Jamaica College Revisited (1948)
Say! Do the griffins yet bestride the Tower?
And do they yet retain their ancient power?
Is work still burning on the plains below,
Spreading far and wide its cheery glow?
Ah, yes! Still stands the College, still I see
Each hedge, each shrubbery and each verdant tree.
No signs of ruin here, no bald decay,
Though scores, nay, thousands all have passed this way.
Unchanged the old school stands the test of age,
Of Nature and her elementary rage.
Here still good Virgil may a refuge find,
And all who share with him the classic mind.
Here dwell the spirits of the poet-bards
Of whose great fame we are the jealous guards.
A Chaucer or a Spenser yet may rise
From this fair place. Mayhap there dormant lies
A mighty talent in some teeming mind,
And though unrecognized by this unkind
And vulgar world, yet may there come a time
In some bright sphere or some ethereal clime
Wherein that soul may claim a place among
A classic-minded and immortal throng.
The good years treasure up each memory sweet
Kept safe from cruel Time's relentless feet.
Each aging wall recalls old sights and scenes
Forever lost to human eyes. Still leans
The restless ficus boughs against the Tower,
Where shaded by the dark and leafy bower
The old grey ghosts of younger days still rove.
At dusk they flitter forth and silent move
Through all the long and gloomy passages
Like listless souls of long-departed sages;
There, ghostly laughter of an older set
And whispers through the darkness echo yet.
The murmuring breezes waft them here and there
Complaining softly in the haunted air.
All grey and stark the silent buildings stand
While up above them, like some giant hand,
Hover the sombre clouds whose threatening mein
Lend sterner aspect to the solemn scene.
Beyond, Blue Mountain's mighty ranges rise
Outlined against the darkening evening
There the first symbols of the dawn appear
From thence Apollo, leaping from his lair,
First rears his hoary head above the clouds
When day once more draws back the night's dark shrouds:
Fresh hopes and aspirations spring anew
To cheer us on, perchance, or make us rue
Meanwhile the west grows grey, a shadow falls,
And idly plays upon the scarred walls;
The shapes and phantoms flitter all about
And romp within the classrooms and without,
Where lately cut and swept the grass grows green,
Unheeded, umolested and unseen.
The term is out: now one and all have gone,
And only I am left to brood alone;
Alone, save for these spirits of the past,
And with them now my lot I gladly cast.
Here stands the Hall whose honoured walls display
The names of those who will, long after they
Have run their earthly course, remain to be
An inspiration to posterity -
To those who otherwise might be like some
Who thought their tasks too trying and tiresome,
And frittered by the few (now precious) years
While those achievements which might have been theirs
Go to the credit of more studious friends.
Alas! They missed the road which upward wends
Its way to dizzy heights of knowledge bright,
Where spring the streams of learning and of light.
The sound of speech and laughter all else drowns,
And from his frame the old Archdeacon frowns.
Succeeding generations here have shared
The joys of those on noble Virgil reared.
Have not our minds, to flights of fancy fled,
Recalled the souls of heroes from the dead
And shared with them the doughty deeds of fame
Which with untainted glory crowned each name? -
Great Trojan Aeneas, and the brave Nisus,
Companion to the fair Euryalus;
Aletes, "ripe in judgement, bowed with years",
Moved by the daring of the two to tears,
Himself an able warrior and skilled;
Latin Volcens by Hertacides killed -
Or those who their delight in Horace found,
And Cicero with loudest praise have crowned;
Here too has Shakespeare's genius lived again,
And gems from the immortal Keats's pen
Have wasted been on youthful Philistines -
Save when some errant ray an aesthete
Re-echo still familiar voices here,
Of those whose once dread mein we now hold dear,
Which often in correction they would raise,
Though sometimes softening they might lower to praise;
Their stinging satire passed unheeded by
Our undiscerning mind's ingenuous eye,
Until, maturing, we ourselves one day
The cynic's role endeavoured to portray;
Men of great wisdom, awesome dominies,
Who introduced us to the mysteries
Of Euclid's learned science; and he too,
Who tried our unromantic hearts to woo
Unto his own dear passions - Byron, Keats,
Wordsworth and Shelley, Tennyson and Yeats;
He whose stern visage chilled each trembling heart
E'en as we vainly strove to learn the art
Of conjugating French irregulars,
Or how to round our "o"s and roll our "r"s.
The rod which once belaboured our behinds
Have left their mark now only on our minds:
The tempered steel of character is made -
Forgotten now the fire and furnace fade.
Hardby the Chapel stands:
Its hallowed walls retain each fervent prayer,
And every voice in praise uplifted there.
At eve the air is filled with soothing strains,
Harmonious and sad, sweet soft refrains.
Hushed are the voices of the vulgar crowd,
And stilled the rude sounds of the day, whose loud
Notes have, as fades with setting sun day's light,
Merged with the sweeter noises of the night.
Within, a human choir its vespers sings,
Without, a nightingale with folded wings,
Perched high upon the eucalyptus tree
Pours forth his happy evening melody,
In joyful hymns and psalms of adoration
Unto the Lord and Master of creation.
Here learned we all the tenets of our creed,
Here came to know the life that's life indeed.
About, a garden grows - ah! blessed plot!
For here secluded and remote may not
The vagrant or uneasy mind find rest
And soothing balm to salve an aching breast?
Here sitting quiet on the pleasant sod,
Away from mundane things, alone with God,
A sweet respite the burdened soul may share,
And breathe a quickening breath of rarer air.
The aged ficusberry trees remain,
Their thick grey trunks unscathed by wind or rain,
Two mighty emblems of the grand old school
A symbol of tradition and of rule,
Which through the years, unshaken and yet firm,
Endure from year to year, from term to term.
How many generations have they seen
Disport themselves upon the college green?
Those verdant grassy fields of play whereon,
Like Eton's, were great future battles won.
Betwixt the trees the Tower rises up,
Where, sitting sphinx-like on the very top
The griffins stand their never-ending guard,
Zealous as warriors of some regal ward;
By day and night their faithful watch they keep,
With cold stone eyes that never close in sleep.
On constant watch, below upon the ground
They see each day the common daily round.
The legend runs: while Tower and Griffins last,
And while the mighty ficus trees stand fast,
No harm Jamaica College e'er shall see.
But glorious thrive, victorious, noble,
Beneath the Tower the old main steps are seen.
Here we our colours have received, and been
Applauded by the noisy, cheering throng
Like heroes out of story or of song.
They lead into the vestibule, and there
Upon each wall the notice boards lie bare,
Save for one piece of paper left behind
That flutters idly in a gentle wind.
On either side there lies a dining room
And there our daily bread we would consume.
There shared the hash, the roast, the mince and pie
Famed for all ages in our battle-cry.
The clang of clashing cutlery one hears
Amid the clatter of the noisy chairs;
And too the ceaseless chatter of the crowd
Like buzz of bees, continuous and loud.
Here were the bonds of friendship firmly forged
E'en as our greedy appetites we gorged -
True comrades sworn no matter what befall:
Ever all for one and one for all!
Down through the years we hear the old school bell:
Its peal of welcome or its farewell knell
Just like some muezzein at close of day
Calling upon the faithful ones to pray,
Or like the horn of Cudjoe, at whose blast,
Across Blue Mountain's hills and gorges vast
Awakening eerie echoes, rallies round
Ten score Maroons, who summoned by the sound,
Prepare to fight, obedient unto death,
Unflinching even with their latest breath.
So doth each chime upon our hearts impress
Anew each time a sense of faithfulness,
Which bids us with contented hearts and proud,
Shout "Fervet opus in campis" aloud;
Urging us on the while, with might and main
To implement the motto we proclaim.
But now the Muse of Art perforce must pause,
As nearer now another figure draws:
It is the Seer of Science, cold and gray,
And both must join to sing a common lay.
For not alone a Plato casts his spells
About these precincts, for there also dwells
The ghost of Aristotle in this place
Urging us his calling to embrace.
Also beneath the spreading ficus leaves
The two laboratories one perceives;
Within their walls amidst a galaxy
Of all the elements of alchemy,
Amidst its pungent, evil-smelling fumes,
The young and vibrant flower of Science blooms.
Here many a future scientist was bred
By one whose hand has all unwitting led
So many students to devote their lives
To poor humanity where famine thrives,
Or dread disease takes such a fearful toll;
Their names are written on an Honour Roll.
Look! See the gymn where we were wont to sweat,
For therein were our double functions met:
"Mens sana in corpore sano." Health -
(Is that not greater far than worldly wealth?)
And Wisdom hand in hand combined conduce
A worthier type of citizen to produce.
Lithe figures, glistening with a beady sweat,
Their brows with healthy perspiration wet,
On agile feet hard exercises there
Performed with zeal and unaffected cheer.
Their carefree minds no troubles did beset,
Nor any outside cares or worries - yet.
The swimming pool also lies close at hand,
Where of an evening many an eager band
Would spend the sunny hours joyfully
In splashing there with unconcerned glee.
If only those sweet hours could return!
Nor any unpleasant memory would I spurn:
For what if prickles grow upon the briar?
Doth that the rose's lovely beauty mar?
O for a means by which I might transcend
These natural confines, and thus freed could wend
A path through time, and passing from this plane
Return to live those youthful days again!
I could once more adopt the former life
Unfettered by old chains of hate and strife;
Then would I be content when I behold
The bliss of man's estate, unlike of old
When adult joys and recreations too
Seduced the puerile hearts of striplings who
Could not perceive that underneath the gloss
There only lay an alloy, base and gross.
But soft! Why should I wish in vain; such things,
Such thoughts are merest fantasies on wings,
Which like the arrow sped does not come back,
And only empty memories to wrack
With a sadistic joy the hapless mind,
Alone are left in bitterness behind.
So I shall cease me now from vain regret
And shun these useless pinings which beget
The mockery of Fate, since no man can
Return and so resume where he began.
And yet my heart is full of gratitude
For this old school whose ancient walls and rude
Now rise before my sad and yearning eyes,
And from my lips involuntary sighs
Escape; for here within this small but happy world
My ship was launched with all its sails unfurled,
Equipped for life and set upon its way
Towards those shores where promised landfalls lay.
... And so, as darkness falls and starlight gleams
Upon the shadowed roofs, to me it seems
That old school songs come floating on the air
To wake the echoes ringing loud and clear,
And join with them to form a noble lay,
When night is passed, to welcome in the