Chorea Gigantum: A solstitial post
Today being the summer solstice and thinking about Stonehenge and all the Druid-y raucousness that it would have been enjoying today has brought out this latest bout of navel-gazing.
I saw Stonehenge for the first time last November. At least, I think that is the case. I may have driven past it as a child on a family roadtrip, but I don’t recall that ever happening. Besides, as a family we tended to always head north to Scotland for vacations and not to the warmer south where we might be on a route that would take us past Stonehenge. So, yes, I am pretty certain that I saw Stonehenge for the first time last November.
I was briefly back in the UK for a family funeral and feeling disorientated in a different way than the usual; intense jetlag combined with intenser grief, I suppose. Once the funeral was over I headed down to London to stay with a friend before my flight back home. With a spare Monday, and everyone I know in the city hard at work, I decided to take myself off to Salisbury. It was mostly out of a feeling that I should check it off my list of British tourist spots that I never got to round to visiting when living there.
I don’t know what I had expected from the stones. Despite it raining heavily there was still a large number of tourists there and the traffic on the A303 could be both seen and heard. As I mentioned, I was feeling strangely disoriented this trip, not quite myself, and the rain was not helping – I was soon wet to the bone. On the one hand, I could see what the writer Rosemary Hill meant when she wrote of Stonehenge “as a work of art and science,” but on the other hand I couldn’t help think, like a philistine, that the stones were disappointingly small.
“It is a work of art and science, of poetry, astronomy and literature that reflects back to us the centuries that have passed over it. Inigo Jones saw in it a Platonic ideal of architecture. Wordsworth heard echoes of the French Revolutionary wars, while to Charles Darwin it offered a case study in the activity of earthworms. It has been a focus of counter- cultural protest and a once and future symbol of Arthurian romance. These and many other images have sunk deep into our collective memory and travelled on through space and time until today Stonehenge is to be seen in many places far from Salisbury Plain. There are replica or tribute henges from western Nebraska to New Zealand and in other, less expected ways Stonehenge is a transforming presence. In the sculpture of Henry Moore and the planning of Georgian Bath, from William Blake’s Jerusalem to the shopping centre at Milton Keynes, its influence is felt. It is, not least, an ancestor of the modern traffic roundabout.”