Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Wood anemone

The following words comes from a book called "soliloquies of a Chalk Giant" by Jeremy Hooker, the giant in question being of course the Cerne Abbas one in Dorset. Its only a small book of reminiscences by the giant brooding on his hill, it seems rather funny this thinly cut effigy scored into the chalk talking to himself as history goes by but it appeals to a sense of fun. The following poem reminds me of Snyders wide falling of words as he traces the evolution of the landscape and history in his native America. Here in this country our smaller landscapes also capture in miniature the faint traces of history, its is like turning the pages of an old book, the words are all but faded but now and then a word will be revealed, and so it is with history on the landscape a faint echo still to be found.

A memorial of its origins, chalk in barns and churches
moulders in rain and damp; petrified creatures swim in
in its depths.

It is domestic, with the homeliness of an ancient
hearth exposed to the weather, pale with the ash of
countless primeval fires . Here the plough grates on an
urnfield, the green plover stands with crest erect on a
royal mound.

Chalk is the moon's stone; the skeleton is native to its
soil. It looks anaemic, but has submerged the type-sites
of successive cultures. Stone,bronze, iron; all are assimilated to its nature;
and the hill-forts follow its curves.

These, surely, are the works of giants; temples
re-dedicated to the sky-god, spires fashioned for the
lords of bowmen;

Spoils of the worn idol, squat Venus of the mines.

Druids leave their shops in the midsummer solstice;
neophytes tread an antic measure to the antlered god.
Men who tresspass are soon absorbed, horns laid beside
them in the ground. The burnt-out tank waits beside
the barrow.

The god is a graffito carved on the belly of the chalk,
his savage gesture subdued by the stuff of his creation.
He is taken up like a gaunt white doll by the round hills,
wrapped around by the long pale hair of the fields.

Historically there is no evidence of the date of when the Cerne Abbas giant was originally scratched into the chalk, some would say that like the great white Uffington Horse he belongs to an iron age and is a tribal emblem, Hooker says that just as the 'beaked ' Uffington Horse-Goddess is similar to the horses on Durotriges (dwellers by the water) coins, the giant's depiction can also be found on similar coins..
If as Hooker says, he comes from this time than he must be Helith - "In which district the god Helith was once worshipped" This comes form an old document, and is part of his legend. Helith, an iron age god who takes his name from Hercules. Romano-Britains would have adopted and changed the old roman god to fit their own religion.
Augustine's mission in 601 AD seemed to have renamed him as Cerno El, the pagan saxons renaming him as Heil. But apparently during the saxon period he shared his valley with another god whose neophytes purified the waters that had long been sacred. This reminds me of Silbury with the water and springs that surround her, but of course we have no gods names for her that have travelled down through history which is sad.
But to conclude, here is Hooker's meaning for the words Helith....

"Helith; that is holy stone - or a corruption of Helios, maybe the sun. A sunstone, pediment in earth. The ground is dense with holy names; Elwood, Elston hill, Elwell, Yelcombe (y l cwm). Was there a standing stone on Elston Hill before Helith was fleshed out below the Trendle: Where beth they, beforen us weren? Make your enquiry of the dust, I make no enquiry there. Give me a living name"

No comments:

Post a Comment