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Re: Emmeline Fisher: Lines suggested by the opening made in Silbury Hill 1849
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Interesting to look at this sub-thread nearly two and a half years on - and thanks, Nigel, for bringing Emmeline Fisher's poem to our attention back then.

Many of us didn't know in 2005 that the 1849 Silbury Urn had been found in Silbury and removed by Atkinson. The urn itself has subsequently been 'lost' but its contents were at some point deposited in the Alexander Keiller Museum at Avebury where they seem to have languished unnoticed until recently. Mike Pitts, who was for some time curator at the Alexander Keiller Museum and who now discusses the contents of the urn (and Emmeline Fisher's poem in particular) in the latest issue of the British Archaeology Magazine, didn't seem to know of their existence during his tenure there.

The recent 'discovery' of the contents of the 1849 Silbury Urn remind me of the very real discovery of the Sir Harry Parkes collection of 19th century Japanese handmade papers at the Victoria and Albert Museum; this collection lay forgotten in the storerooms of the V&A for over a hundred years until a private researcher (Hans Schmoller) tracked it down in 1978. Schmoller's painstaking research sparked off one of the most sensational conservation/exhibition programs ever seen for this type of handmade paper. Needless to say, curators and conservators at the V&A claimed at the time that the collection had never 'actually' been lost. Mmm... technically I suppose they could claim that. Anyway, before long everyone was jumping on the Sir Harry bandwagon with articles and exhibitions both here and abroad being churned out at the rate of knots.

Hans Schmoller hardly got mentioned in all the official and academic trumpeting that went on over his discovery of the handmade paper collection and something similar now seems to be happening with the contents of the 1849 Silbury Urn. What we've got so far from the British Archaeology Magazine is an online article* containing several minor and perhaps a couple of major errors in the transcript of Emmeline Fisher's poem (see below) and a rather hurriedly-concocted hardcopy magazine article on the subject.

But... this is about Emmeline's poem - it's pretty heavy stuff in places. For example, Emmie is alluding in the last few lines of her poem to the 'pagan' practice of strewing (human) ashes amid the corn and, by comparison, the Christian practice of interment? Was there some renewed interest in paganism and Druidism at the time Emmie wrote her poem that was rattling the Church authorities, of which her father was a respected member? Who knows, it needs a historian not an archaeologist (or an amateur collector of megalithic poems) to unravel this one.

One thing's for sure, after nearly a 160 years Emmeline Fisher's poem, with its apology to our forefathers who built Silbury, stands as the only decent thing ever to have been placed there by modern hands. Thankfully, even Emmie's poem is no longer within the structure - let's hope nothing else is either.

The envelope

Emmie's poem was placed in an envelope with the following inscription, on the obverse, in the same hand (hers?) as the poem itself -

Lines on the Opening of
Silbury Hill, written by
Miss Emmeline Fisher,
Daughter of The Reverend William
Fisher, Canon of Salisbury and
Rector of Poulshot in Wiltshire
August 1849.


The poem in the urn

Suggested by the opening
made in Silbury Hill,
Aug 3rd 1849

Bones of our wild forefathers, O forgive,
If now we pierce the chambers of your rest,
And open your dark pillows to the eye
Of the irreverent Day! Hark, as we move,
Runs no stern whisper through the narrow vault?
Flickers no shape across our torch-light pale,
With backward beckoning arm? No, all is still.
O that it were not! O that sound or sign,
Vision, or legend, or the eagle glance
Of science, could call back thy history lost,
Green Pyramid of the plains, from far-ebbed Time!
O that the winds which kiss thy flowery turf
Could utter how they first beheld thee rise;
When in his toil the jealous Savage paused,
Drew deep his chest, pushed back his yellow hair,
And scanned the growing hill with reverent gaze, -
Or haply, how they gave their fitful pipe**
To join the chant prolonged o'er warriors cold. -
Or how the Druid's mystic robe they swelled;
Or from thy blackened brow on wailing wing
The solemn sacrificial ashes bore,
To strew them where now smiles the yellow corn,
Or where the peasant treads the Churchward***

NB Both the paper on which the poem is written and the envelope which held it appear to be handmade (it's difficult to tell from the photo in the British Archaeology Magazine but the bottom and right-hand side of the letter-paper seem to have a deckle edge). The ink may be made from oak gall which means it's probably acidic and will eventually eat though the paper if left untreated. Emmie's poem itself is important but so too are the materials used to record it - let's hope English Heritage are taking the necessary steps, as they are undoubtedly taking at Silbury itself, to preserve this item for posterity.


** Is this an error in transcription? pipes or piper would make more sense.

*** Is this also an error in transcription? Churchyard would make more sense.

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Posted by Littlestone
15th December 2007ce

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