I’d forgotten what a blessed thing Saturday mornings in the Radcliffe Camera are. In Oxford I am always possible–grateful and humbled to have been in some small part at home in this great tradition of knowledge. I’d come into town with the intention of attending the History of Childhood conference at Magdalen, but rail disruptions deposited me in Oxford an hour after registration ended, and I could not summon the courage to disrupt a lecture on baptism in medieval England; I’ve given up the headscarves, and as a result am not exactly inconspicuous.
The sky has clouded over, making the stone saints above Brasenose seem ominous. I’ve spent an hour jotting notes for an essay on my disease, yet am so tired of my disease that I feel sick to think of it. Or maybe it’s feeling sick to write something trite. I never do finish what I begin. Not even my twenties, perhaps. Oh God, I have grown so morbid.
These girls with long hair and nice legs and summer skirts and smiles–how envious I am.
Usually I am half in love with the English weather but right now I would hate it to rain; for some reason the thought strikes fear into my heart.
What I hate most about the thought of dying is not to have written, and to have K. forget me, and love someone else. Not to have his children. To think of anyone else as their mother kills me.
What is it about the Bodleian that breeds such morbidity? Maybe imagining myself here at twenty, writing poems on a Saturday morning while everybody else slept off their hangovers. Sitting with the Narnia series in a stack, unable to concentrate on otherworlds, being too grounded in my body, imagining making love to the beautiful blonde man I’d met. Frenziedly typing up an essay on the “Whitmanian strain” in American elegy, thinking I was really quite something, when in actuality it was the worst mark of my master’s–told off for misquoting Crane (“a livid hieroglyph” as “a lived hieroglyph,” when the whole essay was in fact about misquotation and re-interpretation, and couldn’t they appreciate the splendour of that? Because a “lived” hieroglyph suits, doesn’t it?)
A moment of panic yesterday when I was taken by the Thames’ current. But then acceptance: drowning would, after all, be my preferred method of death. Another grand tradition. Michael Llewelyn Davies & his tied hands. And of course Crane: “Goodbye, everybody!”
Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.
And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.
Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.
Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.
-Hart Crane, “At Melville’s Tomb”