Collegia – Ode 79: Evening Chapel


Oh, come with me and I will show you
Where the students meet for prayers
In the morning and the evening,
Chiefly evening.
We enter by the left or right
Entrance, whichever suits our mood,
And find ourselves within
Beside the organ.
Rows of chairs
Greet our long gaze and lead the eye
To the far dais and a reading desk
Which serves as pulpit.
And on the platform stands a piano grand
At which the pianist sits
To play the tunes
When as a choir we meet to practise,
But no to-night.

Anon comes in
A short and stubby Scot,
Jocky by name,
Who climbs upon the polished organ stool
And feels within his pockets for the key
With which to unlock the keyboard.
Music chosen,
And the blower switch depressed,
With spectacles on nose,
And Jocky plays.

Slowly and mournfully he plays,
Now with his right hand,
Now with left;
Eftsoons with both together.
While on the keys his fingers idle
Past the minutes file in number,
And there comes the sound of cheering
From the masses
Still at supper,
And a faint clattering of spoons and dishes.
Footsteps approach;
The first to offer up petitions
To enter are about.

“Hello!” cried one, “old Jock is on the organ.
“What murders he to-night?”
“Oh, just the usual” replied his mate,
“A fugue by Bach, or movement slow
“From symphony
“By Warrandiski!”
Then entered in
Two seniors who, stealing furtive looks
At the absorbed organist,
Went up the aisle as custom-bound to their appointed seats,
Followed in quick succession by three more,
Another three, then five, a dozen then;
While two of them mounted upon the dais,
One to put up the hymns, the other
Finding in the Book
The place for Prinny.

So then assembled all must wait
Until the lordly officers
Slow saunter to their seats,
Followed at a discreet interval in rustling gown
The birdlike Prinny
Who to the pulpit swept
In a mild hurricane of gown and notes,
And standing there in mild expectancy
For such time as the organist should choose
To bring his voluntary to a stop,
Scratching his stubble chin
With clawlike finger,
Mortar-board askew.

The organ pipes fell silent.
Prin announced
The opening hymn
Which duly thundered forth in various tones,
Basses and baritones, tenors and such,
Singers in unison, falsetto chirps,
And some
That opened mouths and breathed
Without a sound egressing.
Then followed swift
A hearty loud ‘Amen’
And the swift reading of the lesson set,
As if to Prin had come the recollection
Of something else important.
Prayers finished, came the notices
Which, quite despite the efforts of the Prin,
Went all unheard because of Jock,
Who chose this moment to begin
Upon a theme by Tallis.

At length,
Not in despair,
But bowing wisely to th’inevitable,
The Prinny took his swift departure
Followed by the officers,
The seniors,
The second year men,
The juniors;
And lastly, after much unequal conflict on the keys
Between the organist and the composer
Of the intricate music, Jock gave in;
Surrendered to superior power
And ceased to play.
The organ locked,
He put away the key where it did hang,
And after fondly gazing round the temple dim
Switched off the lights,
Went out,
And quietly closed the door.

Then to the stillness and the pale moonbeams
That struggled through the mullioned window panes,
The weary organ, settling it its dust,
Sighed with a gusty sigh,
As if to say,
“I would that Jock, when seated at my keys,
“Would play lost chords, so lost that they
Should never more be found,
And he
Torment my bellows and wheezing pipes no more!”
And Silence fell.

June, 1929