Thursday, 22 March 2012

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert

So begins one of Shelley's greatest poems. All things change. On TV the other day they showed the cave of the swimmers from the north African desert, and the geology that shows monsoons brought a savanah to the desert there five thousand years ago.

Two vast trees have fallen over the river here.

It is barely spring, but we have a drought here in England. The jet stream has taken the rainfall north and left the east of the country without rain.

Perhaps my wish to walk by the river every day is based on something primal, a need for water to help my life flow and be fertile.The sap has rather dried up as my sixties have begun.

I chose the theme for my walk in advance for the first time. I chose decay. I began in the woods above the ruins of a Roman Villa,which lie on the flat in the centre of a stretch of open country.

Three hundred years BCE the Romans were building magnificent villas with under floor central heating in the English countryside. It has taken till the twentieth century for us to be able to do that again. Now we have managed to start heating up the whole environment.


The new wave of austerity that grips us has prevented renewal of signs and notices on my walks.

I could not resist doing some restoration to this remarkable picture which has been badly eroded or damaged by time or passers by. If you blow it up you can see details of Roman life portrayed.

This sign is in good shape. 

It shows the outline of the villa which you can make out from my picture from high on the hill                           

Next we have an ax left behind by the Romans in a field by the river.
It isn't. It is the leg and hip of a deer or a sheep. There were many part skeletons strewn along the river bank today.

Was there a cull?

Why leave the corpses to rot?

A mystery of decay.

Back in the woods I feel more at ease. I love the shapes made by these fallen trees. I feel more of an artist, less of a documentary writer.

Gabrielle does not like my images of decay and would prefer me to write about other things.

She reminds me that what falls in nature will go back to earth and be renewed.

Yet there is great sadness in me at the fall of a mighty oak. It may take 500 years to replace.
200 saplings planted by us will not compensate for such a loss.

Back with my theme of yesterday, the fallen trees by the river bank; there are so many of them in the area.

I want to end with Shelley, since I have no poem of my own to add as yet. But before that I will add a little note of appreciation to Oxfordshire Cotswolds, as West Oxfordshire Council likes to call itself when encouraging tourism. They have worked very hard both on line and out in the fields to provide us with maps, guides, walks and signs to help us enjoy this wonderful countryside.

Sadly there appears to be no money to open up the hut that gives a roof to the old Roman mosaics in the villa.

I offer a shot through the window with apologies for the quality of the image.

I offer trunks and heads, or so it seems to me. The legs are missing. It makes a curious link with Shelley.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away". 

Let's hope our river and fields are here to stay.

I am pleased to report that the level of the river is still well above summer levels. 
I hope it will be some time before you can cross it in gumboots.

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