by George Gordon, Lord Byron
[from Hours of Idleness, published in April 1807]
Oh! could Le Sage’s demon’s gift
Be realized at my desire,
This night my trembling form he’d lift
To place it on St. Mary’s spire.
Then would, unroof’d, old Granta’s halls
Pedantic inmates full display;
Fellows who dream on lawn or stalls,
The price of venal votes to pay.
Then would I view each rival wight,
Petty and Palmeerston survey;
Who canvass there with all their might,
Against the next elective day.
Lo! candidates and voters lie
All lull’d in sleep, a goodly number;
A race renown’d for piety,
Whose conscience won’t disturb their slumber.
Lord H—, indeed, may not demur:
Fellows are sage, reflecting men:
They know preferment can occur
But very seldom,—now and then.
They know the Chancellor has got
Some pretty livings in disposal:
Each hopes that one may be his lot,
And therefore smiles on his proposal.
Now from the soporific scene
I’ll turn mine eye, as night grows later,
To view, unheeded and unseen,
The studious sons of Alma Mater.
There, in apartments small and damp,
The candidate for college prizes
Sits poring by the midnight lamp;
Goes late to bed, yet early rises.
He surely well deserves to gain them,
With all the honours of his college,
Who, striving hardly to obtain them,
Thus seeks unprofitable knowledge:
Who sacrifices hours of rest
To scan precisely metres Attic;
Or agitates his anxious breast
In solving problems mathematic:
Who reads false quantities in Seale,
Or puzzles o’er the deep triangle;
Deprived of many a wholesome meal;
In barbarous Latin doom’d to wrangle:
Renouncing every pleasing page
From authors of historic use;
Preferring to the letter’d sage
The square of the hypothenuse.
Still, harmless are these occupations,
That hurt none but the hapless student,
Compared with other recreations,
Which bring together the imprudent;
Whose daring revels shock the sight,
When vice and infamy combine,
When drunkenness and dice invite,
As every sense is steep’d in wine.
Not so the methodistic crew,
Who plans of reformation lay:
In humble attitude they sue,
And for the sins of others pray:
Forgetting that their pride of spirit,
Their exultation in their trial
Detracts most largely from the merit
Of all their boasted self-denial.
’Tis morn:—from these I turn my sight.
What scene is this which meets the eye?
A numerous crowd, array’d in white,
Across the green in numbers fly.
Loud rings in air the chapel bell;
’Tis hush’d:—what sounds are these I hear?
The organ’s soft celestial swell
Rolls deeply on the list’ning ear.
To this is join’d the sacred song,
The royal minstrel’s hallow’d strain;
Though he who hears the music long
Will never wish to hear again.
Our choir would be scarcely excused,
Even as a band of raw beginners;
All mercy now must be refused
To such a set of croaking sinners.
If David, when his toils were ended,
Had heard these blockheads sing before him,
To us his psalms had ne’er descended,—
In furious mood he would have tore ’em.
The luckless Israelites, when taken
By some inhuman tyrant’s order,
Were ask’d to sing, by joy forsaken
On Babylonian river’s border.
Oh! had they sung in notes like these,
Inspired by stratagem or fear,
They might have set their hearts at ease
The devil a soul had stay’d to hear.
But if I scribble longer now
The deuce a soul will stay to read;
My pen is blunt, my ink is low;
’Tis almost time to stop, indeed.
Therefore, farewell old Granta’s spires!
No more like Cleofas, I fly;
No more thy theme my muse inspires;
The reader’s tired, and so am I.
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