by (Joseph) Hilaire Belloc (1870 - 1953)

I mean to write with all my strength
Language: English 
1. I mean to write with all my strength 
(It lately has been sadly waning), 
A ballad of enormous length 
Some parts of which will need explaining. 

Because (unlike the bulk of men 
Who write for fame or public ends), 
I turn a lax and fluent pen 
To talking of my private friends. 

For no one, in our long decline, 
So dusty, spiteful and divided, 
Had quite such pleasant friends as mine, 
Or loved them half as much as I did. 

But do not think I shall explain 
To any great extent. Believe me, 
I partly write to give you pain, 
And if you do not like me, leave me. 

5. And least of all can you complain, 
Reviewers, whose unholy trade is, 
To puff with all your might and main 
Biographers of single ladies. 

The Freshman ambles down the High, 
In love with everything he sees, 
He notes the very Midland sky, 
He sniffs a more than Midland breeze. 

"Can this be Oxford? This the place" 
(He cries), "of which my father said 
The tutoring was a damned disgrace, 
The creed a mummery, stuffed and dead? 

"Can it be here that Uncle Paul 
Was driven by excessive gloom, 
To drink and debt, and, last of all, 
To smoking opium in his room ? 

"Is it from here the people come, 
Who talk so loud, and roll their eyes, 
And stammer ? How extremely rum ! 
How curious ! What a great surprise. 

10. "Some influence of a nobler day 
Than theirs (I mean than Uncle Paul's), 
Has roused the sleep of their decay, 
And decked with light their ancient walls. 

"The dear undaunted boys of old, 
Would that your names were carven here, 
For all the world in stamps of gold, 
That I might read them and revere. 

"Who wrought and handed down for me 
This Oxford of the larger air, 
Laughing, and full of faith, and free, 
With youth resplendent everywhere." 

Then learn : thou ill-instructed, blind, 
Young, callow, and untutored man, 
Their private names were * * * * * * Never mind. 
Their club was called REPUBLICAN. 

Where on their banks of light they lie, 
The happy hills of Heaven between, 
The Gods that rule the morning sky 
Are not more young, nor more serene 

15. Than were the intrepid Four that stand, 
The first who dared to live their dream, 
And on this uncongenial land 
To found the Abbey of Theleme. 

We kept the Rabelaisian plan : 
We dignified the dainty cloisters 
With Natural Law, the Rights of Man, 
Song, Stoicism, Wine, and Oysters. 

The library was most inviting : 
The books upon the crowded shelves 
Were mainly of our private writing : 
We kept a school and taught ourselves. 

We taught the art of writing things 
On men we still should like to throttle : 
And where to get the blood of kings 
At only half-a-crown a bottle. 

Eheu Fugaces ! Postume ! 
(An old quotation out of mode) 
My coat of dreams is stolen away, 
My youth is passing down the road. 

20. The plan forgot (I know not how, 
Perhaps the Refectory filled it) 
To put a chapel in : and now 
We're mortgaging the rest to build it. 

The wealth of youth, we spent it well 
And decently, as very few can. 
And is it lost? I cannot tell ; 
And what is more, I doubt if you can. 

The question's very much too wide, 
And much too deep, and much too hollow, 
And learned men on either side 
Use arguments I cannot follow. 

They say that in the unchanging place, 
Where all we loved is always dear, 
We meet our morning face to face, 
And find at last our twentieth year. . . . 

They say (and I am glad they say), 
It is so ; and it may be so : 
It may be just the other way, 
I cannot tell. But this I know : 

25. From quiet homes and first beginning, 
Out to the undiscovered ends, 
There's nothing worth the wear of winning, 
But laughter and the love of friends. 

But something dwindles, oh ! my peers, 
And something cheats the heart and passes, 
And Tom that meant to shake the years 
Has come to merely rattling glasses. 

And He, the Father of the Flock, 
Is keeping Burmesans in order, 
An exile on a lonely rock 
That overlooks the Chinese border. 

And One (myself I mean no less), 
Ah ! will Posterity believe it 
Not only don't deserve success, 
But hasn't managed to achieve it. 

Not even this peculiar town 
Has ever fixed a friendship firmer, 
But one is married, one's gone down, 
And one's a Don, and one's in Burmah. 

30. And oh ! the days, the days, the days, 
When all the four were off together : 
The infinite deep of summer haze, 
The roaring boast of autumn weather ! 

I will not try the reach again, 
I will not set my sail alone, 
To moor a boat bereft of men 
At Yarnton's tiny docks of stone. 

But I will sit beside the fire, 
And put my hand before my eyes, 
And trace, to fill my heart's desire, 
The last of all our Odysseys. 

The quiet evening kept her tryst : 
Beneath an open sky we rode, 
And mingled with a wandering mist 
Along the perfect Evenlode. 

The tender Evenlode that makes 
Her meadows hush to hear the sound 
Of waters mingling in the brakes, 
And binds my heart to English ground. 

35. A lovely river, all alone, 
She lingers in the hills and holds 
A hundred little towns of stone, 
Forgotten in the western wolds.

I dare to think (though meaner powers 
Possess our thrones, and lesser wits 
Are drinking worser wine than ours, 
In what's no longer Austerlitz) 

That surely a tremendous ghost, 
The brazen-lunged, the bumper-filler, 
Still sings to an immortal toast, 
The Misadventures of the Miller. 

The vasty seas are hardly bar 
To men with such a prepossession ; 
We were ? Why then, by God, we are 
Order ! I call the club to session ! 

You do retain the song we set, 
And how it rises, trips, and scans ? 
You keep the sacred memory yet, 
Republicans ? Republicans ? 

40. You know the way the words were hurled, 
To break the worst of fortune's rub? 
I give the toast across the world, 
And drink it, "Gentlemen : the Club."

R. Field sets stanzas 33-? (35?)

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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: Emily Ezust [Administrator]

This text was added to the website: 2009-01-16
Line count: 160
Word count: 1071