A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
The Ruin is an elegy in Old English, written in the 8th or 9th century. The poem evokes the former glory of a ruined Roman city by contrasting the grand, lively past with the decaying present. Here is a modern translation by Professor Siân Echard, University of British Columbia:
Wondrous is this wall-stead, wasted by fate.
Battlements broken, giant’s work shattered.
Roofs are in ruin, towers destroyed,
Broken the barred gate, rime on the plaster,
walls gape, torn up, destroyed,
consumed by age. Earth-grip holds
the proud builders, departed, long lost,
and the hard grasp of the grave, until a hundred generations
of people have passed. Often this wall outlasted,
hoary with lichen, red-stained, withstanding the storm,
one reign after another; the high arch has now fallen.
The wall-stone still stands, hacked by weapons,
by grim-ground files.
Mood quickened mind, and the mason,
skilled in round-building, bound the wall-base,
wondrously with iron.
Bright were the halls, many the baths,
High the gables, great the joyful noise,
many the mead-hall full of pleasures.
Until fate the mighty overturned it all.
Slaughter spread wide, pestilence arose,
and death took all those brave men away.
Their bulwarks were broken, their halls laid waste,
the cities crumbled, those who would repair it
laid in the earth. And so these halls are empty,
and the curved arch sheds its tiles,
torn from the roof. Decay has brought it down,
broken it to rubble. Where once many a warrior,
high of heart, gold-bright, gleaming in splendour,
proud and wine-flushed, shone in armour,
looked on a treasure of silver, on precious gems,
on riches of pearl…
in that bright city of broad rule.
Stone courts once stood there, and hot streams gushed forth,
wide floods of water, surrounded by a wall,
in its bright bosom, there where the baths were,
hot in the middle.
Hot streams ran over hoary stone
into the ring
Wrætlic is þes wealstan, wyrde gebræcon;
burgstede burston, brosnað enta geweorc.
Hrofas sind gehrorene, hreorge torras,
hrungeat berofen, hrim on lime,
scearde scurbeorge scorene, gedrorene,
ældo undereotone. Eorðgrap hafað
waldend wyrhtan forweorone, geleorene,
heardgripe hrusan, oþ hund cnea
werþeoda gewitan. Oft þæs wag gebad
ræghar ond readfah rice æfter oþrum,
ofstonden under stormum; steap geap gedreas.
Wonað giet se …num geheapen,
…g orþonc ærsceaft
…g lamrindum beag
mod mo… …yne swiftne gebrægd
hwætred in hringas, hygerof gebond
weallwalan wirum wundrum togædre.
Beorht wæron burgræced, burnsele monige,
heah horngestreon, heresweg micel,
meodoheall monig dreama full,
oþþæt þæt onwende wyrd seo swiþe.
Crungon walo wide, cwoman woldagas,
swylt eall fornom secgrofra wera;
wurdon hyra wigsteal westen staþolas,
brosnade burgsteall. Betend crungon
hergas to hrusan. Forþon þas hofu dreorgiað,
ond þæs teaforgeapa tigelum sceadeð
hrostbeages hrof. Hryre wong gecrong
gebrocen to beorgum, þær iu beorn monig
glædmod ond goldbeorht gleoma gefrætwed,
wlonc ond wingal wighyrstum scan;
seah on sinc, on sylfor, on searogimmas,
on ead, on æht, on eorcanstan,
on þas beorhtan burg bradan rices.
Stanhofu stodan, stream hate wearp
widan wylme; weal eall befeng
beorhtan bosme, þær þa baþu wæron,
hat on hreþre. þæt wæs hyðelic.
Leton þonne geotan
ofer harne stan hate streamas
…þþæt hringmere hate
þær þa baþu wæron.
…re; þæt is cynelic þing,
huse …… burg….
Translator’s note: The Ruin is a fragmentary poem found in Exeter, Cathedral Chapter Library, MS 3501, the Exeter Book. The poem’s state makes it difficult to translate; the working translation above is suggestive (even speculative) rather than definitive, intended simply to allow the reader to work through the text with some sense of its meaning and flavour. There are doubtless errors and infelicities. The Old English text is taken from the electronic version of the poems of the Exeter Book available at the Labyrinth, now (February 2015) apparently offline.
Translation copyright 2019 Siân Echard