Friday, January 9, 2009

Almae Matres

Andrew Lang (1844 - 1912) was an academic who graduated from both Edinburgh and then Oxford Universities. As well as poetry, he co-wrote a prose translation of Homer's "Odyssey" and the "Iliad" and produced other scholarly books on Homer and his times.

He also published a large number of books of poetry as well as novels and books on Scottish history, including a life of Mary Queen of Scots and one on "James VI and the Gowrie Mystery".

In the poem below, there is no doubt which of his "almae matres" (St. Andrews in 1862 and Oxford in 1865) he prefers!

St. Andrews by the Northern Sea,
A haunted town it is to me!
A little city, worn and grey.
The grey North Ocean girds it round,
And o'er the rocks, and up the bay,
The long sea-rollers surge and sound.
And still the thin and biting spray
Drives down the melancholy street,
And still endure, and still decay,
Towers that the salt winds vainly beat.
Ghost-like and shadowy they stand
Dim mirrored in the wet sea-sand.
St. Leonard's chapel, long ago
We loitered idly where the tall
Fresh-budded mountain ashes blow
Within thy desecrated wall:
The tough roots rent the tomb below,
The April birds sang clamorous,
We did not dream, we could not know
How hardly Fate would deal with us!

O, broken minster, looking forth
Beyond the bay, above the town,
O, winter of the kindly North,
O, college of the scarlet gown,
And shining sands beside the sea,
And stretch of links beyond the sand,
Once more I watch you, and to me
It is as if I touched his hand!

And therefore art thou yet more dear,
O, little city, grey and sere,
Though shrunken from thine ancient pride
And lonely by thy lonely sea,
Than these fair halls on Isis' side,
Where Youth an hour came back to me!

A land of waters green and clear,
Of willows and of poplars tall,
And, in the spring-time of the year,
The white may breaking over all,
And Pleasure quick to come at call.
And summer rides by marsh and wold,
And Autumn with her crimson pall
About the towers of Magdalen rolled;
And strange enchantments from the past,
And memories of the friends of old,
And strong Tradition, binding fast
The 'flying terms' with bands of gold,—
All these hath Oxford: all are dear,
But dearer far the little town,
The drifting surge, the wintry year,
The college of the scarlet gown.
St. Andrews by the Northern Sea,
That is a haunted town to me!

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