This afternoon found me in the Princeton University Library Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, poring over some 1890s Oxford undergraduate periodicals that became rather notorious because they were edited by Alfred Douglas and were thus made much of in the Wilde trials. They were fabulous as a window into late-nineteenth-century student life, featuring everything from ads for High Street businesses to original verse in Greek and of course endless commentary on Summer Eights and bad attempts at humor about scouts. And, naturally, there’s quite a lot of homoeroticism of the neoclassical sort, including some poems by Symonds, Douglas, and Wilde. But this anonymous poem jumped out at me in a way the others didn’t—it seemed to me to be actually about the unique romanticism of Oxford, not the romanticism of other times and places:
Love in Oxford
When the shades of the twilight come
Hiding the face of the flow’rs,
My heart yearns blind and dumb
In a city of mist-girt tow’rs,
In a place of shadows and spires
The love of my heart goes forth
To the sea and the clear cold north,
To him whom my soul desires.
The southern skies and the mist
Chill me and blind my sight.
I long for the lips I kiss’d,
And the eyes that were brave and bright;
I long for the touch of his hand,
And the sound of the voice I knew
When the breeze of the evening blew,
And the stars shone cold on the sand.
Out of his northern home
I call him here to my side,
On his face is the salt sea-foam,
In his ears is the song of the tide;
He shall come with his soul aflame,
His voice shall be sweet and strong,
He shall sing me a golden song,
He shall rob me of fear and shame;
He shall steep my spirit in bliss,
He shall triumph and set me free,
For love is as deep as the sea,
And sweet as the core of a kiss.