A traveller from an antique land views a ruin
Christopher Woodward, an Englishman and Director of the Holburne Museum of Art in Bath, England, has written a beguiling little book entitled In Ruins (Pantheon Books, 2001), complementing an exhibition of the same name and theme at his museum. Go find it at your local library and you will be well rewarded. Rather than a book praising ancient structures and their remains, Woodward gives us instead a visit with those who have seen ruins, a celebration of the ruin as archetype, a portrait of the artist as a Jung man, compassed 'round by mossy slabs now earthbound.
Woodward peeks over the shoulders of those whose path he retraces amongst the ruins of Italy, Greece, and the Near East, artists, poets, and travelers who painted, versed, and lettered their way through the visible remains of the ancient world. Ruins, it seems, are a creative force. Thus Charles Dickens, surveying the sleeping remnants of Roman greatness near the Appian Way at gloomy dusk, wrote (p. 39):
I almost felt as if the sun would never rise again,
but look its last, that night, upon a ruined world.
Thus Shelley, among the Baths of Caracella, found inspiration for Prometheus Unbound (p. 67):
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates.
Thus Woodward himself, viewing the Coliseum in Rome, now tended by keepers who kill weeds, polish rocks, and lock the gates at 6 pm, muses (p. 31):
At nightfall one day in the 1820s Stendahl watched an Englishman ride his horse
through the deserted arena. I wish that could be me.
Why blog this book here, you ask? You know, it wasn't until halfway through In Ruins that it hit me how pervasive is the ruin motif in the Book of Mormon. And, while almost entirely forgotten today, fanciful tales of the former inhabitants of the woodlands of eastern North America, the Moundbuilders, flourished in the 19th century. A creative force, indeed. But I will save further investigation of that interesting theme for another blog. Instead I will give a list of some striking photos of ruins in North America (a theme not covered in Woodward's book), some ancient and some more recent, to illustrate how ruins do, in fact, have more impact on us than we may initially recognize. See what you think.
Great Serpent Mound, Ohio
The Alamo, Texas
Cahokia and Monks Mound, Illinois
Totem Poles, Pacific Northwest and Canada
Petroglyphs and Rock Art, Southwest
Old North Church, Boston ("One if by land, two if by sea")
Appomatox Courthouse, Virginia
Pueblo Ruins, Southwest
USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Horseshoe Canyon, Utah (Anasazi rock art--you gotta see this!)
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico (Pueblo site)
Statute of Liberty, in Paris, in America, in the Future?