Tuesday, August 10, 2010

St. Veep

So, years ago (September 1978) I wrote to Blackwells and asked if they had for sale any of a list of books to which Tolkien had contributed. And they wrote back that yes, they had one: OXFORD POETRY 1915. So I bought it, for fifteen pounds (plus an extra pound's postage); the first of the few more-or-less rare Tolkien book I own*

*another being the report on the Lydney excavation containing Tolkien's note on The Name Nodens, a particular favorite of mine among his lesser works.

Edited by G.D. H. C. (= mystery writer GDH Cole) and T.W.E. (= T. W. Earp, the original twerp), it's actually an interesting little volume, containing poems not just by Tolkien but fellow T.C.B.S. member G. B. Smith (I suppose the only book Smith's work appeared in during his lifetime) and also poems by Dorothy L. Sayer and Aldous Huxley. In fact, while I'm glad to have it, Tolkien's poem ("Goblin Feet") is one of the volume's weaker entries.

One of the poems in it I've always rather liked is the following. I know nothing about the author (Esther Lilian Duff), except that she was a 'home student', whatever that is**

**(I'm writing this from the Little Rock airport, with no chance to look things up)

In any case, thought I'd share. Here it is:

"A Kalendar"

I made a Kalendar of Saints

To name upon my rosary,

And daily I entreat their aid for thee.

To guard thee during sleep

I name St. Veep;

St. Prisca has thy wardrobe in her care,

And blithe St. Hugh the dressing of thy hair;

St. Madoc aids the toilette of my fair.

When thou betimes to household tasks repair,

St. Silvester is there;

St. Chad inspects the linen and the lace;

Each polished spoon reflects the shining face

Of St. Remigius, minister of grace,

And o'er the meal presides St. Boniface.

To keep thy missal, tempting thee to read,

I name St. Bede;

And later, when thy friends shall visit thee,

Ensuring that the talk be blithe and free,

I seek betimes the bland St. Alphege;

Whilst to thy pen, lest haply thou shouldst need it,

Attends St. Deusdedit.

And when the little masque of day is over,

Gentle St. Damien of Villanova

Takes charge of thee, and all that thou shalt know

Of this hour's passing is that thou wilt grow

Dreamily willing for the night, and so

(Turning a bead in prayer to deft St. Probin

For thine unrobing)

To guard thee during sleep

I name St. Veep.

—OXFORD POETRY 1915, ed. G.D.H.C. & T.W. E. (p. 3–4)


David Bratman said...

The Society of Oxford Home-Students was a "society of women students," i.e. a women's college, but one at this time without a college campus, so the students lived in boarding houses, thus, I presume, its name.

Later it did become a college and is now called St. Anne's College.

Jason Fisher said...

For those unable to get hold of a "dead-tree" copy of the book, it is available online at Archive.org. You can read the entire book. Tolkien's contribution is on pp. 64-5.

John D. Rateliff said...

Thanks for the comments, David B. and Jason (and, offline, David D.). Apparently 'home student' simply meant a student who wasn't resident in a college -- a definition that wd have applied to me for most of my (brief) undergraduate career, only three out of whose twenty-seven months were spent in a dorm. But more specifically it was used at Oxford of women students and, as both Davids point out, eventually evolved in St. Anne's. Which, ironically enough, now boasts that virtually all their undergrads are in-residence. Now that's a full circle.

Interestingly enough, as David D. points out, Elaine Griffiths (who played a key role in THE HOBBIT's finding its way to a publisher) was a home student.

As for the poem I posted, somehow all the breaks between stanzas vanished (as comparison with the version Jason provided the link to shows). But I find I rather like it better this way, which gives it almost a skeltonics-like feeling, so I haven't gone back in and fixed it.

As for St. Veep, I'd always assumed the poet just made this name up, but not so -- apparently this is a Welsh saint so obscure that the Church isn't even sure whether he or she was a man or woman. I haven't been able to find out if he or she was a patron saint of anything besides the Welsh village of the same name, but I rather suspect not.

--John R.

Trotter said...

You can also find a book of poetry by E.L.Duff from 1916 called "Bohemian Glass", http://ia341016.us.archive.org/1/items/bohemianglass00duffrich/bohemianglass00duffrich.pdf

David Bratman said...

Again to clarify, to be identified in an Oxford publication, official or unofficial, as a "home student" didn't mean you weren't resident in your college - if you were listed as "Exeter", for instance, it wouldn't matter for those purposes whether you had a room in the college or lived outside, and most undergraduates did both at different times. "Home student" meant specifically that you were enrolled in the women's college whose name was the Society of Oxford Home-Students.

I have not seen in Oxford sources the term "home student" used more generally to describe a student's residence. Sources describing where a student lived usually just say something like "resident outside of college" as an informal phrase.