The Ring, by Edwin Muir

Nature in wrath . . . is baffling at first. Here Eden is the rich Scottish cultural past, perhaps specially the pre-Reformation literary wealth. The Reformation came to eradicate the folk traditions of the British Isles. In England they threw the Puritans out in the Restoration. In Scotland, however, Knox, whom Muir seems to have hated with bitter intensity, succeeded to some extent in substituting ancient Israel for Scotland’s past, and promoting an industry of rooting out the idolatrous pagan influences from the lowlands.

Why Nature? Look at the animals. They’re not functioning as they have, but quite otherwise. And once you see that you will see why Nature makes sense, for Nature knows no age, not even that of ancient Israel.

The Ring

Long since we were a family, a people,
The legends say; an old kind-hearted king
Was our foster father, and our life a fable.

Nature in wrath broke through the grassy ring
Where all our gathered treasures lay in sleep –
Many a rich and many a childish thing.

She filled with hoofs and horns the quiet keep.
Her herds beat down the turf and nosed the shrine
In bestial wonder, bull and adder and ape,

Lion and fox, all dressed by fancy fine
In human flesh and armed with arrows and spears;
But on the brow of each a secret sign

That haughtily put aside the sorrowful years
Or struck them down in stationary rage;
Yet they had tears that were not like our tears,

And new, all new, for Nature knows no age.
Fatherless, sonless, homeless haunters, they
Had never known the vow and the pilgrimage,

Poured from one fount into the faithless day.
We are their sons, but long ago we heard
Our fathers or our fathers’ fathers say

Out of their dream the long-forgotten word
That rounded again the ring where sleeping lay
Our treasures, still unrusted and unmarred.

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