Student News

Oxford #7 — The Myth and Magic of Oxford

March 20, 2014

Emily Ng ’14 and Lawrence Kim ’14 reflect on the importance of history and literature in making Oxford and its surroundings so special:

Photo Credit: Acadia Mezzofanti

Photo Credit: Acadia Mezzofanti

On Sunday morning, Dr. Robert Ritter, author of the Oxford Manual of Style, gave us a lecture on Oxford University’s context in British literature and poetry. Dr. Ritter discussed with our class Oxford graduate Matthew Arnold’s poems The Scholar-Gipsy (1853) and Thrysis (1865), specifically how the poems created the myth and magic the university – in some ways – still carries today. These two poems are considered the seminal poems about Oxford, so to hear Dr. Ritter’s thoughts created another dimension to Arnold’s message. Another poem that piqued interest was Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch’s Alma Mater (1922), where Quiller-Couch addresses the university. A particular line that built off of our discussion of myth was: “Ah, but her secret? You, young lover,/ Drumming her old ones forth from town,/ Know you the secret none discover?/ Tell it – when you go down” (45-49).  This concept of the university, or “her”, as an elixir of life where people go to retain their youth offered another reason as to why Oxford has become a revered institution. With Dr. Ritter’s lecture, the class delved into the question of why we all wanted to come on this trip in the first place. What is it about Oxford, otherwise known as The City of Dreaming Spires, that has pulled us to the surprisingly sunny England over vacation? While all of us have various reasons for coming here, placing our location in literature was a different lens to look through.

Photo Credit: Anna Steim

Photo Credit: Anna Steim


Photo Credit: Acadia Mezzofanti

Photo Credit: Acadia Mezzofanti

The afternoon started with a trip to Avebury, about an hour’s drive from the Oxford University we have grown to know and love. On the bus with us was our tour guide once again, Britton Brooks, who was kind enough to bring a wealth of knowledge on the countryside. We were on the lookout for white chalk horses engraved into the hills of the surrounding landscapes, but we unfortunately could not find one. On the way to Avebury, we took a short detour to Silbury Hill. A hill made entirely by man, with unknown purposes and little history surrounding it, Silbury Hill remains a mystery to both the tourists and the specialists. It was amusing to see two tourists walk up the hill right after Britton had told us multiple times that it was forbidden to climb it. In all honesty, most of the group probably wanted to get to the top of Silbury Hill: it was said that all of Avebury could be seen from the top of it. Finally we arrived at Avebury, only a mile or two away. Somewhat like Stonehenge, Avebury was filled with large stones arranged neatly in circular perimeters. Unfortunately, many of the stones were gone and had been replaced by small obelisk-like placeholders, as most of the stone had been converted into the neighboring village’s building blocks. Mr. Nilsson and Ms. Steim then had the great idea of taking a photo on the hills of Avebury. We all jumped for the couple of photographs and ended up back on the bus in time to get ready for a served meal at Exeter College.

Photo Credit: Acadia Mezzofanti

Photo Credit: Acadia Mezzofanti

Though we have been having dinner at around 6 P.M. (or 18:00 as they say here in England) each day, we had a later meal at around 7:30 P.M. for Sunday roast. A traditional dinner in the country, our Sunday roast consisted of a cream of mushroom soup, roasted meat and potatoes, cauliflower, and sticky toffee cake. In some ways, Sunday roast is a simpler version of Deerfield’s Christmas dinner – except, there is roast once a week. Though Oxford is on their vacation as well, several remaining students came dressed in their traditional robes that signified their year in the university. There were toasts by the faculty of Exeter College, and our group wore dressier attire. This way, we all fully immersed ourselves into the experience of being Oxford students.

 

(Thanks to Acadia Mezzofanti ’14 and English Instructor Anna Steim for the photographs!)