One of the joys of being at Girton is our thriving poetry group. We meet once a fortnight (alas, of late only by Zoom) and read out and discuss the poems, on a chosen theme, which we have all submitted anonymously. Recently our theme was Girton itself, and just for fun I wrote a mock-gothic ballad about “The People’s Portraits‘, the wonderful collection of portraits of ordinary work-a-day people that we have hanging in our halls, imagining that in this lockdown they came to life and complained about how much they were missing the students! Anyway the poetry group chose it to be one of the poems on the Girton Youtube Channel for our ‘poetry fortnight’ and I thought I would share it with you here.
Ive included the words of the poem after the video.
Portraits By Moonlight
Beyond old Girton College tower
I watched the sun decline
And soon on all its empty courts
The moon began to shine.
The bright moon shone on hearth and hall
Where students used to throng
And on the empty chapel choir
That once was rich with song
It shone through casements high and low,
Through panes of leaded glass
And where the magic moonlight fell
A strange thing came to pass
Down all the lonely corridors
The people’s portraits hung
And as the moonlight touched each face
It seemed a faint chime rung,
A faint chime rung and then, behold:
Each portrait sighed and stirred
The walls that held them echoed round
As each one spoke a word.
And such strange murmuration rose
When each one spoke to each
That I came near so I might hear
The tenor of their speech
‘Alas’ said one, (the tramp I think)
‘I miss our students so
I loved the way they looked at me
I hate to see them go’
‘They should have been back weeks ago’
The Oarsman soon replied
‘There’s something that has held them back
There’s something wrong outside!’
‘There’s something wrong outside indeed’
The biker girl put in,
‘Time was when all the roads I’d ride
Were full of traffic din
But listen how strange silence reigns
Afar on land and sea
No traffic brings the students back
Wherever they may be.’
And all the portraits sighed and said
‘Alas that this should be
How much we miss the merry throng
That kept us company’
And then I heard a voice ring clear
From down the dining hall
A voice of true authority
Was summoning them all.
Turning her folded hands a while,
Showing her kindly face,
Emily Davies spoke aloud,
The foundress of this place:
‘Fear not my fellow portraits, now
Be still and hear me out
For I have vanquished many a foe
And banished many a doubt.
It may be we will have to wait
A little longer yet,
It may be many a moon will rise,
And many a sun will set,
But I am sure the day will come,
Our watch is not in vain,
When these old halls ring out with life
And Girton thrives again!
I waited many years myself
To bring about my dream
But our endurance won the day
And realised our scheme.
And then we waited all those years
Till women got degrees
This absence is as nothing, when
Compared with waits like these’
And then the moon was hid in clouds,
The portraits all were still,
But each one seemed to keep for us
I slipped away, to ponder on
The strange tale of that night
And when the sun arose today
I knew we’d be all right.
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