Myfanwy at Oxford

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Pink may, double may, dead laburnum
  Shedding an Anglo-Jackson Shade,
Shall we ever, my staunch Myfanwy,
  Bicycle down to North Parade?
Kant on the handle-bars, Marx in the saddlebag,
  Light my touch on your shoulder-blade.

Sancta Hilda, Myfanwyatia
  Evansensis — I hold your heart,
Willowy banks of a willowy Cherwell a
  Willowy figure with lips apart,
Strong and willowy, strong to pillow me
  Gold Myfanwy, kisses and art.

Tubular bells of tall St. Barnabas,
  Single clatter above St. Paul,
Chasuble, acolyte, incense-offering,
  Spectacled faces held in thrall.
There in the nimbus and Comper tracery
  Gold Myfanwy blesses us all.

Gleam of gas upon Oxford station,
  Gleam of gas on her straight gold hair,
Hair flung back with an ostentation,
  Waiting alone for a girl friend there.
Second in Mods and a Third in Theology
  Come to breathe again Oxford air.

Her Myfanwy as in Cadena days,
  Her Myfanwy, a schoolgirl voice,
Tentative brush of a cheek in a cocoa crush,
  Coffee and Ulysses, Tennyson, Joyce,
Alpha-minded and other dimensional,
  Freud or Calvary? Take your choice.

Her Myfanwy? My Myfanwy.
  Bicycle bells in a Boar’s Hill Pine,
Stedman Triple from All Saints’ steeple,
  Tom and his hundred and one at nine,
Bells of Butterfield, caught in Keble,
  Sally and backstroke answer “Mine!

– John Betjeman

“Myfanwy at Oxford” chimes with the people and places of a halcyon era. Always a name-dropper, Betjeman invites Freud and Kant and Tennyson and Joyce to swing through the sunshine on the lap of a golden girl bicycling through the campus grounds. The sonic joy of the landscapes whooshing past (“Bells of Butterfield, caught in Keble”) must match the joy in the poet’s fluttering heart. That Betjeman’s love for Piper was ultimately unrequited (she would become a notable art critic and marry another man) makes the poem that much more poignant, a schoolboy’s dream suspended in amber.

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