Friday, November 07, 2008

The Ruin

Earlier this week Mrs Plinius had a well earned rest from some intense work issues and traveled to Bath to take the waters. Her trip reminded me that one of the most intriguing old poems in English, 'The Ruin', mentions the old Roman baths as they appeared in the eighth century. The poem's narrator wonders through the remnants of an old city and sees 'i þær þa baþu wæron, hat on hreþre' (where the baths were, hot at hall's hearth).

I first read this poem in Michael Alexander's anthology The Earliest English Poems (1966) where he says that 'the city of the poem is Aquae Sulis, the Roman Bath, and we may imagine the anonymous author walking about the overgrown streets... the first of many English meditations on old stones.' Another translation can be read at the Anglo-Saxon Poetry Project - 'roofs are fallen, ruinous towers, / the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged, / chipped roofs are torn, fallen, / undermined by old age...'

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