The Backs

James Payn

Dropping down the river,
Down the glancing river,
Through the fleet of shallops,
Through the fairy fleet,
Underneath the bridges,
Carved stone and oaken,
Crowned with sphere and pillar,
Linking lawn with lawn,
Sloping swards of garden,
Flowering bank to bank;
'Midst the golden noontide,
'Neath the stately trees,
Reaching out their laden
Arms to overshade us;
'Midst the summer evens,
Whilst the winds were heavy
With the blossom-odours,
Whilst the birds were singing
From their sleepless nests.

Dropping down the river,
Down the branched River,
Through the hidden outlet
Of some happy stream,
Lifting up the leafy
Curtain that o'erhung it,
Fold on fold of foliage
Not proof against the stars.

Drinking ruby claret
From the silvered "Pewter,"
Spoil of ancient battle
On the "ready" Cam,
Ne'er to be forgotten
Pleasant friendly faces
Mistily discerning
Through the glass below.

Ah! the balmy fragrance
Of the mild Havanna!
Downed amidst the purple
Of our railway wrappers,
Solemn-thoughted, glorious
On the verge of June.
Musical the rippling
Of the tardy current,
Musical the murmur
Of the wind-swept trees,
Musical the cadence
Of the friendly voices
Laden with the sweetness
Of the songs of old.

The Backs are the stetch of the river Cam that runs down the back of a number of Cambridge Colleges from St John's to Queen's. It is a gloriously beautiful spot and the favoured haunt for punting, often with friends and a bottle of wine. Trinity is one of the colleges that backs onto the Cam along the Backs.

James Payn was at Trinity College, Cambridge for six years between 1847 and 1853. He was successful at the University, becoming President of the prestigious Cambridge Union.