Collegia – Ode 35: Libby League

 

IF I am wearied of this life of toil,
And all the air seems full of sweating groans,
When there is labour breathing everywhere,
E’en when the period is set by for rest;
I turn away from Ping-pong; that white ball
Bounding and rebounding o’er the net
Sends out no lure; I turn away and go
Into the library to seek the gems
Of literature, or such as can be found
In that impoverished mine; but here again
I can no solace find, and so I leave
The long dim room to wander up and down,
Turning this thing and that one in my mind,
Quite undecided what to do or where to go.
I cannot go to bed; there is no way
Unto the bedrooms till the welcome bell
Proclaims the fact that half-past nine has come
When free unlocked the gates will be. Till then
I wander; but (the saints preserve me now),
I cannot moon around for half an hour;
The clock has bare struck nine! What shall I do?
Ah, do I hear the gramophone’s loud wail
Issue upon the chilly air as far below
Someone comes gaily from the Reading Room
With laughter and with jest. Then, like a flash,
I quick remember that old Libby dear
Is anxious for my opposition in a game
Of draughts. Oh, joy! Oh, excellent! I fly
Down the stone steps, into the lighted room,
Into the smoke and dazzling light: there, there,
He sits, his pallid face as long as night,
His lantern-jaw a-wagging on his bib,
His glass eye gleaming like a stranded pearl,
Staring with mournful guise upon a board
Chequered in black and white, with little discs
Of white and black placed upon the squares.
I rush to where he sits – not often this –
To-night I rush; a look for newfound joy
Suffuses his pocked face; he moves a man
And full proceeds to chase me off the board.

16. 3. 1928