Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Medieval Student

by James Williams

Scotus and a Latin Plato -
Nought our student knew of Greek -
No tobacco, no potato,
Disputations twice a week.

He was quite a rank outsider,
Never had his people up,
Was not cricketer or rider,
Never heard of claret-cup.

Now and then a blood-stained battle
Surging through the frightened town
Drowned the ineffective rattle
Sprung for aid against the gown.

Combat was his recreation,
Combat, and the real thing;
Football is an imitation
Far and feebly following.

When his fight was over, bleeding
Crept he to his fireless hall,
Patient for his chance of reading
Manuscripts misused by all.

When at nine the curfew thundered,
Shivering rose he from his form,
Stamped his feet in vain and wondered
If he ever would be warm.

Beaumont Palace and Bocardo
Northward marked he day by day,
Names that live, for pede tardo
Names in Oxford pass away.

Did his tutor and his lecture
Muddle as they muddle now?
We to-day can but conjecture
If he called a plough a plough.

Bacon of the Opus Majus
Viva’d him an hour perchance
Till his spirit once courageous
Wavered in a troubled trance.

Ockham may have said demurely,
‘Never mind Franciscan tips!’
Howlers of the period surely
Flowed in plenty from his lips.

Life was costly, for the student
Kept examiners in view,
Were he moderately prudent,
If he wanted to be through.

So his Ockham or his Bacon
Primed he well with stoups of ale
That his viva might be taken
Ere the smack of it should fail.

The curfew bell still rings from Christ Church at nine o'clock, though no one takes any notice of it now (it's at 9.05, actually, because Oxford time is five minutes ahead of GMT). Beaumont Palace was the royal palace situated where Beaumont St now is - where the Ashmolean and Worcester College are; Bocardo was the medieval prison, near the church of St Michael at the Northgate. Names in Oxford don't pass away that quickly!

No comments: