May 17th, 2008

Hadrian's Wall

And so to the Wall.

More specifically to Housesteads fort. They've got a little museum there, with a wall full of altars and Germanic gods. I love the plaque of the three genii cucullati- cute little chaps in pointy hoods- who are called "gods" on the label but look more like lucky pixies to me. 

The Wall is all alone up there on the hills. You drive or walk to it on a road that is merely a metalled farm track. The fields are full of sheep. The engineers chose a natural fold in the land to string it out along, with the slope gentle on the Roman side, precipitous on the Pictish. It no longer represents any kind of national barrier. Cross it and you're still in England. Scotland doesn't happen for many more miles.

I don't understand how it can be at once so neat and so skinny. I understand that in its heyday two legionnaires could walk along the top abreast. I guess what we're looking at is a rebuild. Damn those antiquarians!

Housesteads fort is huge. It's all there- the ground-plan anyway- marked out in low walls and rubble. I liked the latrines (2nd picture) the best.

The Stonemason's Daughter

The Stonemason’s Daughter


I sit on the wagon wrapped in my shawl,

The men are loading the stone

Father says there’s enough cut stone on the Wall to last the world until doomsday.

The horses tremble. They don’t like it here.


Some say the builders of the wall were giants;

That’s baby talk.

Could giants have carved patterns as pretty as these I’m  tracing with my finger?

They were cleverer with their hands than us.


I wonder if they mind our theft of their stone.

I sit and think about ghosts.

The mist blows over and the wind wails like a woman at a burying.

Father leaves offerings. He shouldn’t but he does.


Honey drink and cakes. They’re gone next morning.

Maybe foxes take them or birds

Or even people. Yes there are people living under stretched hides among the ruins.

Solitary souls- not Christian I think.


I’m not to mind them, says father.

He never goes far

And when they come round the wagon, wall-eyed , hands outstretched, talking fast,

He sees them off with threatened blows.


We are building a fine new church

With the stone that we take.

And when the bishop has blessed it with water flung from a bunch of hyssop

No ghost will dare come near.