Wednesday, December 26, 2007
My feelings towards the book are mixed, I know his writing from Secret of My Heart and Life in the fields, the former book being an emotionally intense desire to reach the very essence of his soul, the latter a joyous hymn to the intricate wonders of nature.
But what of Wild England, following his mind for me is easy, so here he is constructing a fabled barbaric England from his own beloved landscape, the hero, or perhaps anti-hero, Felix is probably himself. The setting is an Iron age depiction of small territories dominated by overlords, this is not Wm Morris's utopian vision of News From Nowhere, in Jefferies book wild men haunt the forests and woods, slaves serve the illiterate noblemen, there are several castes of people. The shepherds in the hills, the gypsies, the barbaric men in the woods, and lastly small despotic kingdoms carefully guarding the remains of old iron tools, pieces of glass, fragments of manuscripts.
This is the fall of civilisation as seen from a nineteenth century viewpoint, It is a fall of the new industrial Victorian rise to power and domination. He centres this fall on London, for it is here that the worst has happened. Nature has taken over England, impenetrable forests, a great lake sits at its heart, stretching down from the City (which was once Oxford) though now it has a different name, right through the heart of the West country down to London. The lake is a beautiful place with forests down to its sweet waters but when it approaches the great city of London terrible things have happened.
A great sulphorous yellow mist hangs for miles across this last stretch of the Lake, to enter it is to court death. No animal or bird life lives, the waters are black and oily, vegetation rank and dying, great bubbles of noxious gas escape the waters every now and then. London has descended into an evil marsh land, sinking into the depths of its own sewers and basements. Felix enters this terrible landscape at one point and Jefferies eloquently describes how Felix walks across a ground black with a sooty deposit, the remains of long dead people. He touches buildings that crumble to dust, and a great sense of lassitude that is brought on by the foul air, makes him stumble and walk with his back bent.
But perhaps I should go back to the beginning of the story, I have described Felix as an anti-hero, he is the eldest son of a nobleman in Aquila, but he is no brave knight, he would rather read the few precious manuscripts that still exist, or draw his ideas for new fangled inventions. He is often bad tempered and because he is poor, miserable with his lot in life. He loves Aurora who lives in the kingdom of Thyma but he is not seen as a suitable suitor. At the beginning of the book he manages to construct a boat, for he wants to sail round the Lake, which is of course unmapped and discover its length and breadth.
The whole environment of the landscape is painted as hostile, wild dogs, there are three different types that have evolved that now haunt the woods, are liable to attack. Wild pigs and boars are also prolific in the woods and forests, and then there are the human dangers, the Bush men, who, happen to use poison on the tips of their weapons, his material for his fiction writing can be found in the books that he has read.
The Lake must centre on his beloved Coate, and its waters, and sailing on a boat there in his childhood. Here in the book he has changed Coate Waters to an uncharted large inland lake, fed by rivers, dotted with small islands and ringed with cliffs and beaches, in which he, our intrepid hero would sail around and explore. He has adventures on the way, meets with humiliations, but in the end he triumphs.
His braveness in sailing into the terrible territory of London earns him respect and leadership amongst the shepherds that live in the hills. He becomes their overlord, and can muster 8000 men to his service, but he refuses to be their leader, only asking of the tribal elders that he should be their leader in war should it happen. In the final chapter we see him heading back to Thyma to Aurora, for he has found a territory to settle in and build a tower, and the last words are of him setting out through the forest to bring her back.
My mixed feeling for the book comes from that which is brilliant in his description of the landscape and the different world he has conjured up, to perhaps some of the things that he draws upon which are rather imitations of other books. But overall the story is captivating and warrants a full reading from beginning to end to uncover a mind that rebelled against the society he lived within. A mind that constructed another world, not necessarily better, but a different world in which our hero could change some of the injustices and cruelty that abided there.
A poem by Jeremy Hooker - Landscape of the Daylight Moon
Jeremy Hooker is a great admirer of Richard Jefferies and has compiled some of his essays into a book which can be found at Green Books.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Two more days than it will all be over - thank goodness, everyone will rush out to the sales and life will return to normal. The year has turned the corner, and the days will slowly become light again. Flowers will return, emerging from under the dark soggy leaves. I cannot wait for the return of flowers, the last winter rose hangs forlornly on the trellis but soon there will primroses, ice cold snowdrops, the mauve crocuses with yellow hearts that have been spreading slowly over the years. Dark tips of tulips push up from the earth, hanging catkins from the hazel tree.
This last weekend has been cold, but with marvellous skies in the morning. Dawn, that spiritual time between dark and light is extraodinarily beautiful at this time of year. The great wide skies viewed from the Downs, is a slowly changing painting of colour and shape. The full moon on Saturday, illuminated by the rising sun, had a soft rose pink hue, so different from its cold white colour, it was almost a pale sister of the the sun. Both sun and moon figure together during the winter months, the sun never quite managing to push the moon out of the sky.
Twice over the weekend I have seen the golden plovers leaving their night nesting ground, they rise as one, perfect timing makes their flight an aerobatic wonder, the sound of their wings as they fly overhead is a soft swoosh but you can just hear the sound of an individual wingbeat and the sweet solitary call of - who knows - perhaps their leader.
Propped on my window is a print of "The Uffington Parade" and I am reminded of hares and Wayland Smith and the White Horse that gallops across the hills away from his Manger. She might belong to the goddess Epona, a swift sure footed creature, symbol of power and freedom, the wild exhultation of the wind and the sweetly flowered pastures that she gallops over, summer in full riot, in the print the sun merges with the moon as does the night and day sky and stars float haphazardly over Silbury, the long linking Ridgeway melding the wondrous act of nature with long dead people who over the centuries have created this small piece of the Earth.
Bluebells in the hedgerow
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Ashen Hill Barrows 'excavated' by Skinner
Triumphant Death on his pale horse,
Hath boundless power to slay,
With hunger, sword, or sad remorse,
Whate'er returns to clay.
But still all Nature pleads in strains,
Which touch the tender heart,
Oh! Spurn not, spurn not the remains,
Of those who've felt the dart!
A grave the Patriarchs demand,
As strangers for their race,
The pyramids in Egypt's land,
Proclaim a resting place.
A lofty mound of earth declares
And who shall disregard their pains
Or funeral rites impair.
for sacred are those spots of ground,
Which to the dead we give,
At the last day the trump shall sound,
And their dry bones shall live.
Eight Ashen Hill barrows with the Nine barrows to the right of Moss
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Friday, December 14, 2007
The Words of Finn
gáeth ard úar,
It is interesting to see the original Irish and the english translation,, which is a 'near' translation not an equivalent. Language is first and foremost a spoken medium, a storytelling occasion filled with the drama of the words, celtic and saxon bards would use the darkened halls lit only by firelight and candles to convey the strong impressionistic flavour of winter and its rawness.
Belling is descriptive of the noise of the animal, and it occurs in a Celtic tale told of a giant of a man with one eye and only one foot. He is probably a local god modelled on Cernunnos, the stag-headed god.
The story goes that Cynos approaches this giant of a man and asks him "what power he had over the animals". The giant replies 'I will show you little man' upon which he strikes a stag a mighty blow till it gave out a might belling, and in answer to its belling wild animals came till they were as numerous as the stars, a rather beautiful analogy as the animals gathered around.
The giant tells the animals not to graze and and then they 'bowed down their heads and did him obeisance, even as humble servants would do to their lord' These stories were already being interwoven with the christian stories, the myths stranding together.
The Peaked Red One or The Man in the Tree;
There is one more celtic story to tell, this again features Finn, who was walking through a wood one day and happened to spy a man sitting at the top of a tree. A blackbird on his right shoulder, and in his left hand a bronze vessel filled with water, in which swam a skittish trout, and a stag at the bottom of the tree. The man would crack a nut, half of which he ate himself the other half he gave to the blackbird. Then he would take an apple out of the bronze vessel, half of which he ate himself the other half he threw to the stag below. Then he would take a sip of the water in the vessel, as did the stag and the blackbird - they would all drink together.
The followers of Finn asked who this disguised hooded man was. Ann Ross speculates that this 'nurturer of animals' could be attributed to Cernunnos again or the romano-celtic god Vosegus, who has some of the attributes of the man in the tree.
and Grigson's own words on winter...
As I have a slightly different routine on monday for walking the dog, I walk nearer home up the slopes of the Lansdown. My walk takes me through several fields to Primrose Hill Wood, a newly established 25 acre wood situated midway between Beckford Tower and Weston.
On saturday I had driven to Braythwaite in freezing weather, a hawk had been sitting hunched and cold on a wire, normally he can be seen hovering with that perfect precision in the wind holding a perfect balance between earth and sky. Half a minute later two great buzzards swooped over the car, the feathered tips of their wings marking their great wingspan. I felt their hunger in the cold morning as they scouted for food. But Monday's weather was misty as we set up the hill.
View towards Kelston Round Hill
Moss in a renactment of last week when he lost a ball down a drain at the end of a track, managed to do it once more to his absolute astonishment, he gazed somewhat disbelievingly into the drain that now holds two of his unretrievable balls.A stick though will be found and his walk will bounce along in its normal way. The path through the fields is well used by walkers and MOD people who work at the old Foxhill outpost along the top of the Lansdown.
Coming up to Primrose Wood you are met by a steel gate fitted into the deer fence that surrounds the wood, there are many deer that live up on the slopes of the Lansdown, the land is not heavily farmed and they range quite freely.
The trees in the wood are now 10 to 12 foot high, and are growing strongly. There has been a 'suburban' hand in the choice and planting of shrubs and trees, a formality that jars one's expectation of a proper wood.
The above shot is of the Lansdown, but there was once a barrow lurking just under the ridge on Flock Down somewhere, excavated in the 1960s by boys from the Royal School.
Moss by cotoneaster bush in Primrose Hill Wood
The trust has hung up notices asking for wild plants for insect life such as butterflies. Hemp agrimony I have in the garden and also Dames Violet, or Hesperis Matronalis to give it a more stately name, so next spring I will leave some there. The leaves are off the trees, except for the bright golden yellow of the larch firs, it is just a tracery of branches everywhere with the strong red wands of dogwood shrubs lining the path.
Primrose Wood is part of the linking corridor of woods that are part of the national reforesting scheme, Shiner's Wood under Kelston Hill is another newly planted wood, it will take many years before they achieve maturity and then decline with decaying grace as the old woods do that cling to steep escarpments.
On the way back I meet a dogwalking friend, and as we go through an old iron post gate on the path, he points out deer hair. Apparently last week a frightened deer had tried to force its ways through the 6 inch bars and had of course got jammed. The RSPCA came and hooded the little creature and then with a car jack forced the iron bars wide releasing the trapped animal.
Monday, December 10, 2007
The West Kennet longbarrow sightline of Silbury has to be viewed from the far end of the barrow.....
Walking down from East Kennet longbarrow, and according to my photo the sightline just touches the ledge.
Overton bronze age barrow; the top of Silbury glimpsed through the trees
Silbury seen from The Sanctuary, again a sightline can be discerned.
Silbury from Avebury Truesloe - a beautiful sightline - but was it meant?
Its in the last of the photographs that an uncomfortable truth is revealed, the fact is that it would have easier to build Silbury on the flat ground here, at Avebury Truesloe but the Avebury people chose otherwise. They chose to build near the foot of Waden Hill, near to where the river curves round to join the spring at Swallowhead. It would seem that they were focussing on water, this was the central hub for the mound. True as Devereux points out that Silbury links up with all the major monuments in the area from this point except of course for the great stone circle, (though of course even here the mound can be viewed from the Obelisk site.) but the emphasis is surely on water.
The truth is we do not know the final height of the mound, it could easily have been higher, and levelled at a later date by the Saxons. The same goes for the ledge that Devereux uses in his thesis, this also could have been dug out by the Saxons as fortifications.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
A game of Henge, my masters?
Do you see Hangman? Or
It's your move. You're in the ring
You want out? Good - that's
And whichever world you stumble into
Thumbing through my Flick'r account looking at photos last week, I came across the following comment which had been posted a few days ago. The photo is of a ridge with rocks protruding that reminded me of teeth, and absentmindly I had tagged it that it reminded me of Denke G. His theory of Stonehenge, or at least his dentist ancestor theories of the 17th century is another of those speculations that is worth collecting.I question his statement that ring ouzels and snow buntings are common migrants to Wales, but there again his Stonehenge theory is also very questionable.
Composed of hard Ordovician shale and mudstone compressed into slates with scattered fragments of rhyolite and dolerite - the famous bluestone that forms the inner ring of German dentist, historian and antiquarian Dr. Garry W. Denke's (1622-1699) great white shark teeth of Stonehenge - the Preseli Hills are the highest hills in Pembroke.The crag of Carn Menyn is the source of the Stonehenge pillars and nearby Bedd Arthur is the Preseli's own, rather unusual, eye-shaped stone circle.
There's a memorial to Welsh language poet Waldo Williams at Mynachlogddu. If you're lucky to get clear weather, you'll be able to see north to the Lleyn peninsula and west to the hills of Co. Wicklow in Ireland.
Keep your eyes peeled on the hill though as the bird life, particularly in the winter months, can be remarkable with living clouds of starlings congregating to roost there.Also look out for hunting buzzards and sparrowhawks. In the spring ring ouzel and snow bunting are common migrants.
Much of the upland is boggy and, as a result, very acidic so you can find rare acid tolerant plants like fir clubmoss, liverwort, ferns and orchids with insects like the marsh fritillary butterfly and the southern damselfly. Heather carpets the drier heathland in late summer look out for buzzards, kestrels, curlews, ravens and skylarks.
A very nice photo, thank you much.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
A hymn to summer days
as I walked over the weekend in driving rain and wind, I remembered reading in Jefferies essays about the "harp of the earth" the natural sounds of the world around. Listening to the wind through the different branches of trees is something we should all do, even as it whistles in a storm and the rain beats down....
All the procession of living and growing things passes. The grass stands up taller and still taller, the sheaths open, and the stalk arises, the pollen clings till the breeze sweeps it. The bees rush past, and the resolute wasps; the humble-bees, whose weight swings them along. About the oaks and maples the brown chafers swarm; and the fern-owls at dusk,and the blackbirds and jays by day, cannot reduce their legions while they last. Yellow butterflies, and white, broad red admirals, and sweet blues; think of the kingdom of flowers which is theirs! Heavy moths burring at the edge of the copse; green, and red, and gold flies: gnats, like smoke, around the tree-tops; midges so thick over the brook, as if you could haul a netful; tiny leaping creatures in the grass; bronze beetles across the path; blue dragonflies pondering on cool leaves of water-plantain. Blue jays flitting, a magpie drooping across from elm to elm; young rooks that have escaped the hostile shot blundering up into the branches; missel thrushes leading their fledglings, already strong on the wing, from field to field. An egg here on the sward dropped by a starling; a red ladybird creeping, tortoise-like, up a green fern frond.Finches undulating through the air, shooting themselves with closed wings, and linnets happy with their young.
Golden dandelion discs--gold and orange--of a hue more beautiful, I think, than the higher and more visible buttercup. A blackbird, gleaming,so black is he, splashing in the runlet of water across the gateway. A ruddy kingfisher swiftly drawing himself as you might draw a stroke witha pencil, over the surface of the yellow buttercups, and away above the hedge. Hart's-tongue fern, thick with green, so green as to be thick with its colour, deep in the ditch under the shady hazel boughs. White meadow-sweet lifting its tiny florets, and black-flowered sedges. You must push through the reed grass to find the sword-flags; the stout willow-herbs will not be trampled down, but resist the foot like underwood. Pink lychnis flowers behind the withy stoles, and little black moorhens swim away, as you gather it, after their mother, who has dived under the water-grass, and broken the smooth surface of the duckweed.Yellow loosestrife is rising, thick comfrey stands at the very edge; the sandpipers run where the shore is free from bushes. Back by the underwood the prickly and repellent brambles will presently present us with fruit.For the squirrels the nuts are forming, green beech mast is there--green wedges under the spray; up in the oaks the small knots, like bark rolled up in a dot, will be acorns. Purple vetches along the mounds, yellow lotus where the grass is shorter, and orchis succeeds to orchis. As Iwrite them, so these things come--not set in gradation, but like the broadcast flowers in the mowing-grass.
Now follows the gorse, and the pink rest-harrow, and the sweet lady's-bedstraw, set as it were in the midst of a little thorn-bush. The broad repetition of the yellow clover is not to be written; acre upon acre, and not one spot of green, as if all the green had been planed away, leaving only the flowers to which the bees come by the thousand from far and near. But one white campion stands in the midst of the lake of yellow. The field is scented as though a hundred hives of honey had been emptied on it. Along the mound by it the bluebells are seeding, the hedge has been cut and the ground is strewn with twigs. Among those seeding bluebells and dry twigs and mosses I think a titlark has his nest, as he stays all day there and in the oak over. The pale clear yellow of charlock, sharp and clear, promises the finches bushels of seed for their young. Under the scarlet of the poppies the larks run, and then for change of colour soar into the blue. Creamy honeysuckle on the hedge around the cornfield, buds of wild rose everywhere, but no sweet petal yet. Yonder, where the wheat can climb no higher up the slope, are the purple heath-bells, thyme and flitting stonechats.
The lone barn shut off by acres of barley is noisy with sparrows. It is their city, and there is a nest in every crevice, almost under every tile. Sometimes the partridges run between the ricks, and when the bats come out of the roof, leverets play in the waggon-track. At even a fern-owl beats by, passing close to the eaves whence the moths issue. On the narrow waggon-track which descends along a coombe and is worn in chalk, the heat pours down by day as if an invisible lens in the atmosphere focussed the sun's rays. Strong woody knapweed endures it, so does toadflax and pale blue scabious, and wild mignonette. The very sun of Spain burns and burns and ripens the wheat on the edge of the coombe,and will only let the spring moisten a yard or two around it; but there a few rushes have sprung, and in the water itself brooklime with blue flowers grows so thickly that nothing but a bird could find space to drink. So down again from this sun of Spain to woody coverts where the wild hops are blocking every avenue, and green-flowered bryony would fain climb to the trees; where grey-flecked ivy winds spirally about the red rugged bark of pines, where burdocks fight for the footpath, and teazle-heads look over the low hedges. Brake-fern rises five feet high; in some way woodpeckers are associated with brake, and there seem more of them where it flourishes. Ifyou count the depth and strength of its roots in the loamy sand, add the thickness of its flattened stem, and the width of its branching fronds, you may say that it comes near to be a little tree. Beneath where the ponds are bushy mare's-tails grow, and on the moist banks jointed pewterwort;
Ladies bedstraw on Stoney Littleton