” − Ego credo ut vita pauperum est simpliciter atrox,
simpliciter sanguinarius atrox, in Liverpoolio.”
Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,
” …And came, as most men deemed, to little good,
But came to Oxford and his friends no more.”
Matthew Arnold, The Scholar-Gipsy
Past and Future
The place they lived until he was, what, twelve
years old (if I remember rightly) was
uglier, dirtier, smellier and more dangerous
than any other place he left or came from.
Which may be why he later thought of the arts –
books above all, but also paintings, music –
then roses, orchids, apple-blossom, girls’
amazing eyes, lips, softness, as what offered
his squalid past a future, as if beauty
were always truth, and truth a sort of beauty.
I’d drop broad hints − but every Sunday he
and one old biddy or penitent husband would
turn up inside the porch at five-to-eight
for early Communion. Yawning did no good.
My wife, still half asleep, would have to wait.
If fewer than “two or three”,
I’d grin and send him home. But he’d be back
for Matins, Evening Prayer and Sunday School.
He might have taken orders but − the fool –
at Oxford he went off the beaten track…
Mud and Music
Still well-behaved, he thought he’d better ask
permission to stay out late (no girls in college
post-10 pm). Brusquely ignoring his question,
the Dean asked why, though, leave a trail of mud
across the Music House’s polished floor
at last night’s concert… The thing to do, it seemed,
was bribe one’s scout. But how? He found he cared
and didn’t care about do’s / don’ts − what when
to ask, wear − not ask, not wear. But he cared
always for art, girls, tulips… The rest was mud.
The Voice of the Staircase
We noticed straight away he didn’t fit.
His accent told us where he went to school.
Rumour had it he worked eight hours a day.
We’d visit one another as a rule
for tea. But he was obstinately ‘grey’.
He’d never stop to chat
outside his room or on the stairs, as we did.
And the moment term was over, off he’d hitch
back North. We knew, of course, his sort aren’t rich.
To get on here, though, more than graft is needed.