Thursday, July 26, 2012

This Year, This Year

By the time the blackberries come to fruit along the canal, we will be gone. I am sure those who make their daily way out of these flats on the wrong side of town to their academic or town jobs, will, from time to time, stop to pluck a few. The other day I made my way down High Street with its tour groups, young people mostly, chattering in Chinese, French, Spanish, to the stone citadel known as Magdelene College with its famous alternate pronounciation, that sounds like Maudelin, knowing that at 2 :00 those heavy gates are thrown open for non affliated people like myself to get a chance to walk the College's immense grounds. Huge courtyards surrounded by 16th century stone buildings with their spires reaching high into the now blue skies, cloistered courtyards, their enclosed stone walks cool and close to empty, which when you take the  right turn into a narrow alley throws you out into another courtyard path that takes you to the famous gates of Addison's Walk, a lengthy circular walk over slightly graveled paths around a water meadow, followed for a while in its beginning stretches by the gentle river Chardwell and its resident swans.

And so I walked, past the deer park where the whiteness of distant flickering tails flashed in the sun, around and around, almost alone, thinking of where I walked, the wonder of how I found myself in such a place, hushed by hundreds of years of thinkers, working out their idea passions and perhaps other kinds, on this same walk, around and around. I had broken their silence with my womanness, my lesbianness, my working class self and one more self, that accompanied almost more then all the others as I took my not lithe 72 year old body around the borders of the water meadow--for I was walking on what had been the old Jewish cemetary, I was walking on the bones of history, on one people's exile from importance while another built its cherished and well preserved unto this day hold on history. The Jews who survived this take over had been offered, as I have told you, a "piece of wasteland" to bury their dead as the towers of Magdelene rose above them. I walked and walked, the gravel making its soft hard sound under my feet. Nothing slightly elegant about me, round and gray haired, tapping my way around the path where the greats of English literature enjoyed their leisure. I wonder if they thought too about what they had trod upon.

At the first turn in Addison's Walk, one comes to a circular wall plaque with a poem by C.S. Lewis, one of the important men who educated here. I found it moving in many unexpected ways, beyond, perhaps the cultural vision of its creator.

                                          What the Birds Said Early in the Year
I heard in Addison's Walk a bird sing clear:
This year the summer will come true.
This year, this year.

Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple tree,
This year nor want of rain destroy the peas.

This year time's nature will no more defeat you.
Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.

This time they will not lead you round and back
To Autumn, one year older, by the well worn track.

This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
We shall escape to circle and undo the spell.

Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,
Quick, quick, quick, quick, the gates are drawn apart.
                                                        C.S. Lewis, perhaps 1931, published after his death 

This year, this year La Professoressa walked every day down these Oxford streets to meet her students of New College, stirring up their thinking about gender, sexuality and human rights, retracing her steps in the afternoon, where I would await her return over Hythe Bridge, the green waters of the canal running under us, and escort her back, carrying her heavy bag when she would allow me,  back to our flat on Rewely Road. This year, this year again and again as I read Guardian and looked around me, as the Olympics took shape in the big city to the south, histories old and in the making, called for my attention. Friends have visited and left their gifts with us, gifts of projects and of touch, of dinners in quaint pubs and cream teas on the terraces of Palaces, never forgetting our friends back home, just adding to the pattina of affection that makes one truly lucky in life.

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