‘In Search of Lost Time: Aldhelm and The Ruin’
Abram, Christopher (Robinson College, Cambridge)
Quaestio: Selected Proceedings of the Cambridge Colloquium in Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, Vol. 1 (2000)
The Ruin – which it is almost traditional to describe as a ruin itself, as bad fire damage has obliterated large parts of the text in the Exeter Book – is a meditation on that most Anglo-Saxon of preoccupations: the transitoriness of worldly glory. It takes the form of an extended description of an urban scene which alternates between the physical decay which confronts the poet in the present and an imagining, inspired by this vision, of what the city must have been like in the past. It is a poem of contrasts: between then and now, between a living city and a ruined shell, between the city as a collection of buildings and the city as a body of people with a corporate life. These contrasts serve to build up a unique sense of lost time, for not only does the author of The Ruin construct his own conception of the past, but he does so by examining the past constructions of other people.