Cambridge

 
The Cambridge bookshops

Are meant to make money,

As no doubt they do

In this Puritan city

Of science and sound investments,

Where Gray and Housman taught.

 

Cash registers ring

Like church bells

Each time a book is bought.

And then the white-faced clerk

May wrap

The Sophists and their Teaching up,

Which work,

Perhaps the buyer tells

Himself, will bring

Salvation and the gift of peace -

That rarity

Much like the horn

Of unicorn

And once possessed

The learned say,

In Greece.

 

Behind the screen

Of politics and fiction,

Two ragged undergraduates prowl

In search of truth.

Are they puzzled by

The mean

Appearance of the soul

Of man

In modern history?

Do they wonder

Why the ache of grief

At being who they are

Should start

So soon in life?

 

Another, with the scowl

Of youth,

Languid, leans

Against recherchés magazines

And scans

The Sadness of Lord Tennyson,

His tumbling tangled yellow hair

Flung back to rest

Upon

The Poems of Rupert Brooke.

 

Others

With a desolate look

Stare

In what might be despair

At slippery pictures bound

Between the pages of

Attic unbelief,

The Mocking-Bird as History’s Heir,

And The Anarchy of Art.

 

Each one of them

Seems part

Of a confederacy of sorrow,

Each wounded in the war

That rages round

The meaning of himself.

 

How poor they are!

How young!

How weary!

And on every shelf

Besieged by theory.

 

Are the songs of happiness sung

Ever at this university?

 

From time to time

The scientists with waggling beards

Go by,

Their mid-Victorian words

More positive than ever

As they pontificate,

Like goats disputing in a run,

On this week’s sure hypothesis,

Whose absolute unarguable truth

Somehow is

Not

The same as last week’s one.

 

Here and now

They show

The uselessness

Of poetry.

 

And after them

Like coach-dogs trot

The theologs in modern dress,

Ready to confess

The sins of others,

Quick with the smart denials,

Whose finger-pointing, nail-gnawed hands

Mock

The desperate disavowals

Of some latitudinarian

In Geneva bands,

Whose book

Is lifted high like Babel.

 

The hungry clerk looks up

To see the clock.

How long

Before this shop will shut?

 

Out in the onetime Roman street

A flock

Of working people meet,

Unshepherded by any

But the evening papers,

Wait

For the buses which will take

Them home,

Where, as surcease from earning

By this seat of higher learning,

They may slake

Their worries

At the football-pools.

 

Strolling

Past the colleges,

Which are lighted here and there

To show off old armorial scrolls,

Someone perhaps recalls

In King’s Parade

Milton’s and Brooke’s

Untranslatable good-looks,

As the foreign tourists grade

The buildings by their age,

And the sudden cyclist wavers,

And the motorists rage.

 

Here lawns like carpets stretch between

The ochre stone

Where Holy Harry’s chapel hovers

Over the curious wanderer like

An airship bound

For another world.

 

And there is beauty by the river:

The swans, the punts, the flowers

Beyond;

All gathered, with the trees around,

By parapets and towers -

A paradise

In which the antique scholars pace

Their thousand years away.

 

Here Gray

And Housman led

Their minor lives,

And now are great,

Greater than those

Who passed them by.

 

Here Crashaw wrote.

Here Byron wasted time.

Here half the poets of England were -

Though none would know it

From the absent statues

And the dull dislike of fame.

 

But they are honoured

In the bookshops still.

Collected works

Are monuments

That fill

The long and lofty Troylike walls,

Where each is as a noble, known

Just by a final name.

 

Ah, in the late dusk, how

Those windows glow

With light diffused around

Some book of poems -

A work as lonely written

As a letter due

On Sunday to be posted home

From those who in the daytime

Wander through

The bookshops still alone.

 

It is for them

That poets write -

The sad,

The unbefriended,

Who in the night

Read by a single light,

And when the poem is ended,

Find,

New come to mind,

Lines

Which seem descended

From the stars.

 

The bells of English Martyrs

Ring out

For the dead.

 

Marlowe. Milton. Marvell.

 

Wordsworth. Tennyson. Fitzgerald.

 

Gold-haired, dying young, Rupert Brooke.