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Three soldiers. Image by kind permission of Ms D Smillie
We burrowed night and day with tools of lead,
Heaped the bank up and cast it in a ring
And hurled the earth above. And Caesar said,
“Why, it is excellent. I like the thing.”
We, who are dead,
Made it, and wrought, and Caesar liked the thing.
And here we strove, and here we felt each vein
Ice-bound, each limb fast-frozen, all night long.
And here we held communion with the rain
That lashed us into manhood with its thong,
Cleansing through pain.
And the wind visited us and made us strong.
Up from around us, numbers without name,
Strong men and naked, vast, on either hand
Pressing us in, they came. And the wind came
And bitter rain, turning grey all the land
That was our game,
To fight with men and storms, and it was grand.
For many days we fought them, and our sweat
Watered the grass, making it spring up green,
Blooming for us. And, if the wind was wet,
Our blood wetted the wind, making it keen
With the hatred
And wrath and courage that our blood had been.
So, fighting men and winds and tempests, hot
With joy and hate and battle-lust, we fell
Where we fought. And God said, “Killed at last then?
Ye that are too strong for heaven, too clean for hell,
(God said) stir not.
This be your heaven, or, if ye will, your hell.”
So again we fight and wrestle, and again
Hurl the earth up and cast it in a ring.
But when the wind comes up, driving the rain
(Each rain-drop a fiery steed), and the mists rolling
Up from the plain,
This wild procession, this impetuous thing.
Hold us amazed. We mount the wind-cars, then
Whip up the steeds and drive through all the world,
Searching to find somewhere some brethren,
Sons of the winds and waters of the world.
We, who were men,
Have sought, and found no men in all this world.
Wind, that has blown here always ceaselessly,
Bringing, if any man can understand,
Might to the mighty, freedom to the free;
Wind, that has caught us, cleansed us, made us grand,
Wind that is we
(We that were men)—make men in all this land,
That so may live and wrestle and hate that when
They fall at last exultant, as we fell,
And come to God, God may say, “Do you come then
Mildly enquiring, is it heaven or hell?
Why! Ye were men!
Back to your winds and rains. Be these your heaven and hell!”
Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915)
The Giant, Cerne Abbas in 1790 by Samuel Hieronymous Grimm
The god is a graffito carved on the belly of the chalk,
his savage gesture subdued by the stuff of his creation.
He is taken up like a gaunt white doll by the round hills,
wrapped around by the long pale hair of the fields.
Taken from Jeremy Hooker’s book of poems titled
“Soliloquies of a Chalk Giant”
We sought our English fathers’ home
By few or known or sung.
Which ‘neath the quiet English skies,
far from all busy haunts it lies
The wide chalk downs among.
Which else had almost been forgot
By the great world without.
The mystic ring now scarcely traced
Is by a grassy dike embraced,
Circling the whole about.
Deep hangs the thatch on cottage eaves,
And buried deep in ivy leaves
The cottage windows gleam.
There little birds fly to and fro,
And happy children come and go
With rosy cheek and rustic walk,
They curtsy for the gentle folk,
As they the strangers deem.
With pinks and stocks the beds are gay,
And box and yew their shapes display
And each small garden overflows
With scent of woodbine and of rose
Above the borders trim.
The ancient little Norman church,
With quaintly medieval porch,
Stands ‘neath the elm tree tall
Sunk in the graveyard plot around,
The moss-grown headstones scarce are found
Few stoop the lettering to trace
Which time’s rude hand will soon efface.
Some there may be of highborn race,
But none the names recall.
The many gabled manor house,
With winking casement sheen,
Seem in the summer light to drowse
And dream of what has been
And we may dream of earlier days,
When the old convent marked the place,
When nuns in gown and coif complete,
Paced the green paths with quiet feet,
And gather herbs and simples small
Beneath the high brick garden wall,
Finding a safe retreat.
Like some small nest securely placed,
With ferns and grass interlaced,
But open to the light,
The hamlets seem to lie at rest
Upon the common’s ample breast,
Secure in loneliness of space
From aught that could the charm efface
Of innocence and old-world grace
Worn by ancestral right.
Home of sweet days and thankful nights,
Fair fall on thee the morning light,
Soft fall the evening dews.
Wild winds perchance may sweep the wold
But age, untouched by storm or cold,
In memory’s sight thou standest there,
Encircled by serenest air,
In changeless summer hue.
Mary S Cope (1852-1888)
The poem above, written so long ago in America by Mary Cope, is written in tribute to Avebury. At first I was wary of its 19th century romanticism, but reading it again and again made me realise that it had a very special charm in its description of Avebury. After all it was an outside eye that was looking back at the stones and the village, and its neat little manor house serene in its garden. Though I think Mary got it somewhat wrong as to nuns being at the Priory when monks are mentioned in the history. So what inspired such eloquence? Our ancestry haunts us all, and Mary Cope came from a strong Quaker family whose forbearers had travelled to America in the 17th Century. Henry (1793-1865) had established a family ‘enclave’ at Germanstown and called it Awbury, their house and grounds now are part of the Awbury Arboretum and the following quote explains the reason as to why we find Mary S Cope writing a poem about Avebury.
“The house he built on that land was named “Awbury” after the family ancestral home in the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, England; as the nineteenth century progressed, the name came to indicate the entire enclave and not just Cope’s dwelling. John Haines’s and Henry Cope’s tracts were augmented with purchases made by Henry’s son Francis on the southwest and south later in the nineteenth century. The family enclave was expanded in 1885 with a purchase of land made by Clementine Cope, Henry’s niece, in 1885.”
But let us go back to the original Oliver Cope – a tailor who lived in Avebury and took that momentous step to emigrate to America. Gilbert Cope in his genealogy of the Cope family (1861) seems to think that Oliver was not a Quaker when he left England with his wife Rebecca, they seemed to have had three children at Avebury – William, Ruth, and John, Elizabeth being born in America, Oliver must have left England in about 1682, and could have travelled on the same boat as William Penn who also made a voyage in that year. In a Deed of Land he seems to have bought 250 acres from William Penn in the province of Pennsylvania, this he must have done in England as the Deed is dated 1681.
“This indenture made the 5th day of September in the year of our Lord 1681, and in the thirty-third year of the reign of King Charles the second over England, between William Penn of Worminghurst in the County of Sussex and Oliver Cope of Awbury, in the County of Wiltshire, tailor, on the other part witnesseth that the said William Penn, for and in the consideration of the sum of five shillings of lawful money of England to him in hand paid by the said Oliver Cope, the receipt whereof he doeth hereby acknowledge, have bargained and sold, and by these presents doth bargain and sell into the said Oliver Cope, the full and just proportion and quantity of 250 acres within the province of Pennsylvannia”
There is a lovely note by Gilbert Cope at the end of the page in which he states “Abury (sometimes spelt Awbury, Aveburg or Auburn) is an unimportant village in Wiltshire, about 81 miles west of London.”
Oliver’s arrival in America has a somewhat mixed account in Gilbert Cope’s book, Mary is given at one stage as his wife that accompanied him on the voyage and that he came on the boat with William Penn (on his second voyage) in 1701. This account can probably be considered a bit whimsical, though it does say that they landed at Nameen’s Creek (the place where Oliver died) and Oliver’s will definitely states Rebecca as his wife. There is also a note that in May 1682 William Penn sent to Thomas Holme – Surveyor General – a list of the people who had purchased land and Oliver Cope is listed as having five hundred acres. So it would seem that Oliver bought this land in England, probably making two purchases of 250 acres at separate times, the dream of an American future winning over a drab existence in a small Wiltshire village. John Cope one of Oliver’s children is seen as the founding member of the Cope dynasty in America and a prominent Quaker member.
Genealogy notes; The original Oliver Cope was born at Avebury in approximately 1647 he died in April in 1697 at Naaman’s Creek DE. Mary Stokes Cope; Her mother was Elizabeth Waln Stokes (1823-1902) and her father Thomas Pim Cope (1823-1900). They had 9 children, including Mary Stokes Cope. Her brother Alban seems to have been committed to an asylum between 1890-1891, and her father a strong Quaker made a religious trip to Europe in 1890, this to be found in the archives of the Cope-Evan correspondence here.
Trethevy Stone by Charles Knight: circa 1845.
At the moor’s crown
Thin Field, hard-won, turns on
The Puzzle of Stones.
Lying in dreamtime here
Knees dragged to chin,
With dagger, food and drink -
Who was that one?
None shall know, says bully blackbird.
Cools in lost sun.
Under furze bank, yarrow
Sinks the drowned mine.
By spoil dump and bothy
Down the moor spine
Hear long-vanished voices
Now they are all gone, says bully blackbird.
Their dole of song.
From churchtown the tractor
Stammers, is dumb.
In the wilderness house
Of granite, thorn,
Ask where are those who came.
Ask why we come.
Home, says bully blackbird,
Where is home?
Charles Causley (1917-2003).
The carving on this post is from the interior of a replica Iron Age roundhouse at Barbury Castle. Sadly the roundhouse was totally destroyed by a fire started by vandals in 2008.
Yet rest there, Shelley, on the sill,
For though the winds come frorely
I’m away to the rain-blown hill
And the ghost of Sorley.
Charles Hamilton Sorley 1895-1915
From Sorley’s Weather by Captain Robert Graves (Fairies and Fusiliers, 1917). The WWI poet, Charles Hamilton Sorley (only 20 when he died), wrote this poem about Barbury Castle which ends with the above. Fitting, on the day when we learn that nearby Wootton Bassett is to become ‘royal’. Here’s to what’s been lost everywhere. See also Rhiannon’s link of 4 October 2005 here -
West Kennet Long Barrow
Image credit Willow
Memorials of oblivion, these turfed tombs
Of muttering ancestries whose fires, once red,
Now burn for me beyond mysterious glooms;
I pass them day by day while daylight fills
My sense of sight on these time-haunted hills.
Could I but watch those burials that began
Whole history – flint and bronze and iron beginnings,
When under this wide Wiltshire sky crude man
Warred with his world and augered our world-winnings!
Could I but enter that unholpen brain,
Cabined and comfortless and insecure,
That ruled some settlement on Salisbury Plain
And offered blood to blind primeval powers,-
Dim Caliban whose doom was to endure
Earth’s ignorant nullity made strange with flowers.
Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)