, trans. The Earliest English Poems. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1966.
   ■ Krapp, George Philip, and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, eds. The Exeter Book. The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, 3. New York: Columbia University Press, 1936.
   ■ Renoir, Alain. “The Old English ‘Ruin’: Contrastive Structure and Affective Impact,” in Old English Elegies: New Essays in Criticism and Research, edited by Martin Green. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1983, 148–173.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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