Monday, 24 January 2011

A 1200 year-old poem

Another moon-shot, taken outside Bath Abbey a week or so ago. No reason, I just like it, so I've put it up. The Abbey is the only reason Bath is called a 'city' - in reality, it is a smallish town with a village mentality. The abbey used to dominate the town in former times, and was where Adelard - the monk who introduced the concept of 'zero' to European mathematics - lived. Britain's oldest surviving poem was also composed in Bath. It was written by a traveler in the 8th century AD, after he had wandered around the Roman ruins, a few hundred years after they had left. They didn't leave for about 300 years after the fall of the Roman Empire, though. I don't think they left at all, in fact, but just moved into the countryside and married into the locals. There was no point in going back to Rome, nor any money to do so.

Here is 'The Ruin' translated from the Anglo Saxon into Modern English:

This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged,
chipped roofs are torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen,
the hard grasp of earth, until a hundred generations
of people have departed. Often this wall,
lichen-grey and stained with red, experienced one reign after another,
remained standing under storms; the high wide gate has collapsed.
Still the masonry endures in winds cut down
persisted on__________________
fiercely sharpened________ _________
______________ she shone_________
_____________g skill ancient work_________
_____________g of crusts of mud turned away
spirit mo________yne put together keen-counselled
a quick design in rings, a most intelligent one bound
the wall with wire brace wondrously together.
Bright were the castle buildings, many the bathing-halls,
high the abundance of gables, great the noise of the multitude,
many a meadhall full of festivity,
until Fate the mighty changed that.
Far and wide the slain perished, days of pestilence came,
death took all the brave men away;
their places of war became deserted places,
the city decayed. The rebuilders perished,
the armies to earth. And so these buildings grow desolate,
and this red-curved roof parts from its tiles
of the ceiling-vault. The ruin has fallen to the ground
broken into mounds, where at one time many a warrior,
joyous and ornamented with gold-bright splendour,
proud and flushed with wine shone in war-trappings;
looked at treasure, at silver, at precious stones,
at wealth, at prosperity, at jewellery,
at this bright castle of a broad kingdom.
The stone buildings stood, a stream threw up heat
in wide surge; the wall enclosed all
in its bright bosom, where the baths were,
hot in the heart. That was convenient.
Then they let pour_______________
hot streams over grey stone.
un___________ _____________
until the ringed sea (circular pool?) hot
_____________where the baths were.
Then is_______________________
__________re, that is a noble thing,
to the house__________ castle_______


  1. P.S. - I have been joined by a real, live glass-engraver - Lesley Pyke! (must have been the Wolfe reference) Hello Lesley.

  2. Does that mean I have to behave myself??

  3. You seem to have been behaving yourself for a while now, Grouch - must have been the tennis championship taking your mind off things. Carry on as normal.

    This is the first time I have seen this poem too, Olive. I didn't know of it's existence until recently.

  4. He writes with sadness at their departure. I would have thought they were glad to see the back of them! What did the Romans ever do for US? etc.

  5. Yes! What did the Romans do for us?! Well....

    It is strange when you think of how much time had elapsed between the Roman invasion and this Dark Age poet. All the Roman stuff seems so fresh - fresher than the Bible, that's for sure. Maybe it's all down to translation?

  6. On behalf of Olympus, USA, thank you Maiden.