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Old English poetry, Codex Exoniensis, The Ruin


Codex Exoniensis, fols. 123b-124b, commonly called The Ruin, is an Old English poem that has suffered both from physical damage, and from a kind of interpretive “damage,” the result of critical resignation in response to the work’s physical condition, revealing itself as much in continued critical acceptance of the work’s title as in continued acceptance of the critical assumption that the work’s total effect is forever lost to us. Enough of the poem’s whole and fragmentary lines exist, however, to confirm the purpose of two distinct emphases that draw attention to a yearning for restoration of the cultural traditions once shaping and stabilizing Roman-occupied Britain. These emphases consist of two perceptual acts in an imagined past. The first is the implicit act of looking forward toward imminent restoration of a Romano-British fortress-city that has suffered cataclysmic destruction at the hand of the barbarian. The second is the implicit act of looking backward from the same imagined temporal vantage point to the fortress-city’s heyday to appreciate fully the various arts, engineering and otherwise, that once, through their mastery and practical application, insured the stability of the nearly-four-hundred-year-long Roman occupation of Britain, making life livable and comfortable for those of the ‘far-flung kingdom’ stationed in Britannia.