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OXFORD BLUES

Brian Taylor

UNIVERSAL OCTOPUS 3


ALSO PUBLISHED Blindness Kindness Worm’s Eye View Going Out There is No Other Coming Back There is No Trace Blondin and Other Poems Bamboo Leaves Toi et Moi Vienna Basic Buddhism for a World in Trouble Dependent Origination (translation of Paţiccasamuppāda) What is Buddhism? The Living Waters of Buddhism Buddhism and Drugs Basic Buddhist Meditation The Five Buddhist Precepts Saŋyojana (The Ten Fetters) Pali Chants and English Translations Centre: The Truth about Everything The Universal Octopus & Mr Tao Gnomonic Verses

COPYRIGHT © 2008 BRIAN F TAYLOR First Edition 2012. Second Edition 2016 Published by Universal Octopus 2016 www.universaloctopus.com A catalogue record of this book is available from the British library. ISBN 978-0-957-1901-8-4 4


For Brian

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Oxford

is its buildings, its ghosts and its todays.

The buildings reveal the intentions and hopes of their founders in their names. St John’s, Christ Church, Trinity and many others. All the early colleges were religious foundations aimed at the preservation and dissemination of their Christian religion. In those times they took their religion very seriously indeed. In 1423 Henry Chichele, a Fellow of New College, who had risen to be Archbishop of Canterbury, had William Taylor, a Principal of St Edmund Hall, tried and then burned at Smithfield. His crime? He had said that prayers should not be addressed to saints but to God only. It is hard to imagine our current Archbishop attempting this sort of thing with the present Principal, who is an inorganic chemist and not a man of the cloth, for professing cyanates and thyocyanates. Conversely, what would Archbishop Chichele have made of gay priests and women priests? In 1555, Queen Mary had two bishops and an Archbishop tried for heresy and subsequently burned between the city wall and Balliol. In 1589, four Catholics were martyred in Oxford. Tempora mutantur et nos mutantur in illis. The most notable college in modern times is Nuffield, founded by the creator of the Morris motorcar. Its founder’s aims were for it to be devoted to “postgraduate studies, especially but not exclusively in the field of social studies”. Social studies concern themselves with man in the context of the society in which he lives. This is a quite i


different perspective from earlier times when the colleges concerned themselves with man’s soul in the context of God in whom he breathes and moves and has his being. William Taylor’s old college has not had any students of Theology for about thirty years, nor indeed any classicists for about forty. The emphasis is on newer subjects such as Earth Sciences (as Geology is now called). Many of Oxford’s buildings are still here and its ghosts and all the stepping-stones of its todays. They have their stories and a poetic quality when they are distilled. They say what they say and they suggest another dimension that still exists parallel to them.

Poetry begins with Pain (like any other kind of birth) but though it breeds and feeds on earth, it aims at not becoming back again. It spirals up so it can find the pain-free zone it can embrace within the mind and make its own.

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O.U.B.C Magnolia in flower in the corner by the chapel shines in the sharp October sun. Across the High and down Rose Lane, the Cherwell is brown and dapple from heavy September rain. Treading leaves gold and red, a runner puffs and blows his way down Christ Church Meadow to where the Isis flows. During the summer someone burned down O.U.B.C., a score of boats and a hundred years of someone else’s history. A Jack Russell lies on a wall with its back to the ashes soaking up the sun; and a coot, with no sense of history at all, just floats. In Queen’s Lane, a squirrel scuttles under a 300-year-old-door and into the Provost’s Garden.

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TRUTH IN THE BOTANIC GARDENS Thousands of magnolia flowers, by Danby’s gate and yellowstone walls, test vernal powers against the winds of March; and wait. Slowly, blossoms fall, like heavy snowflakes, one by one, lit by a dull and clouded sun. Tourists have gathered here to see the wonder of this snow-blossom tree and try to stop it slip away with inner eye or photography. Try as they may to seize the glories of this day, tree, branch and twig will rot, yellowstone wall be broken and decayed; Earl Danby’s name will be forgot, his gate demolished, scrapped and weighed. The photographs themselves will fade. And, as the months and years slide by, what of the harvest of that “inner eye”? Even those mind-made facsimiles are lost in old-age imbecilities.

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VISITATIONS Queen’s Lane is haunted. An oxcart crashed below Jeremy Bentham’s window. The ox smashed its head into the wall. Ox eyes are sometimes seen peering out of that wall. Armed horsemen ride the Lane; for Charles the Martyr. They ride quietly without enthusiasm.

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MARGARET Saxon Edwin's sparrow flies through his mead hall from darkness to darkness. She sits there in the firelight and lifts her eyes, sees and records it all: an entrance that seems to begin, an exit that seems to end. She clings to firelight and shadow to warmth and mead and a lingering bard that sings. She does not know or will not heed the fluttering wings of her own heart that takes its flight from light to light and dark to dark.

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LA BELLE DAME She filled herself up with roses on which she could depend and invited her boyfriends in; then opened the door at the other end and dropped them into the bin. She shut herself up with her memories, neatly on a shelf, or scattered about rather wantonly in a gilded Victorian Self; then locked the door to keep me out and threw away the key! All the might-have-beens and could-have-beens and weren’ts come back to overcast and haunt her setting sun and join her sad unlearnts.

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CHERWELL On Cherwell, punts glide crookedly through elfin mazes of many-coloured green. New College cloisters are home to weathered, wooden saints. Insubstantial presences slumber behind a medieval screen. Through it all you pass, unseeing and unseen.

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CHINA BOUND GIRL China-bound girl, not-yet-happiness-made-her-found girl. Airport-station-taxis girl, brand-new-outside-sensations girl. Three-plus champagnes-anything can-do girl, anywhere-go preferably-Katmandu girl. From-past-sadness-ever-fleeing girl, balanced-on-the-very-edge-of seeing girl. Wonderful-from-the-very-beginning girl, so-afraid-of–losing-she-must-be-always-winning girl. So-shy-her-confidence-is overwhelming girl, she-keeps-her-captains-firmly-at-their-helms-ing girl. China-bound girl, Love at her heels, how does she think what she knows she feels? Glides like an image one flower ahead of sorrow, floating through sun-mist to yesterday's tomorrow. Through the moving shadows of this world's blind-man’s buff she has cared and been cared for (but not-loved-too-much enough). In her mind what pleasures lead her from A to Z? In her heart what treasures are silenced by her head? China-bound girl! Carrying through Customs (for the fun of it) a bucket of water with the sun in it.

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LABEL IT CORRECTLY In St Peter’s graveyard the bones have labels. The labels are incised in marble or slate. The coming together of the bones is recorded. (God breathed on those bones). The dislocation of the bones is recorded. (God stopped breathing). The length of time in between is calculated to the nearest year. (This is called the age of “someone”). It is suggested that, in many cases, “someone” has been buried with his bones. (And that his label liveth for evermore). Presumably, “someone” is a kind of caretaker (or bonekeeper).

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UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE One man’s refuge is another man’s cage. Trying to get in often meets Trying to get out. My oak is sported?

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PETER The Rectory is large and draughty, the tennis courts are freshly mown. The Reverend Peter and his brilliant children are ill at ease when they are at home. Peter is a homosexual, has discussed this with his son. Meals are taken in total silence. Summoned to breakfast by a bell, we kneel before we eat. Benedictus benedicat. The Reverend plays postal chess, sits in his study, looks at the board. Concerned about the position of his Queen, he moves her, writes on a postcard, sends it to an opponent he has never seen. Some days later a new threat comes through the letter box. He reads it, thinks it through in silence (there are no time-out clocks) and posts another defence. The standard is high. This game will outlast the seasons. It is like watching snails play football. For many days, he and I have discussed the King’s Indian Defence. 10


DOWN UNDER MAN Doctor Bruce attributes the wide grinning accents of Cobbers and Americans to Outback and Prairie dust rather than to the more obvious autistic spasms of resentment. He also quotes with disarming contentment Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh’s bold assertion that the Final Honour School in English is not the Day of Judgement referred to in The Authorised Version.

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KATHLEEN 'Going out there is no other, coming back there is no trace'. Love and care for one another, smooth the sadness from her face. Like Orestes how she travels! Light-foot ever, onward roams; as the skein of life unravels, everywhere she makes her homes. Loves she keeps in golden cages, (LOVE she smiles at from afar), turns (with smiles) her golden pages (climbs her grass blade to her star). Still the sadness does not leave her though she smiles and smiles again and her gladness like a fever is shadowed round with wisps of pain. 'Going out there is no other coming back there is no trace.' (Love and care for one another; smooth the sadness from her face.) Like Eurydice she lingers where Pluto reigns as King of Shades while Orpheus touches gentle fingers and her sunshine slowly fades.

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GRAHAM Graham, who could but doesn’t see further than his image in his magic Speculum, is in every way quite perfect. Every day new friends come, to share his solitary, convivial splendour and his magic Speculum.

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ST ANDREWS You are silent. There is the silence of the closed door in the warmth of a dwindling fire; and the silence of open windows and starlight. And the silence of a mind that has lost its bearings.

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GREATS AND MODS The Professor of Philosophy is Al Capone who can practise Piscatology all on his own. His Doctoral Thesis divides mankind into two: “Pianos and Piano Players”. He enquires, “Which are you?” He smiles at the students his reputation brings as he gently, but firmly, plucks their strings.

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A COLLEGE OF CARDINALS If you skin Mother Leopard you’ll find spots upon her bones. The surface has its roots and the roots are deep within and all the little leopards are her clones.

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COLD FROST We fill the time twixt sleep and sleep to stop the thoughts dig down too deep for they have messages to keep that what you sow is what you reap.

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UPWARDLY MOBILE CAT The cat sits in the Provost’s chair! Wisdom, being devoid of Right Understanding, has become Worldly Savoir-Faire.

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THESEUS Labyrinths are mind-made and vanish when the mind stops. (Do the Minotaurs vanish too?) Life is a Labyrinth. Garden gate - Conception. Front door - Birth. A thousand mazes branch off to every room. Every room with its view leads to the Back Door. (Is the Minotaur waiting there for you?) Are you coming back for more?

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TIME MACHINE “Occasionally, I’m a parrot,” said Fred. “The fact that you can speak proves you are a parrot,” said Jules Verne, turning the page, “and not just an ordinary freak. That’s why we put you in this cage, instead of a bed.”

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NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T Ahead a vast triple rainbow in a flattened arc spreads across a broken, troubled Oxford sky like a warning to the descendants of Noah. A sudden downpour, no visibility now, like a warning to a latter-day Milton.

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SCRATCHING WHERE IT DOESN’T ITCH The fastest may not be the best nor is Ben Nevis Everest. The rules for host may not suit guest. When the Holy Grail was the Quest, Lancelot’s prowess failed the test. Laughter in the Coliseum could not be suppressed though the victims did not share the jest. Men rush off madly in all directions to get the furthest from the start, but not all journeys are wise selections for the lonely speculations of the human heart as it tries to find its way back to its place of rest.

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MAKE THE MOST OF IT! Said the Junior Dean. What is “It” that we should make the most of it? What have we that we can justly boast of it? We have inherited our share of wealth; and karma and good sense have brought us health. Time weighs not on our hands and, as things stand, we have sufficient and do not rightly understand if, of Time, we think ourselves deficient. But what if, as in the parable, we have concealed our talent in the ground, and, newly dead, the fruit of our labours is revealed and nothing found and all has been in vain? Then, downward spiralling, off we go again to land, with new bruises, in some older state, to sift through the ashes of the bonfire of our desires and stare into the shadows of “too late”.

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LEARNING Learning out and learning in both from now and here begin. Going back to change the clock yesterday’s secrets will not unlock. Writing plans on your diary’s page makes nothing happen (except old age). Singing old songs, reciting old parts, rights no wrongs, breeds more false starts.

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END GAME Wildebeest, antelope and gazelle stand on the Plain of Serengeti where they see only too well, lying in the River Grumeti the jungle eye and hungry smile of the eternally waiting crocodile. Gowned and mortared they sit in McKay’s Coffee House, where they see only too well, across the choking traffic of the High, the Examination Schools where the results will be posted. How far have they got on their way to where?

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BLONDIN Everyman is Blondin. Every lifetime a rope, finer than a spider’s thread, sharper than a sword, stretched between birth and death (breath and breath) across Niagara.

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RADCLIFFE CAMERA Black-gowned gravediggers have returned to the Bodleian to sift through the dust of other men’s bones.

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CHURCHYARD Tombstones underneath our feet, the booming of Great Tom, remind us that our heartbeat is a biological bomb. The Brave New World we meet, the old schools we come from; Christ Church automaton.

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PROSPERO BURNS HIS BOOKS Forgive and forget, says Prospero. Forgiveness is for the weak who are unable to forget. They make a virtue of their weakness and preserve their self–respect with the broken pieces of their integrity. Like Humpty Dumpty, after his Fall, lying at the foot of Colchester wall. With the broken pieces of his identity.

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AFTERNOON TEA AT THE WARNEFORD Speech reaches out to whisper and shout, praise and curse, across a silent universe; making of molecular vibration a means of human communication. It wasn’t always quite like this; the groans and moans, the hiss and howls in the warm pre-Cambrian mud were eloquent enough avowals of love and hatred, fear and blood. Even now, it isn’t always quite the same; the grunts and lowing of pig and cow in farmyard barn and shed make no poetic claim but express the cosmic suffering of the living and the dead. When fragile humankind comes here to peer, through downwards spiralling mind, into thorny jungles of raw sensation, it loses its clear articulation. The fine distinction of the human word is dislocated and blurred into jabbering of animal and bird. Even here. 30


T. S. ELIOT AT 4.00 PM Ten thousand pieces on the floor reconstruct his own jigsaw, each one shaped at the five sense doors to compose the picture he is looking for. Achensee with snowflakes? Earl Grey tea and cakes? He cannot hide. He cannot escape into the seascape’s swell, nor is the mountainscape more real. These only serve to cunningly conceal a Vision of Eternity that always comes too soon, the dull and empty drabness of a Sunday afternoon.

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SPECULUM Going out there is no other, coming back there is no trace. Though we must love one another, whose is the beloved’s face? Start from wherever you think you wish to, you cannot end up in a different place. Examine carefully the mirrors around you. All that you see is the same old face. Blame not the mirror for malformation. Polishing glass will not improve the skin. If you wish for transformation, seek out a smile that warms from within.

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THE 1944 EDUCATION ACT Leaves blowing in a wind that has no origin (and no destination). Shadows falling on an ancient wall (fade and fall). Children watching the marks the shadows made learning and learning and learning to name them all (before they fade). Hands reaching fingertips towards a distant, uncomprehending moon; clutching at it in frustration (shattering its reflection in a puddle).

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CONTENTS O.U.B.C ............................................................................. 1 TRUTH IN THE BOTANIC GARDENS ..................................... 2 VISITATIONS ..................................................................... 3 MARGARET ....................................................................... 4 LA BELLE DAME ................................................................. 5 CHERWELL ........................................................................ 6 CHINA BOUND GIRL .......................................................... 7 LABEL IT CORRECTLY ......................................................... 8 UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE .................................................. 9 PETER ............................................................................. 10 DOWN UNDER MAN ......................................................... 11 KATHLEEN ...................................................................... 12 GRAHAM ......................................................................... 13 ST ANDREWS ................................................................... 14 GREATS AND MODS ......................................................... 15 A COLLEGE OF CARDINALS ............................................... 16 COLD FROST ................................................................... 17 UPWARDLY MOBILE CAT .................................................. 18 THESEUS ......................................................................... 19 TIME MACHINE ................................................................ 20 NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T................................... 21 SCRATCHING WHERE IT DOESN’T ITCH ............................. 22 MAKE THE MOST OF IT! .................................................... 23 LEARNING ....................................................................... 24 END GAME ...................................................................... 25 BLONDIN ........................................................................ 26 RADCLIFFE CAMERA ........................................................ 27 CHURCHYARD ................................................................ 28 PROSPERO BURNS HIS BOOKS ........................................... 29 AFTERNOON TEA AT THE WARNEFORD ............................. 30 T. S. ELIOT AT 4.00 PM ....................................................... 31 SPECULUM ...................................................................... 32 SAINT EDMUND HALL ...................................................... 33 THE LIBRARY ................................................................... 34 1


ST. PETER’S-IN-THE-EAST ................................................... BACK QUAD STAIRCASE THREE ........................................ WAITING ........................................................................ ANAXIMANDER ............................................................... SCHOLAR OF CHRIST CHURCH ........................................ UNEXPLODED BOMB IN ST ANNE’S .................................... TALE OF A RAT ................................................................ NEIGHBOURS AT BREAKFAST ........................................... NEIGHBOURS IN DORNACH ............................................. GURDJIEFF ...................................................................... THE PILLARS OF HERCULES .............................................. JANUARY, JANUARY…. ...................................................... MIDWINTER DAY IN THE BOTANIC GARDENS .................... MAGDALEN .................................................................... EXAMINATION SCHOOLS ................................................. ASHMOLEAN: ΤΕΧΝΗ ΜIΜΕΤΊΚΗ ....................................... FEBRUARY 23 MERCURII DIES ........................................... “GENTLE SPRING” IN THE ASHMOLEAN ............................. ORNITHOLOGY ............................................................... MICHAELMAS .................................................................. DINING IN HALL .............................................................. MAGNA CUM LAUDE ....................................................... SUNDAY AFTERNOON ...................................................... ST EDMUND’S SPECULUM ................................................ SUMMA THEOLOGICA 1. CXV. 6 ........................................ MORRIS OXFORD BULL NOSED COLLEGE .......................... MEETING IN MESOPOTAMIA ............................................. PICASSO CUTS HIS FINGER ............................................... SOUND OF THE TIMES ..................................................... EX LIBRIS ........................................................................ BLENHEIM ...................................................................... THE WELL ....................................................................... ARMISTICE DAY............................................................... NEW CONSTANTINOPLE .................................................. POST IMPERIAL BLUES ..................................................... REV. MIDGLEY ................................................................. 2

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OU SONT LES NEIGES D’ANTAN? ........................................ 83 THURSTAN ...................................................................... 86 NO SMALL BEER ............................................................... 87 CHRISTOPHER ................................................................. 89 BUD ................................................................................ 90 PHILOLOGICO-AESTHETICS .............................................. 91 MUSEUM ROAD ............................................................... 93 RAISING THE DEAD .......................................................... 95 HALLOWELL .................................................................... 96 FELIX CULPA ................................................................... 98 GUESTS ........................................................................... 99 SPECULUM AND SPECTROSCOPE..................................... 100 PARADISE LOST ............................................................. 102 I EAT THEREFORE I AM ................................................... 103 NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND ....................................... 104 EAST…. .......................................................................... 106 …AND WEST .................................................................. 107 ULTRA MORES ............................................................... 108 PROSPERO JONES ........................................................... 110 DIANA .......................................................................... 111 POETRY IN MOTION ....................................................... 112 MUMBO JUMBO ............................................................. 113 XANADU ....................................................................... 115 SUE AND CHRISTOPHER ................................................. 116 AREOPAGITICA .............................................................. 117 OXFORD EASTER ............................................................ 118 LAPUTA COLLEGE (INC) .................................................. 119 THE 1944 EDUCATION ACT ............................................. 121

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OXFORD BLUES Brian Taylor www.universaloctopus.com

OXFORD BLUES

Brian Taylor

OXFORD BLUES  

Poetry in OXFORD: Its buildings, its ghosts and its todays. Bones and stones, churches and vivisection laboratory. Peaceful gardens, riv...

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