Magdalen Tower

Full square you stand aloft, a circling
cloud behind your spires,
a giant, which only the foreigner
watches and admires.

Rock-old, eternal, smiling,
grand – from human toil aloof,
of good a symbol, holding for
impiety, reproof.

In humble harmony you join with
nature, adding to the sky
a gentle lustre, to yourself
more dignity thereby.

Stone turns to cardboard: fairy-like,
ethereal, beguiling,
man-made yet conq’ring man, you stand
rock-old, eternal, smiling.

1961. I had left school and was working in a restaurant in the Lake District. The school’s playing-field had been close to one of Oxford’s most famous landmarks. The poem – my first venture into the genre beyond some comic verse – was written in a mood of nostalgia, and now seems like a goodbye to a privileged time.

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