Wandering nightly through the cobbled pavements of the city of dreaming spires,
I could not help but notice the darkening shade of sandstone under the yellowing hue of orange lampshade.
The sandstone walls that saw the greatest wars and the greatest minds
flourish, and vanish without a single trace,
Except for written words, tireless recreation,
A distant dream in the milky fog of one’s own false recollections,
Of what is written on those sepia walls in dusty libraries,
A personal Alexandria of the romantic mind.
Those dark amber walls, who have eyes,
Remember better than the greatest scholar, preserving the legacy
Of elfin spirits of men, just like you and me,
Aspirations and visions of grandeur; lived or unreached.
Those ghostly wails of the past still remain,
Resounding through the rooms of poets and politicians-
Becoming accustomed to these hallowed walls, just like you and me,
Wilde and Wordsworth, Shelley and Graves,
Their thoughts and words echo through empty streets,
Greeting me from windows and doorways, lit up cafes and dingy side-street pubs,
An omnipresence worthy of gods- these lecture halls, their shrines.
A dream to live by; a breathable mythology of those like you and me.
And I, and you too, may perhaps be one of those souls,
Spending endless wintery nights wandering that stone,
A future ghost, of a glorious past, echoing through those rooms at last.
Adrian Kuba’s poem ‘A walk down Magpie Lane on one winter night’ is set within the stream of consciousness of a fresher walking down Magpie Lane in Oxford at night. This character is starry eyed: filled with passion and potential they cannot yet express. Adrian writes in a purposefully rambling and disorientating style to reflect the experience of leaving home and starting your life proper in such an odd place. Adrian himself came from Liverpool to Oxford, a big change which left him equally excited and confused.
A consistent theme in this poem is the immortality of art. ‘Wilde and Wordsworth, Shelley and Graves’ have made their mark upon this historic town and survive through the ‘shrines’ of ‘lecture halls’. They have become ‘Gods’ in a metaphorical sense through their shrines, but in a literal sense too. They are immortalised in the University- in the ‘darkening shade of sandstone’, the ‘sepia walls in dusty libraries’, and in in ‘amber walls’.
Adrian is a Classics student, and he reflects on a historical tenant that he believes to stretch back all the way to Homer- that is, the notion that great deeds- often in real life, artistic ones- are a form of immortality, which results from the long-term remembrance that the artist is often endowed with. He mentions that Achilles’ great decision of long life in obscurity, versus death shrouded in fame, although comparatively more dramatic, reflects this human desire for great deeds and remembrance. For the Homeric hero, the outlet for this was war; for those writing such stories, it’s the art
How can one, even immortal, survive as their true self? This is the question Adrian asks the reader to ponder in the line on ‘false recollections’. In the ‘milky fog’ of history, can we know anyone, or only how they wish to be perceived? Can our own identities survive unchanged, even if we rise to the status of Gods?
In Adrian’s first encounter with Oxford, he was struck by the solidity and liminality of it. Solid in the sense that it has withstood the tides of time, and liminal in the sense that Oxford is a place where the past and the present uniquely intermingle to create an atmosphere of electricity and potential. ‘Magpie Lane’ is one of the oldest streets in Oxford, one which artists and authors before him have walked, and will continue to do so in the future. Adrian attests that in Oxford ‘you can feel the history in every brick’. His protagonist starts the poem walking down the lane in life and ends walking down the poem in death. It is exciting to think we are walking alongside the metaphorical ghosts of the past, and that we may become them in the future.