The Antiquarian’s Nightmare


I wandered o’er a desolate plain
Past tombs of kings; now sprawling mounds
All plundered, out of earthly gain,
By men of rank who rode to hounds
And sought to make their stature rise
By laying bare the heathen dead;
They prayed for gold to sear their eyes
But unearthed brittle bones instead,
Which poor remains, they scattered wide:
Of their proud sepulchre, denied.

A baleful moon then shed her beams
To guide me up an ancient hill
Where towers, wrought in pagan dreams,
Threw monstrous shadows, bleak and chill.
These columns, in a broken ring
Held high their lintels, forming doors
Or portals to some timeless thing
That lurked within, as I, in awe
Stood silent at the threshold bare;
To enter in, I did not dare.


I first published the above verse on August 16, 2009, on my Eternal Idol site, where it remained for some years until Eternal Idol sadly went offline. The verse came into being as a result of me looking at Shelley’s stunning poem Ozymandias in connection with Stonehenge, so I found myself going over Ozymandias in detail again and I was particularly struck by another version, composed at the same time by Shelley’s contemporary Horace Smith, which contained the wonderful lines:

“He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.”

So, to give myself a break and as a mild diversion from the various tasks at hand, I abandoned my laptop in favour of a pen and paper, then attempted a verse of my own, but this time about Stonehenge, not some wreck in the deserts of the East. I don’t think I can hope to compete with Smith, let alone Shelley, but I enjoyed creating it all the same.

For those of you not intimately familiar with Stonehenge, The Antiquarian’s Nightmare refers to the rampages of antiquarians and not-so-antiquarians at the monument and in the landscape it commands. I was also very struck by my own experiences of the ruins, by day and by night, as well as by what a number of archaeologists had to say about the genius loci that some believe persists at Stonehenge, something I seem to remember mentioning in my book The Missing Years of Jesus.

As for the nature of this particular genius loci, Lucan’s Pharsalia contains a vivid description of a Druid priest experiencing a sense of dread by night and by day as he did the rounds in his grove, while one of William Blake’s many observations about Stonehenge was that he saw it as “A building of eternal death, whose proportions are eternal despair.”

Once more, I’m enormously grateful to Aynslie for the painstaking care she’s taken over my archived material, while the same sentiment applies to to Ludwig van Beethoven for his evocation of moonlight and to the inspired Kosmogonic, for dropping by my site earlier, liking a few things he saw and reminding me of the pleasure of writing verse.

This entry was posted in Antiquities, Dead Poets, Language, Magic & the Supernatural, Stonehenge, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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