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Wondrously ornate is the stone of this wall, shattered by fate; The precincts of the city have crumbled, the ancient work of giants Is fallen into decay.

These are the opening lines of The Ruin, an anonymous poem dated to the 10th century and surviving as part of a manuscript collection of Anglo-Saxon verse in the library of a Cambridge college. It also happens to be the earliest meditation in English on the sensory and imaginative impact created by a writer’s encounter with a building. The poet is fascinated by the moss-grown walls, the scarred tiles, ‘the wide red roof of vaulted beams’ and the skill with which the architect, ‘that bold-minded man’, contrived to bind the soaring columns together with hoops of iron.