“I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all—the colleges I mean—like an opera.”
-William Butler Yeats, in a letter to Katharine Tynan
I’ve been in Oxford for two weeks now. At long last, everything is starting to settle into a routine. I have a working knowledge of the libraries, and I can find the materials I need rather quickly. I know my way around the city, and Oxford is so cycle-friendly that I can bike virtually anywhere in less than 20 minutes. The city is feeling less like a tourist attraction and more like home. There have been so many blessings. I still can’t believe I get to study here. My days are full of books, excellent sacred music, tea, libraries, and good company.
Last Sunday was Oxford Open Doors, so all the colleges were open to the public. Technically, I can get into all the colleges anytime with my University card, but it was so fun to spend the day roaming around the city, peeking into different colleges. The gorgeous Magdalen College hosted an organ recital in the chapel, which was exquisite, and I strolled Addison’s Walk and thought of the C.S. Lewis poem, “What the Bird Said Early in the Year,” about that very pathway. It was a lovely day.
Yesterday we took a day trip to London and walked everywhere. Buckingham Palace, the Tower, the Monument, along the Thames, Tower Bridge, the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, the Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge, Big Ben and Parliament. Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral was magnificent, and we sat just feet away from the world-famous men’s choir. And then the highlight of the day was The Comedy of Errors at the Globe Theatre that night. The Globe is open-air, and Mary and I paid for seated tickets, but if you’re on a tight budget, you can go as a “groundling” and stand in the yard for 5 pounds. I’d seen The Comedy of Errors before, but this was another level. The wordplay banter was genius, and it was the first time I felt like it actually worked. I think it was because the actors included the audience so much in the story, and it felt like we were a part of the show. It was so well-done, and I’m going back soon to see Julius Caesar. Going to the Globe has been on my bucket list ever since I was in a production of Twelfth Night in tenth grade, so last night was amazing. And it made me so excited to start my Shakespeare tutorial here and dive into the plays and the sonnets.
One of the most unexpected blessings here has been what we call “food groups.” I live in a house with a lot of other students, and there really isn’t enough kitchen space for everyone to cook their own dinner, so traditionally, students have formed food groups. There are six of us in my food group, and each person in the group is responsible to cook dinner once a week. It is so fun to take a break from the writing and researching and prepare a feast for other people once a week. And on Friday, after an exhausting day of researching in the library in preparation for the next essay, I biked up the enormous Headington Hill with my backpack full of books, and Caitlin welcomed me into the Vines with a delicious meal of miso-glazed vegetables and tofu on rice and homemade blueberry sorbet. Here the hearth is wide and warm, I always think. We don’t have a hearth.
Praying the poetry of George Herbert. Talking about Marilynne Robinson. Being sprinkled with water from trees after the rain, and thinking about how John Ames says in Gilead that water was meant for blessing. Spending the entire day in my Eno in the garden reading Margery Kempe. Exploring and adventuring. Wrestling with questions and crafting arguments. Learning history. Wandering Henry VIII’s apartments in Hampton Court, thinking about religion and culture. Considering all the things, all the lives that were never written down, and about the fact that they mattered. Evensong. Laughter and merriment in pubs. Hearing other peoples’ stories. Being challenged to this level of scholarship. Autumn and the cool air. Learning, learning, learning. I only wish I had more than one semester here.
For all of this, we are saying thank you.