Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > England
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV.  1876–79.
 
Oxford
Memories of Merton
John Bruce Norton (1815–1883)
 
I.
THE GATEWAY
NOT with that breathless haste and startling knock
With which, old Gateway, in the days of yore
I thundered nightly at your wicket door,
Rousing the sleepy porter with the shock,
While midnight chimes rang out from many a clock,        5
If e’er from India’s plains returning home,
Before thy venerable arch I come,
Shall I make clank thy chains, and hinges rock:
But should my footfall be no longer bold,
My hand strike weakly, my thin locks be gray,        10
My eye shine dim, my weary heart feel old
In the long path to wealth, a weary way,
Dear porch, still on thee shall I fondly gaze,
With all the love, not dread, of earlier days.
 
II.
THE HALL
HALL! where an Emperor deigned to feast, I see
        15
Thy lofty roof, thy giant hearth, where blazed
Too liberal flame: thy haughty dais, raised
O’er the stone floor with proud distinction, free
Only for social foot of high degree:
Thy polished tables, and the Tutor’s chair,        20
This for long lecture, those for simple fare,
Thy portraits, all are present; but for me
Gone is thy magic with the vanished crowd
Who met light-hearted at the daily board,
When thou didst ring with jest and laughter loud.        25
Far parted now, we toil no more to meet—
What care I though through thee light laugh be poured,
And thou dost echo still to youthful feet?
 
III.
THE LIBRARY
QUAINT gloomy chamber, oldest relic left
Of monkish quiet; like a ship thy form,        30
Stranded keel upward by some sudden storm,
Now that a safe and polished age hath cleft
Locks, bars, and chains, that saved thy tomes from theft,
May Time, a surer robber, spare thine age,
And reverence each huge black-lettered page,        35
Of real boards and gilt-stamped leather reft.
Long may ambitious student here unseal
The secret mysteries of classic lore;
Though urged not by that blind and aimless zeal
With which the Scot within these walls of yore        40
Transcribed the Bible without breaking fast,
Toiled through each word, and perished at the last.
 
IV.
THE BUTTERY
FILL high the tankard; crown the silver bowl
With bright October’s foaming amber; spread
The ashen board with manchets white of bread;        45
For hark! the hour of noon; and forth the whole
Dry Lecture rushes with a thirsty soul.
Up the hall-stairs the merry youths draw near,
And throng the buttery for noontide cheer.
See Charon comes to claim his weekly dole:        50
O grim old ferryman, 1 how oft my boat,
Through the long summer eve, on Isis’ wave,
Beside thy fearful barge would careless float,
While thou o’er thy kind-cruel weapons sate,
And, with an artist’s fondness, didst relate        55
Of drowning youths saved from a watery grave.
 
V.
THE RIDE
OUR steeds are ready; whither shall we ride?
To Woodstock, where a woman’s jealous hate
Gave her frail rival horrid choice of fate,
And Blenheim rises in majestic pride?        60
Or to old Cumnor, where false Leicester’s bride,
Like a fair falcon by the hawker lured,
Was in the shades of that grim place immured,
Till, trusting to Love’s well-feigned note, she died?
Or shall we slowly saunter to the wood        65
Of Bagley, there explore each sylvan glen;
Or to the Quentin, sport of ages rude,
On the green heights of open Bullenden?
Lead where you will; I follow, friend, to-night:
All ways are equal to a spirit light.        70
 
VI.
THE WALK
NOT through the Queen of Cities’ lordliest street,
Although all passing beautiful its sweep
Of gray old colleges and gables steep,
Where spire and dome and bridge and gateway meet,
Let us now turn our fashionable feet;        75
But unobserved, not unobserving, creep
Down by the bank, where the green willows weep
For Cherwell drowned in Isis: there a seat
Courts us awhile, till from the farther shore
The ferryman is hailed to punt us o’er.        80
Now through the summer fields away, away,
The grass beside the path brushing our knees;
Haste! for the chapel bell, swung on the breeze,
Pealing too quick return, forbids delay.
 
VII.
THE CHAPEL
HOW richly mellowed through the painted glass
        85
The tranquil flood of solemn light pours down
Upon each oaken stall’s time-polished brown,
On marble checkered floor and desk of brass.
Along the aisle, in spotless surplice, pass
Student and Fellow, while yet lingering swell        90
The last faint echoes of the vesper bell,
With the same tones that summoned erst to mass.
Spirit of Unity! keep fast the bands
That bind to thee thy Church! here chiefly rule!
For this thy primal sanctuary: here stands        95
True Doctrine’s very fountain-head and school;
Yet here blind Schism is threatening to divide
Those who should teach thy gospel side by side.
 
VIII.
OXFORD, FROM THE CHAPEL TOWER
PEACE, silence, slumber, triple crown of night,
Circle the queenlike city. Dim the shower        100
Of moonbeams falls on every hoary tower,
And steeps each gabled roof in silver light.
Hushed is the latest shout of revel rite
Through the gray quadrangle; while faintly gleams
The lamp of some pale student o’er the dreams        105
Of Plato, or old Homer’s sounding fight.
Forth from below the mass superior stand
The tall, gaunt steeples, like a faithful guard,—
O, may it be so!—keeping watch and ward
Above the weary world fast locked in sleep.        110
Hark! even now their voices through the band
Pass on their hourly signal, clear and deep!
 
IX.
COLLEGE ROOMS: THE ORIEL WINDOW
MY dear old Window, wherethrough summer’s air
Wafted the sweet scents of the garden flowers,
Whilst the broad elms beat off the sultry hours,        115
And thy deep-painted glass toned down the glare
With mellowed golden lights that used to share
My couch, with shade that fell in purple showers;
O, choicest and best loved of all rest’s bowers,
How oft, amid my busiest toil and care,        120
Retreating fancy brings thee to my sight,
As some still vision of the peaceful night;
Magician’s wand-waved circle; halcyon nest,
Floating in calm upon the billow’s crest.
To me these sonnets, with their lights and glooms,        125
Are my Life’s Oriel of old Merton rooms.
 
X.
COLLEGE ROOMS: STUDY
FLING wide the casement, for the morning breeze
Already curls the mist upon the stream,
And o’er their half-built nests with welcome scream
The busy rooks fill all the neighboring trees.        130
Be labor lightened by luxurious ease;
Up to the oriel window wheel the chair
(Sweet aid to study the fresh morning air),
And ponder tasks which please, or ought to please;
Gaze happy round upon your pictured room,—        135
Your own; for swiftly may the time draw nigh,
When homeless thou, in stifling city pent,
With spirit lustreless, and body bent,
Shalt rise each morning unrefreshed, and sigh
Daily o’er real toil with hopeless gloom.        140
 
XI.
MERTON MEADOWS
GAY with June’s livery of liveliest green,
By daisies crimson-edged and cowslip-dyed,
Smile Merton meadows in their summer pride,
While far off Isis glints back steely sheen
Yon stately avenue’s tall trees between,        145
Like flash of casque and spear when warriors ride.
Sweet Cherwell’s waters edge the nearer side.
The sleepy cattle seek a shady screen,
For ’t is still sultry noon; the martin wheels,
Like a black spirit of night haunting the day,        150
His phantom circles high in the upper blue;
Shrill grasshopper clacks loud his whirring peals;
Proud dragon-flies glance by in armor new;
And the bee hums her homeward roundelay.
 
XII.
THE TERRACE WALL

          “Poor Windebank was shot by sudden court-martial, so enraged were they at Oxford; for Cromwell had not even foot-soldiers, still less a battering-gun. It was his poor young wife, they said, she and other ladies on a visit there, at Bletchington House, that confounded poor Windebank. He set his back to the wall of Merton College, and received his death-volley with a soldier’s stoicism.”—Carlyle’s Cromwell.

SURE man’s heart-anguish ne’er hath broken here
        155
This smiling air of natural repose,
Which over Merton’s meadowed landscape glows?
Yes, on this spot where the gray stone walls rear
Their hoary height, fell that poor cavalier
Who gave his post up to his monarch’s foes,        160
At iron Cromwell’s summons, without blows,
Through gentle courtesy, not coward fear.
Perchance beneath where now I stand he stood:
Setting his back against the College wall,
Baring his breast, not dabbled yet with blood,        165
A bold, unflinching mark for many a ball,
His young wife’s name borne on his latest breath;—
Short trial his, brief shrift, and soldier’s death.
 
XIII.
THE WALK OF THE TWO TOWERS

          There was in Merton Gardens a broad, straight walk, where a beautifully picturesque effect was produced by introducing at either end of the vista the chapel towers of Magdalene and Merton.

SURELY this walk, straight, simple in its line,
Was fashioned by some holy-hearted man,        170
That, at each limit turning, he might scan
Thy tower, dear Merton, or, fair Magdalene, thine,
Point skyward with solemnity divine;
So, while he walked, were his reflections given
In ceaseless meditation to the heaven        175
Of which his eyes beheld the earthly sign;—
Thus, while slow-pacing, often pausing, there,
I loved, perchance erroneously, to dream;
And O, methought, with an unuttered prayer,
May my life’s pathway, level, straight, and true,        180
Like this, with cause for holy breathings teem,
Begin and end with God, him alway view.
 
XIV.
“TOM” OF CHRIST CHURCH
ONE hundred and one times the mighty sound,
Such as when Vulcan forged the war-god’s shield,
Startled the Lemnian shepherd in his field,        185
Hath Christ Church giant bell swung out around,
And the night songster’s voice melodious drowned;
Yet on mine ear did the tone’s volume fall
Not fearful, but sad, solemn, musical,
Though frighted air yet shakes with the rebound;—        190
Nor strange; for my note-stricken memory
Hath wandered to the village 2 where I spent
Some of youth’s happiest days, where yet the proud
Old Norman law had not to fashion bent,
And curfew nightly woke the silent sky,        195
With sounds as slow, as solemn, though less loud.
 
Note 1. An old man, a servant of the Humane Society, stationed on the river, for the prevention of accidents. His punt was filled with horrid-looking implements,—the drags, hooks, etc. of his calling. [back]
Note 2. Sleaford, in Lincolnshire. [back]
 
 
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