If you ever want to read a Romantic poem designed entirely to make you pine away for the English countryside, Matthew Arnold’s 1865 “Thyrsis” is a winner. In three lines, he single-handedly created the phrase that fueled the tourism industry for the town of Oxford for the next century and a half:
And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening,
Lovely all times she lies, lovely to-night!—
Just say “dreaming spires” to most Anglophiles and their eyes mist over while they look off into the distance, heaving a long, wistful sigh.
In fact, Oxford has a Bridge of Sighs (an urban bridge based on its Venetian elder):
Its buildings echo with the footsteps of famous writers. You, too, can sit in the Eagle and Child Pub (locally called the Bird and Baby) and have a pint right where C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the others in their group The Inklings sat and read from The Narnia Chronicles, Lord of the Rings,or other works.
You can watch scullers on the River Isis:
And if you are a book-lover, you will be drawn like a drug addict to Blackwell’s Booksellers. You fall silent when you enter the door and see the heavy wood beams and walls of books. It is an English Temple to Reading.
So, yes, at the end of the day, you’ll agree that Matthew Arnold got it right. Oxford is a town out to capture your imagination.
Next time: Photos and thoughts from my August 2019 ramblings about Wiltshire
Photo credits: open sources online