Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Far End of the Chessboard

In the running for the next Oxford Professor of Poetry, A.E. Stallings reports back from the rabbit-hole of the election:
I kept thinking, as I wandered through Oxford this past week (I was there to give a reading at Rhodes House), what a curious and curiouser turn of events the whole matter was. As a young and insecure American graduate student twenty years ago, Oxford intimidated me: I felt awkward, that I didn’t belong, I was out of my element. Now I seemed to be collegially accepted, claimed even, staying at the Lodgings of the Principal of my old college, collaborating in the campaign with my former tutor, having a strategic coffee in the Senior Common Room in Christ Church, meeting with students at the Eagle and Child (watering hole of the Inklings—C.S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, etc.), attending a dinner at high table. Had I made it somehow, a pale anonymous pawn, to the far end of the chessboard? 

Walking through the gorgeous gardens of Lady Margaret Hall, in their full glory at the beginning of June, by the banks of the Cherwell fringed with doilies of Queen Anne’s lace, I was ambushed by a bewildering mixture of melancholy and joy, gratitude and wonder. I would sometimes take a turn on the path and feel a stab of—not of nostalgia, since surely a place of brief sojourn in my youth could not be called home—but chronalgia, as if the soul of the young woman aspiring to be a poet, and the soul of the poet I had become, passed right through each other, coming and going.

1 comment:

Christopher Wiseman said...

Lovely description of Oxford in June. I do hope she gets the Chair. If she were in Cambridge, she wouldn't have the words to describe the beauty, he says with bias, but then she wouldn't have the personal knowledge of growth she has in Oxford. I had the incredible privilege of dining at High Table at my old Cambridge college and gave a reading in the Master's Lodge, with, of all people, Helen Vendler in the front row! As an undergraduate, I'd never, of course, dined at High Table, nor been inside the Master's Lodge. But Stallings' feelings ring very familiar to me.