This week I had a revelation. Whilst cycling back from rowing, just before I was due to go into the Choffices (Cherwell Offices for the uninitiated) to edit the paper, and planning my review of a play I’d seen the previous night to be published tomorrow, it suddenly hit me. Since coming to Oxford, I have been imbued with magical powers. Maybe it was passed on to me through that most mysterious of ceremonies, Matriculation (if you didn’t drink the fresh blood from the skull of the Tab you’re not properly Oxonian), or maybe I’ve just inherited it through osmosis by living here. As well as struggling with a world class degree, I am also juggling the positions of Treasurer of OUCB, Deputy Editor for Cherwell, writing weekly blogs, rowing in the college boat club, publishing a college pamphlet, being Lord High Master of the Croquet, the statue of Bodley in the Bodleian Library every Thursday, and the Vice-President Majestic Wizard of Iffley (work out which of those is false for yourself). I’m not trying to show off, I’m merely highlighting a glaringly obvious fact: that Oxford encourages us to take far too much on, in far too short a space of time.
Oxford is, you may have noticed, a truly beautiful and fascinating place, full of equally beautiful and fascinating people. There are so many opportunities, so many chances to make friends and network, to try out and hone new skills. You can prove yourself through work, and to commit and become part of a team outside of studies in a myriad of ways. For those of us with exams this term, the temptation is to shut yourself away in a library and surrender your life for that gleaming mirage of a First- and for those of us without exams, there is the chance to fill up the diary with exciting commitments. With so many diversions at every footfall, how could you think to waste even a single second here?
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why Philip Larkin can write better poetry than me. He can stop and think- he remembers to breathe. As for me- well, after dashing up to the Choffices and desperately proofreading articles for four hours, I was sentient only enough to drag myself home to bed. I had no time to think over the day, to reflect on who I’d met or what I’d done- I can’t even coherently plan for the week ahead, as I end up throwing myself out of bed each morning to impale myself on the next commitment. That’s not what poetry is about- and quite frankly, I don’t think it’s how one should ‘do’ Oxford. It’s just not humanly possible to fit it all in- the degree, the Blue, the social life. Reading this poem, ‘The Trees’ by Larkin, reminds me that sometimes it’s important to step back, and to let yourself think- only then will you be able to process things, let alone write poetry. As Larkin writes, ‘begin afresh, afresh, afresh’- maybe I won’t go to the AGM of the Majestic Wizards of Iffley tomorrow. Maybe I’ll just go for a walk instead.
The Trees by Philip Larkin
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.