Monday, March 07, 2016

Walt Whitman Meets A British Public School



On the face of it, I wasn't sure there was much promise in the title In Praise of Winchester: An Anthology in Prose and Verse (Constable, London: 1912) but flicking through there are some rather choice moments. It is almost entirely about Winchester College, one of the oldest public schools in Britain. Students and alumni are known as Whykehamists and many, if not all of these poems and snippets of prose are by this distinguished band. The College has produced some notable poets in the past including Lionel Johnson and Robert Nichols to name just two. But the poem which caught my eye was not be one to famous, but a published poet nonetheless: John Crommelin-Brown. He was educated at Winchester College, fought in the First World War and wrote war poetry, he went on to be a master at Repton and a county cricketer. The book of poems from which this comes was published in 1908 and was a collection of specifically Whykehamist poems and parodies. It struck me as a bit of fun and, without knowing the author we will probably never know how 'knowingly' these images were written.

Walt Whitman Watches Fifteens

What do you see, Walt Whitman?
I see a mass of arms clad in brown and white and blue and white jerseys,
Of legs clad in cut-shorts that once were white,
Arms that struggle, and legs that kick convulsively, that is what I see;
And I see hands that grasp the empty air,
Or if not the air then their next-door neighbour,
Or if not their neighbour then the netting which pens the players in ;
And there are two watchers with note-books and pencils,
Note-books to write in, and pencils to rap the grasping hands,
(There is mud on the hands, and their knuckles are white with the tension of grasping),
The play of the muscles, the curve of the back stooping to push,
Faces glistening with sweat, sinews in the neck taut with the effort of extrication, that is what I see.
I see a ring of eager faces ; 
Mouths that open, and anxious eyes.
And ever the grey tower above showing through the trees,
(The trees stripped of their foliage, and the tower shows through their tracery),
Slender, silent tower.

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