Friday, July 24, 2015

Many a meadhall filled with men’s joys,

I have referenced the wonderful antique riddles of The Exeter Book in the past. The Exeter Book is almost like an ancient file folder, many disparate items bound together. One of these is a poem, The Ruins, in Old English which is widely assumed to reflect an ancient Briton's (circa 800) view of the shattered remnants of Imperial Rome in the British Isles, probably Bath. You can sense Tolkien reflecting these visions.

The pages are damaged and, appropriate to its theme of decay and despair, it peters into oblivion at the end.

The Ruin

Wondrous is this foundation – the fates have broken
and shattered this city; the work of giants crumbles.
The roofs are ruined, the towers toppled,
frost in the mortar has broken the gate,
torn and worn and shorn by the storm, 5
eaten through with age. The earth’s grasp
holds the builders, rotten, forgotten,
the hard grip of the ground, until a hundred
generations of men are gone. This wall, rust-stained
and covered with moss, has seen one kingdom after another,
stood in the storm, steep and tall, then tumbled.
The foundation remains, felled by the weather,
it fell…..
grimly ground up ….
……cleverly created….
…… a crust of mud surrounded …
….. put together a swift
and subtle system of rings; one of great wisdom
wondrously bound the braces together with wires.
Bright were the buildings, with many bath-houses,
high noble gables and a great noise of armies,
many a meadhall filled with men’s joys,
until mighty fate made an end to all that.
The slain fell on all sides, plague-days came,
and death destroyed all the brave swordsmen; 25
the seats of their idols became empty wasteland,
the city crumbled, its re-builders collapsed
beside their shrines. So now these courts are empty,
and the rich vaults of the vermilion roofs
shed their tiles. The ruins toppled to the ground,
broken into rubble, where once many a man
glad-minded, gold-bright, bedecked in splendor,
proud, full of wine, shone in his war-gear,
gazed on treasure, on silver, on sparkling gems,
on wealth, on possessions, on the precious stone,
9 35
on this bright capital of a broad kingdom.
Stone buildings stood, the wide-flowing stream
threw off its heat; a wall held it all
in its bright bosom where the baths were,
hot in its core, a great convenience.
They let them gush forth …..
the hot streams over the great stones,
until the circular pool …. hot…
…..where the baths were.
….. that is a noble thing,
how …. the city ….

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