Srinivasan 1

Dualism and Destruction in “The Ruin” and “Pompeii”

Transience is a dominant theme in human history, with various civilizations having ebbed

and flowed with the passage of time. When reminiscing about the past, however, most literary

works tend to conformingly accept and lament transience instead of analyzing its potential roots.

This trend, nevertheless, is broken by certain exceptions, two notable ones being the Old English

poem “The Ruin” and Bastille’s song “Pompeii”. Through the juxtaposition of imagery and the

use of critical diction, “The Ruin” and “Pompeii” explore themes of dualism and in doing so

suggest that greed and human vice are the real causes behind the destruction of civilization.

Both “The Ruin” and “Pompeii” examine the extreme dualism of mankind’s existence,

and in doing so imply that mankind’s material obsession inevitably results in his condemned fate.

Throughout “The Ruin”, many instances of juxtaposition are used to contrast the grand glory of

the former city to lifeless ruins, leaving the reader to wonder why the civilization went out of

existence in the first place. The poem begins with the two lines, “Wondrous is this foundation –

the fates have broken / and shattered this city; the work of giants crumbles” (“The Ruin”, 1-2). In

these two lines, the reader does not even have a whole line to conjure a picturesque image of the

grand city; his thoughts are interrupted by the harsh interjection of destructive imagery. The

poem goes on to juxtapose more antithetical imagery with the lines, “Many a meadhall filled

with men’s joys, / until mighty fate made an end to all that” (22-23). Interestingly, the majority of

the juxtaposition in this poem is between images of wealth and those of ruin. Through such

comparison, the author of the poem makes a subtle statement that extreme wealth and extreme

poverty are the only two stages of existence for mankind, and that the two are intimately linked.

This comparison, while seemingly paradoxical, makes great sense in the context of dualism;

great loss inevitably follows great gain, and vice versa. Furthermore, the emphatic diction in

such diction indirectly portrays the author’s critical attitude towards the inhabitants of the city. Immediately following the line however is a picture of sudden doom. “I was left to my own devices / Many days fell away with nothing to show” (“Pompeii”. and one that ties together the aforementioned dualism of mankind’s existence. “The earth’s grasp / holds the builders. suggests an abundance of wealth and leisure prior to the destruction of the city. in this way. In addition to analyzing the dual nature of mankind’s existence. and the use of such diction in this context also hints at a sense of righteousness carried by the author. “The ruins toppled to the ground. Such interplay between ‘everything’ and ‘nothing’ is also examined in the song “Pompeii”. but follows the description up with the line. the initial stanza illustrates the decay of civilization with. In “The Ruin”. The direct juxtaposition of wealthy homes that were not practically built with simple homes that stood the test of time mirrors a fable. “And the walls kept tumbling down” (3). where once many a man / glad-minded. / broken into rubble. “The Ruin” and “Pompeii” demonstrate a dual nature to mankind’s destruction – both in the physical and spiritual sense. having built nothing of importance. 1-2). such as “fell away” and “nothing”. rotten. stated as. Critical diction here. “Stone buildings stood” (38). one that expounds a moral lesson where men with the most wealth are doomed to lose the most. In other words. The citizens. forgotten. The use of harsh and critical diction is . Srinivasan 2 these lines with the use of the adjective “mighty” shows the author’s reverence for fate. The reader can see more evidence of a round circle of justice inevitably dooming the citizens where the poem states. The beginning of the song starts with. and the idea that the occupants may have reaped what they sowed. 6-9). / the hard grip of the ground / until a hundred generations of men are gone” (“The Ruin”. are ultimately left with nothing of importance. the author points that the destruction of civilization is a self-fulfilled prophecy. gold-bright. bedecked in splendor” (31-33).

hedonism. The ultimate reference to the duality of the city’s destruction. “The seats of their idols became empty wasteland. what does that tell the reader about his views on the common people? Beyond its dark imagery. the words “empty wasteland” can also take on a dualistic meaning where the idols bore no long-lasting fruit. but here it literally describes the cause of death for the citizens of Pompeii – suffocation by volcanic ash. for their transient and trivial philosophies died out with them. Srinivasan 3 especially evident with words such as “rotten”. “But if you close your eyes. with its people as insignificant as a rotting corpse. The voice of the song describes how there is “nothing to show”. The chorus of the song then follows. Such a dual nature of destruction is strongly pointed at in the song “Pompeii”. however. emphasizing that the physical destruction does not absolve the citizens of their prior immorality. is in the line. “Oh where do we begin? / The rubble or our sins?” (29-30). Along with the juxtaposition of imagery. 15-16). If the author believes the idols are insignificant. ‘Settling dust’ typically refers to a bad situation clearing up. its re-builders collapsed / beside their shrines” (26-28). an analogy to this situation would be a person bound forever in hell due to their vices in a previous life. / the city crumbled. “We were caught up and lost in all of our vices / In your pose as the dust settled around us” (“Pompeii”. / Does it almost feel like / Nothing changed at all?” (7-9). Critical diction is notably evident in the form of the repeated use of “nothing”. and “crumbled”. and ignorance in mankind. The biggest evidence of such an opinion comes in the lines. It is thus left arguable to the reader . with such a pose coming to symbolize vice. there is a double meaning hidden within the prose. the citizens are locked forever in their “pose”. the citizens might have outlasted physical destruction – or even avoided it altogether. the author indicates that had they not doomed themselves in the spiritual sense. With a regretful tone. in the lines. In this way. “forgotten”. Such word choice indicates that the author thought of the civilization as weak. and that “nothing has changed”.

Srinivasan 4 whether the greater destruction occurred in the spoiled potential of the citizens or in the engulfment of a city by volcanic ash. . it is built through works of magnanimity and a focus on inner wealth. but they are legendary for the manner in which they have died. These two literary works show readers that true legacy is not built by temporary foundations such as unsustainable hedonism. the poem “The Ruin” and the song “Pompeii” use juxtaposition of imagery and critical diction to emphasize the self- fulfilling and moral nature of the destruction of the city-goers. a type of wealth that will stand uncorrupted through the tests of time. Instead of superficially emphasizing the transience of mankind. The two cities may be legendary. not for what they have actually accomplished.