Oxford Revisited

Alfred Noyes

Changed and estranged, like a ghost, I pass the familiar portals,
Echoing now like a tomb, they accept me no more as of old;
Yet I go wistfully onward, a shade thro' a kingdom of mortals
Wanting a face to greet me, a hand to grasp and to hold.

Hardly I know as I go if the beautiful City is only
Mocking me under the moon, with its streams and its willows agleam,
Whether the City or friends or I that am friendless and lonely,
Whether the boys that go by or the time-worn towers be the dream;

Whether the walls that I know, or the unknown fugitive faces,
Faces like those that I loved, faces that haunt and waylay,
Faces so like and unlike, in the dim unforgettable places,
Startling the heart into sickness that aches with the sweet of the May,—

Whether all these or the world with its wars be the wandering shadows!
Ah, sweet over green-gloomed waters the may hangs, crimson and white;
And quiet canoes creep down by the warm gold dusk of the meadows,
Lapping with little splashes and ripples of silvery light.

Others as I have returned: I shall see the old faces to-morrow,
Down by the gay-coloured barges, alert for the throb of the oars,
Wanting to row once again, or tenderly jesting with sorrow
Up the old stairways and noting the strange new names on the doors.

Is it a dream? And I know not nor care if there be an awaking
Ever at all any more, for the years that have torn us apart,
Few, so few as they are, will ever be rending and breaking:
Sooner by far than I knew have they wrought this change for my heart!

Well; I grow used to it now! Could the dream but remain and for ever,
With the flowers round the grey quadrangle laughing as time grows old!
For the waters go down to the sea, but the sky still gleams on the river!
We plucked them—but there shall be lilies, ivory lilies and gold.

And still, in the beautiful City, the river of life is no duller,
Only a little strange as the eighth hour dreamily chimes,
In the City of friends and echoes, ribbons and music and colour,
Lilac and blossoming chestnut, willows and whispering limes.

Over the Radcliffe Dome the moon as the ghost of a flower
Weary and white awakes in the phantom fields of the sky:
The trustful shepherded clouds are asleep over steeple and tower,
Dark under Magdalen walls the Cher like a dream goes by.

Back, we come wandering back, poor ghosts, to the home that one misses
Out in the shelterless world, the world that was heaven to us then,
Back from the coil and the vastness, the stars and the boundless abysses,
Like monks from a pilgrimage stealing in bliss to their cloisters again.

City of dreams that we lost, accept now the gift we inherit—
Love, such a love as we knew not of old in the blaze of our noon,
We that have found thee at last, half City, half heavenly Spirit,
While over a mist of spires the sunset mellows the moon.


The "familar portals" are those of Exeter College. Noyes is returning to Oxford for a reunion at his old Alma Mater. Noyes in fact never actually got his degree. He missed an exam because he was meeting his publisher to arrange the publication of his first collection of poems, The Loom of Years.