Oxford Poetry

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Muriel’s poem, Favete Linguis, was published in Blackwell’s Oxford Poetry in 1917.  Favete Linguis! is a Latin phrase, which, literally, means ‘facilitate the ritual act with your tongue’ - but which, figuratively, means ‘hold your tongue’.  The phrase is used by Cicero, Ovid, Horace, Pliny the Elder and Seneca.

 

There may well be some double entendre here, as there is little doubt that, whilst at Somerville, Muriel experienced same-sex romance, and that Favete Linguis is one of the poems that Muriel wrote about her experiences in that regard.  Muriel and Marjorie ‘Bar’ Barber attended Somerville as students at the same time, and they undoubtedly became lovers - maybe while they were at Somerville, but certainly afterwards.  It is possible that this poem is specifically about the developing relationship between Muriel and Marjorie.

 

FAVETE LINGUIS

 

There are few people, being by,

That leave me peacefully to lie:

Mostly their restless brains, or mine,

Seek each the other to divine:

Silence, that rightfully should be

Clear-hearted as a stretch of sea

That runs far inland, luminous,

To rest in still shades verdurous,

Becomes instead a thwarted thing,

With only waywardness to bring.

 

All otherwise in you I find

The inner places of the mind:

The gift of quiet on your brow

Like some long benediction now

Closes upon me: spirit-born

Tranquillity enfolds each worn

Wan thought, with slender fingers cool

Drawing away from off the pool

Of night the mists that hide a star,

Dreaming wondrously afar:

Till vision cometh down for me

In gracious white serenity.

Muriel’s second poem published in Blackwell’s Oxford Poetry, this time in 1918, is "And One Fell by the Wayside . . .".

 

This is a poem written towards the end of the First World War.  Many of Muriel’s friends and acquaintances chose to do war work in France - as did Muriel herself at the end of 1918.  There is no doubt that there was plenty of work that needed to be done by those who wanted to support the war effort but were unable or ineligible to fight.

 

Perhaps this poem refers to that type of work.

 

“And One Fell By The Wayside . . .”

 

SCHOLAR, and man of letters, and daintily nurtured,

You were one with your peers,

Leaving the half-told story.

Throwing away the dear things of this life-time—

All you found was the steady, silent effort,

Only the toilsome moulding, the shaping the weapon,

None of the keen sword-glory.

 

Not for you the crown and the consummation,

Not the battle-death, sharp, swift, and kindly;

Only the early plodding on, half blindly,

Only seeing the end by the faith of the spirit,

Only the hardest of all, the preparation,

All the heart-breaking spadework,

Formulas, initiation;

Only the snows of December . . .

 

Under the snow the quiet brown land lies sleeping,

Waiting the breath of Spring—

God will remember.

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