Know you her secret none can utter?
Hers of the Book, the tripled Crown?
Still on the spire the pigeons flutter,
Still by the gateway flits the gown;
Still on the street, from corbel and gutter,
Faces of stone look down.
Faces of stone, and stonier faces–
Some from library windows wan
Forth on her gardens, her green spaces,
Peer and turn to their books anon.
Hence, my Muse, from the green oases
Gather the tent, begone!
Nay, should she by the pavement linger
Under the rooms where once she played,
Who from the feast would rise to fling her
One poor sou for her serenade?
One short laugh for the antic finger
Thrumming a lute-string frayed?
Once, my dear–but the world was young then–
Magdalen elms and Trinity limes–
Lissom the blades and the backs that swung then,
Eight good men in the good old times–
Careless we, and the chorus flung then
Under St Mary’s chimes!
Reins lay loose and the ways led random–
Christ Church meadow and Iffley track,
“Idleness horrid and dog-cart” (tandem),
Aylesbury grind and Bicester pack–
Pleasant our lines, and faith! we scanned ’em:
Having that artless knack.
Come, old limmer, the times grow colder;
Leaves of the creeper redden and fall.
Was it a hand then clapped my shoulder?–
Only the wind by the chapel wall!
Dead leaves drift on the lute … So, fold her
Under the faded shawl.
Never we wince, though none deplore us,
We who go reaping that we sowed;
Cities at cock-crow wake before us–
Hey, for the lilt of the London road!
One look back, and a rousing chorus!
Never a palinode!
Still on her spire the pigeons hover;
Still by her gateway haunts the gown.
Ah! but her secret? You, young lover,
Drumming her old ones forth from town,
Know you the secret none discover?
Tell it–when you go down.
Yet if at length you seek her, prove her,
Lean to her whispers never so nigh;
Yet if at last not less her lover
You in your hansom leave the High;
Down from her towers a ray shall hover–
Touch you, a passer-by!