“…their message of no message across the millennia…”

This remarkable, profound, and challenging piece of writing by Sam Kriss is well worth reading from beginning to end. 

Its fundamental point, at least as I understood it -- that our attempts to understand the distant past and its remnants, from our viewpoint as blip-in-human-history, are futile, and that listening is all we can do -- puts me in mind of a poem I wrote back in 2006, as a reflection on the experience of visiting Castlerigg stone circle in Cumbria. 

I'd visited Castlerigg a lot over the three years previously. It was only a short detour off my route home from team meetings in Ambleside, and after my first visit, I was hooked. 

I don't usually feel very much at stone circles. They are majestic, extraordinary, amazing achievements of human will and ingenuity, but most of them lack any kind of energetic or spiritual pull for me. Castlerigg is different, and I tried to capture some of the awe, inspiration, and loss I felt there in this poem:


We weave our way between the sheep --
trailing wool from their necks, as if a shepherd
had begun peeling it off in pieces, and then
given up -- and lean against this rock
among rocks resting on bedrock,

a titled circle, bringing earth to sky.
Smooth stone stands in for human
forms short, tall, moss- and lichen-cloaked,
volcanic glitter covered but not dulled.
Did it shine for those who placed it here?

How like a sunstruck fire then, or
a glistening dragon's spine,
curled around its horde.
But these many hues of green, the brown
of earth and dung, the mineral, the clouded greys,

these are no different: the shades
the nameless builders saw who cut
and placed this stone, I see

and my view tilts, a vertigo
of generations, footstep upon footstep,
massing under the empty hills. I feel:

their grief for those who breathe, that we
are not yet married to the land,
joined in union with the loam, communion
with the layers thick of lives
and deaths gone before;

the heart-soreness of living
that history cannot erase, only
remove to such distance, alone
the voices of stone can be heard,
and cannot be translated.

We hear only the wind around our hoods,
the bleating of sheep,
see only a curio, a wonder,
dry and bare: the bone
and blood and flesh are gone.

© 2006 Elinor Prędota

Image credit: photograph by Prof saxx

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