Popova on Woolf

I’m still absorbing yesterday’s Terrible Poem Breakdown and its use of the Druid. I still kind of like the poem! Undeniably terrible, but even so. Terrible poems with druids are not all bad. (Please don’t try to prove me wrong, poets!)

Running through some research on the druids, I came across Maria Popova’s look at Virginia Woolf’s visit to Stonehenge:

In August of 1903, young Woolf journeyed to visit Stonehenge — the legendary prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, which archaeologists believe was built sometime between 3000 BC and 2000 BC by a culture that left no written records and which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. From A Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897–1909 (public library) — which also gave us the beloved writer on imitation and the arts, the glory of the human mind, and the joy of music and dance — comes 21-year-old Woolf’s beautiful account of visiting the mysterious monument.

Fans of Woolf will enjoy this book – and with passages like these who can blame them!

There are theories I know — without end; & we, naturally, made a great many fresh, & indisputable discoveries of our own. The most attractive, & I suppose most likely, is that some forgotten people built here a Temple where they worshipped the sun; there is a rugged pillar someway out side the circle whose peak makes exactly that point on the rim of the earth where the sun rises in the summer solstice. And there is a fallen stone in the middle, longer & larger than the other hewn rocks it lies among which may have been an altar — & the moment the sun rose the Priest of that savage people slaughtered his victim here in honour of the Sun God. We certainly saw the dent of his axe in the stone. Set up the pillars though in some other shape, & we have an entirely fresh picture; but the thing that remains in ones mind, whatever one does, is the stupendous mystery of it all. Man has done nothing to change Salisbury plain since these stones were set here; they have seen sunrise & moonrise over those identical swells & ridges for — I know not how many thousand years.

This is Woolf at her best: wondrous and awestruck, yet fully in command of her own intelligence and perspicacity. I want to visit Stonehenge! And to read Virginia Woolf all over again! Thank you, Maria Popova.

And now, for someone around my age, and for whom Stonehenge can only conjure up one possible thing (and those of you who know who you are know exactly what that is, and have been smiling for several paragraphs), this passage by Woolf:

I suddenly looked ahead, & saw with the start with which one sees in real life what ones eye has always known in pictures, the famous circle of Stonehenge. Pictures give one no idea of size; & I had imagined something on a much larger scale.

Oh YES, Virginia!!!

Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins know exactly how you feel.

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