The Ruin

Wrætlic is þes wealstan; wyrde gebræcon

the walls were well made
but doom broke them

these buildings
the sign of strength and power
now collapsed

snapped joists
towers fallen
the work of the architects
the craftsmen
the giants
all tumbled in ruins

their makers long dead
a hundred generations
kingdoms have fallen
fathers and sons passed
yet these wall-stones endure
stained grey and red
with lichen

bright and busy were the buildings
airy concourses
high windowed halls
busy with the sounds of the crowd
workplaces and public spaces
filled with commerce and cheer

doom changed that

slaughter came and pestilence
death took the nation's finest flower
the barracks stood empty
their armies like the roof-tiles
fallen to earth
twisted and broken where they lie

once a host of heroes
flushed with wine
gazed proud in their armour
on the wealth of the world
on gemstones and jewellery
on amber and silver
on this kingly city

it was fitting

but no more


The poem exists on 2 pieces of badly charred vellum. It is thought to refer to the Roman city of Aquae Sulis (modern Bath)—the Anglo-Saxons customarily referred to Roman ruins as "works of the Giants." It was written in about 750 A.D. By this time the Romans, who had ruled Britain for almost half a millennium before the Anglo-Saxons conquered Britain, had been gone for 300 years. The skills and craft necessary for large scale building in stone would not return to these islands till after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Such ruins as this city must have been regarded with awe and wonder.