It may perhaps not be to everyone’s taste, but I’ve always enjoyed poring over the essay by William Hazlitt entitled “On Going a Journey” if for no other reason than that the author can barely contain his enthusiasm for writing about his travels. He maintains that he likes to journey alone and a great part of his work is devoted to explaining why he enjoys taking solitary excursions, adding “I laugh, I run, I leap, I sing for joy” to emphasise the sheer pleasure that travelling alone gives him.
As you will discover for yourself if you choose to read it, Hazlitt’s essay is brim-full with beautifully-worded observations. He mentions his friendship with the poet Coleridge and he supplies a quote from Fletcher’s sublime poem The Faithful Shepherdess, after which he offers these words of his own: “Had I words and images at command like these, I would attempt to wake the thoughts that lie slumbering on golden ridges in the evening clouds; but at the sight of nature my fancy, poor as it is, droops and closes up its leaves, like flowers at sunset. I can make nothing out on the spot:–I must have time to collect myself.”
One reason I mention this is because I’ve recently been spending time browsing through many of the seven hundred or so essays I wrote about Stonehenge a little while ago. These were for the most part composed within the space of seven years or so and many of them comprised of several thousand words; in turn, many of those posts had many lengthy comments attached to them, but there were also great swathes of material that I composed in draft form that for one reason or another, I never got around to publishing.
I mention all this, in its turn, for several reasons. I see Stonehenge and its landscape as a limitless source of wonderment and subsequent quiet pleasure, while it is in my nature to wish to communicate this pleasure to others by means of my writing. I’ve learned over the years that there is a vast, worldwide audience for this kind of thing, but when I’ve glanced at the online articles dealing with the proposed Stonehenge tunnel, there have been times when I’ve seriously wondered if I’m inhabiting some separate reality or if indeed we’re all talking about the same thing.
While I take full advantage of every possibility that the English language allows me when I’m writing and enthusing about Stonehenge, I suppose my lexicon could be described as poetic or even romantic. I try to see the ruins and the surrounding landscape through the eyes of the Old People, whose world was – I’m certain – ruled over by the Sun, the Moon and the stars, and populated by all manner of supernatural entities. I’m equally certain that it possessed many other qualities that we might regard as strange or otherworldly, but I would be absolutely amazed if anyone connected with Stonehenge in any way from its inception until a few years ago had ever conceived of the place in the way that some of us choose to decsribe it today.
In place of my mentions of William Blake, Druids, sacrifice, shadows, moonlit ceremonies, axe-carvings, aurochs and the like, I find myself reading of strategic objectives, trustees, mission statements, objectives, participation, sustainability, safeguarding and other equally horrific manifestations of our growing obsession with corporate terminology. Where I have written plainly and freely over the years – following Hazlitt’s example – of tourists, sightseers, visitors and even pilgrims to Stonehenge and its landscape, it seems that in all matters of real importance, these people are now paying customers or, God help us, stakeholders. For those wishing to effect meaningful change at Stonehenge, be aware that these grim, impersonal terms are now the lingua franca in which any discussions or negotiations will be conducted, while the halcyon days of English as spoken by poets and even by archaeologists are fast becoming a distant memory.
“Nowadays” is a civilization in which the prime emblems of poetry are dishonoured. In which serpent, lion, and eagle belong to the circus-tent; ox, salmon and boar to the cannery, racehorse and greyhound to the betting ring; and the sacred grove to the saw-mill. In which the Moon is despised as a burned-out satellite of the Earth and woman reckoned as “auxiliary State personnel.” In which money will buy almost anything but truth, and almost anyone but the truth-possessed poet.
Robert Graves, The White Goddess.