An Oxford Elegy
Language: English 
Go, for they call you, Shepherd, from the hill;
    Go, Shepherd, and untie the wattled cotes:
No longer leave thy wistful flock unfed,
    Nor let thy bawling fellows rack their throats,
Nor the cropp'd grasses shoot another head.
    But when the fields are still,
And the tired men and dogs all gone to rest,
    And only the white sheep are sometimes seen
Cross and recross the strips of moon-blanch'd green;
    Come Shepherd, and again begin the quest.

    Here will I sit and wait,
While to my ear from uplands far away
    The bleating of the folded flocks is borne,
With distant cries of reapers in the corn
    All the live murmur of a summer's day.

Screen'd is this nook o'er the high, half-reap'd field,
    And here till sundown, Shepherd, will I be.
Through the thick corn the scarlet poppies peep,
    And round green roots and yellowing stalks I see
Pale blue convolvulus in tendrils creep:
    And air-swept lindens yield
Their scent, and rustle down their perfumed showers
    Of bloom on the bent grass where I am laid,
And bower me from the August sun with shade;
    And the eye travels down to Oxford's towers:
That sweet city with her dreaming spires,
    She needs not [summer]* for beauty's heightening,
Lovely all times she lies, lovely [to-day]*!

Come, let me read the oft-read tale again:
    The story of that Oxford scholar poor,
Who, one summer morn forsook His friends, 
    And came, as most men deem'd, to little good,
But came to Oxford and his friends no more.
But rumours hung about the country-side,
    That the lost Scholar long was seen to stray,
Seen by rare glimpses, pensive and tongue-tied,
    And I myself seem half to know thy looks,
And put the shepherds, Wanderer, on thy trace;

    Or in my boat I lie
Moor'd to the cool bank in the summer heats,
    'Mid wide grass meadows which the sunshine fills,
And watch the warm green-muffled Cumnor hills,
    And wonder if thou haunt'st their shy retreats.
Leaning backwards in a pensive dream,
    And fostering in thy lap a heap of flowers
Pluck'd in shy fields and distant Wychwood bowers,
    And thine eyes resting on the moonlit stream,
[Still]* waiting for the spark from Heaven to fall.

And once, in winter, on the causeway chill
    Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,
Have I not pass'd thee on the wooden bridge
    Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,
Thy face towards Hinksey and its wintry ridge?
    And thou hast climb'd the hill
And gain'd the white brow of the Cumnor range;
    Turn'd once to watch, while thick the snowflakes fall,
The line of festal light in Christ Church hall
    Then sought thy straw in some sequester'd grange.

But what - I dream! Two hundred years are flown
    And thou from earth art gone
Long since and in some quiet churchyard laid;
    Some country nook, where o'er thy unknown grave
Tall grasses and white flowering nettles wave
    Under a dark red-fruited yew-tree's shade.

No, no, thou hast not felt the lapse of hours.
    Thou waitest for the spark from Heaven: and we,
Ah, do not we, Wanderer, await it too?
See, 'tis no foot of unfamiliar men
    To-night from Oxford up your pathway strays!
Here came I often, often, in old days;
    Thyrsis and I; we still had Thyrsis then.

Runs it not here, the track by Childsworth Farm,
    Past the high wood, to where the elm-tree crowns
The hill behind whose ridge the sunset flames?
    The signal-elm, that looks on Ilsley Downs,
The Vale, the three lone weirs, the youthful Thames?--
    That single elm-tree bright
Against the west - I miss it! is it gone?
    We prized it dearly; while it stood, we said,
Our friend, the Gipsy-Scholar, was not dead;
    While the tree lived, he in these fields lived on.
Needs must I* with heavy heart
    Into the world and wave of men depart;
But Thyrsis of his own will went away.

    So have I heard the cuckoo's parting cry,
From the wet field, through the vext garden-trees,
    Come with the volleying rain and tossing breeze:
The bloom is gone, and with the bloom go I!
    Too quick despairer, wherefore wilt thou go?

Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on,
    Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
    Sweet-William with his homely cottage-smell,
And stocks in fragrant blow;
    Roses that down the alleys shine afar,
And open, jasmine-muffled lattices,
    And groups under the dreaming garden-trees,
And the full moon, and the white evening-star.

    He hearkens not! light comer, he is flown!
What matters it? next year he will return,
    And we shall have him in the sweet spring-days,
With whitening hedges, and uncrumpling fern,
    And blue-bells trembling by the forest-ways,
    And scent of hay new-mown.
    [He will return.]*
But Thyrsis never more we swains shall see.
    [Never more.]*

Yet, Thyrsis, let me give my grief its hour
    In the old haunt, and find our tree-topp'd hill!
I know these slopes; who knows them if not I? --
    But many a tingle on the loved hillside,
With thorns once studded, old, white-blossom'd trees,
    Where thick the cowslips grew, and far descried
High towered the spikes of purple orchises,
    Hath since our day put by
The coronals of that forgotten time.
    They are all gone, and thou art gone as well.
    
Yes, thou art gone! and round me too the night
    In ever-nearing circle weaves her shade.
I see her veil draw soft across the day,
    And long the way appears, which seem'd so short
And high the mountain-tops, in cloudy air,
   The mountain-tops where is the throne of Truth,

There thou art gone, and me thou leavest here
    Sole in these fields! yet will I not despair.
Despair I will not, while I yet descry
    That lonely tree against the western sky.
Fields where soft sheep from cages pull the hay,
    Woods with anemonies in flower till May,
Know him a wanderer still.
    [Roam on!]*

Then let in thy voice a whisper often come,
    To chase fatigue and fear:

    "Why faintest thou! I wander'd till I died.
        Roam on! The light we sought is shining still.
    Our tree yet crowns the hill,
        Our Scholar travels yet the loved hill-side."

View original text (without footnotes)
Note: this text has been adapted from selections from the poems The Scholar-Gipsy and Thyris.
* marks a change in wording from the original text.
Note: In stanza 3 line 5, some versions have "Pale pink convolvulus".

Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive)


Researcher for this text: Ahmed E. Ismail

This text was added to the website: 2005-12-31
Line count: 137
Word count: 1042