Written at Stonehenge

Original Text: 
Thomas Warton, Jr., Poems (London: T. Becket, 1777).
2Whether by Merlin's aid, from Scythia's shore,
4Huge frame of giant-hands, the mighty pile
5T' entomb his Britons slain by Hengist's guile:
6Or Druid priests, sprinkled with human gore,
7Taught 'mid thy massy maze their mystic lore:
8Or Danish chiefs, enrich'd with savage spoil,
9To Victory's idol vast, an unhewn shrine,
10Rear'd the rude heap: or, in thy hallow'd round,
12Or here those kings in solemn state were crown'd:
13Studious to trace thy wondrous origine,
14We muse on many an ancient tale renown'd.


1] For Warton's antiquarian interests, see note on lines 7-16 of Verses on Reynolds' Painted Window. Speculation as to the origin of Stonehenge was rife during the 17th and 18th centuries. Nennius, a 9th-century historian, first stated that it was erected to commemorate four hundred British nobles treacherously slain by Hengist, a leader of the Jutes. The Welsh bards and Geoffrey of Monmouth (Hist. Brit.) elaborate this into a tale that the marvellous feat was brought about for Uther Pendragon (father of King Arthur) by the magician Merlin, who caused a great stone circle in Ireland (previously carried there out of Scythia by giants) to be transported to Salisbury Plain. Inigo Jones (1655) tried to show that it was a Roman temple. Dr. Charleton (1663; cf. notes to Dryden's poem addressed to him) maintained against this that it was erected by the Danes. Dr. Stukeley (1740) argued that it was a Druid temple. Warton used especially Camden's Britannia, but has a long note on the subject in his History of English Poetry in connection with the poetry of Robert of Gloucester. Back to Line
3] Amber's fatal plain. "In the translation of a copy of Latin verses, p. 123, Camden calls the site of Stonehenge 'Amber's plains'; and in p. 125 explains the neighbouring village of Ambresbury, or (as it is now pronounced and written) Amesbury, to mean 'Ambrose's town,' called by Matthew of Westminster, Pagus Ambri." (Warton, Poetical Works, ed. Mant). Back to Line
11] Brutus. Great-grandson of Aeneas, legendary ancestor of the Britons. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.687; RPO 1996-2000.