191 Years After His Death, the Poet William Blake Is Getting a New Tombstone

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

William Blake’s final words before his death in 1827 are said to have been, “I am going to that country which I have all my life wished to see.” But for the better part of two centuries, Blake’s unmarked grave meant that his final resting place remained largely unseen and unvisited—until now.

During a special ceremony on August 12, a memorial stone will finally be placed on Blake’s grave in Bunhill Fields, London’s cemetery for nonconformists and religious dissenters, the Islington Tribune reports. Although his grave was located in 2006 using directional coordinates that had been logged by cemetery staff, it took some time for fans to reach a consensus on the new gravestone's inscription, which is an extract from his epic poem "Jerusalem."

The debate grew so heated that some punctuation purists quibbled over the apostrophes. One camp argued that the poet’s “eccentric” punctuation—or lack thereof—should be honored, while others said the proper apostrophes should be added in. The quote in question is: “I give you the end of a golden string / Only wind it into a ball / It will lead you in at Heavens gate / Built in Jerusalems wall.” (Ultimately, it was decided to leave the stanza untouched, apostrophes be damned.)

Although a memorial stone was erected in 1927 in honor of Blake’s memory, the language was rather vague, according to the book Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses, by Mental Floss editor Bess Lovejoy. The inscription read, “Nearby lie the remains of the poet-painter William Blake … and of his wife Catherine Sophia.” The stone did in fact mark Blake's location, and the "nearby" referred to his wife.

An older memorial marking the general area where William Blake is buried
Matthew Lloyd, Getty Images

However, in 1960, the stone was moved about 20 yards during cemetery renovations, and Blake’s grave once again went unmarked. It wasn’t until 2006 that two fans of Blake’s work, Luis and Carol Garrido, tracked down the exact location of Blake’s burial site—a common grave in which Blake lies buried beneath seven other bodies.

To fans of Blake, the memorial is a long overdue tribute to one of England's foremost poets. The gravestone unveiling ceremony on August 12 will feature musical performances, and 191 candles will be lit around Blake’s grave in commemoration of his death anniversary.

[h/t Islington Tribune]

10,000 People Gathered at Stonehenge to Welcome the Summer Solstice

Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images
Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons to welcome the start of summer. Today, people visiting Stonehenge took that celebration to a whole new level.

The BBC reported that an estimated 10,000 people made the pilgrimage to the 5000-year-old site to partake in summer solstice festivities. "Stonehenge was built to align with the Sun, and to Neolithic people, the skies were arguably as important as the surrounding landscape," Susan Greaney, a senior historian at English Heritage, said in a statement. "At solstice we remember the changing daylight hours, but the changing seasons, the cycles of the Moon, and movements of the Sun are likely to have underpinned many practical spiritual aspects of Neolithic life."

These spiritual aspects are just one of the many fascinating facts about the summer solstice; the day is an extremely old calendar event recognized by ancient cultures across the globe. They include the Druids and other pagans, whose tradition of observing the solstice at Stonehenge has long been upheld by modern revelers.

Scientifically speaking, Stonehenge is an optimal viewing place for the solstice due to its structure. According to TIME, the site’s architects appeared to have kept both the summer and winter solstices in mind during its construction, as the positions of the stones are specifically tuned to complement the sky on both occasions.

The solstices were sacred to the pagans, whose modern-day followers continue to honor their rituals. Pagans in particular refer to the day as Litha, and mark it with activities such as meditation, fire rites, and outdoor yoga.

“What you’re celebrating on a mystical level is that you’re looking at light at its strongest," Frank Somers, a member of the Amesbury and Stonehenge Druids, said in 2014. "It represents things like the triumph of the king, the power of light over darkness, and just life—life at its fullest."

Those who were unable to make the journey can head over to the Stonehenge Skyscape project's website, where English Heritage’s interactive live feed fully captured the experience.

Tourists Are Picking Apart Britain's Oldest Tree

Paul Hermans, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The Fortingall Yew in the Fortingall churchyard in Perthshire, Scotland has seen a lot. Since it started growing at least 2000 years ago, it's been present for the Roman settlement of Scotland, the shift from paganism to Christianity, and the country's induction into the United Kingdom. But after standing for millennia, the ancient tree is facing its greatest threat yet. Tourists are removing twigs and branches from the tree to take home as souvenirs, and the tree is under so much stress that it's spontaneously changing sexes, Atlas Obscura reports.

Because of how the tree grows, it's hard to date the Fortingall Yew precisely. It comprises several separate trunks that have hollowed out over the years, making it easier for the tree to support itself in its old age. Based on historical measurements and 19th-century ring counts, the yew has been around for at least two millennia, but it could date back as far as 5000 years. That makes it the oldest tree in Britain and one of the oldest living things in Europe.

That impressive title means the tree gets a lot of visitors, not all of whom are concerned with extending its lifespan even longer. A stone and iron wall built in the Victorian era encloses the tree, but that hasn't stopped people from climbing over it to break off pieces or leave behind keepsakes like beads and ribbons.

As the abuse adds up, the tree has responded in concerning ways. It sprouted red berries this spring, a sign that the tree is transitioning to a different sex for the first time in its life. Yew trees are either male or female, and sex changes among the species are incredibly rare and misunderstood. Some botanists believe it's a reaction to stress. The change may be a survival mechanism intended to increase the specimen's chances of reproducing.

Scientists aren't sure why this particular yew, which was formerly male, sprouted berries on its upper branches, an exclusively female characteristic, but they've collected the berries to study them. The seeds from the berries will be preserved as part of a project to protect the genetic diversity of yew trees across the globe.

In the mean time, caretakers of the Fortingall Yew are imploring visitors to be respectful of the tree and keep their hands to themselves.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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