Collegia – Ode 24: The First Morning


(Apologies to Matthew Arnold)

Prinny dear, was it yesterday
We left sweet Douglas on its bay?
In the caverns cold and grey
That here serve, wherein we dwell,
We heard the sound of the iron bell.
Homesick minions stairwards creep,
Some unshaven, half-asleep,
Where the sick lights shudder and gleam
Downwards to the chapel stream
All the poor beasts without sound,
Torn from the haunts of their native ground;
Where the students groan and whine
Through their prayers, not divine;
Where the walls with wailing cry,
Hem us round and daunt the eye,
Form our world for ever and aye.
When did students come this way?
Prinny dear, was it yesterday?

Gone, gone, gone!
Gone are the days we were free!
We sit at our meal in the old prison
Moaning most dolefully.
Dark are our thoughts, so far from joy
In the buzzing hall as with breakfast we toy;
With the flakes on plates laid and the marmalade:
For our homes we still yearn,
And we long to return.
And so we eat our fill,
Sighing most dolefully,
Till the officer bangs on his plate
And the chattering is still.
We stand to attention and mockingly wait
For the grace to be mumbled by he
Who silences us all by a glare.
Then at once there comes a rush
To be out in the fresh air
From the odour-ridden hall
And the smell of sausage.
A long long stroll
On the cold flat stones of the cloistered passage,
And a smoke in the morning air.

But, Prinny, at midnight
When soft the winds blow,
When cold falls the moonlight
And candles are low.
When tutors are sleeping
In rooms far away,
Our vigils we’re keeping,
Now merry and gay.
On small stoves, burning spirit,
Our bacon we fry,
With eggs of great merit,
We eat on the sly.
We will talk on our bedsides
Of days that are done,
Of Christmas adventures,
Of holiday fun.
And then will we slumber
In each narrow bed.
Next week we will number
The days that have fled.

11.1. 1928