The merry clerks of Oxenford they stretch themselves at ease Unhelmeted on unbleached sward beneath unshrivelled trees. For the leaves, the leaves, are on the bough, the bark is on the bole, And East and West mens housen stand all even-roofed and whole. (Mens housen doored and glazed and floored and whole at every turn!) And so the Bells of Oxenford ring: Time it is to learn! The merry clerks of Oxenford they read and they are told Of famous men who drew the sword in furious fights of old. They heark and mark it faithfully, but never clerk will write What vision rides twixt book and eye from any nearer fight. (Whose supplication rends the soul? Whose night-long cries repeat?) And so the Bells of Oxenford ring: Time it is to eat! The merry clerks of Oxenford they sit them down anon At tables fair with silver-ware and naperies thereon, Free to refuse or dainty choose what dish shall seem them good; For they have done with single meats, and waters streaked with blood . . . (That three days fast is overpast when all those guns said Nay!) And so the Bells of Oxenford ring: Time it is to play! The merry clerks of Oxenford they hasten one by one Or band in companies abroad to ride, or row, or run By waters level with fair meads all goldenly bespread, Where flash Junes clashing dragon-flies but no man bows his head, (Though bullet-wise Junes dragon flies deride the fearless air!) And so the Bells of Oxenford ring: Time it is for prayer! The pious clerks of Oxenford they kneel at twilight-tide For to receive and well believe the Word of Him Who died. And, though no present wings of Death hawk hungry round that place, Their brows are bent upon their hands that none may see their face (Who set aside the world and died? What life shall please Him best?) And so the Bells of Oxenford ring: Time it is to rest! The merry clerks of Oxenford lie under bolt and bar Lest they should rake the midnight clouds or chase a sliding star. In fear of fine and dread rebuke, they round their full-night sleep, And leave that world which once they took for older men to keep. (Who walks by dreams what ghostly wood in search of play-mate slain?) Until the Bells of Oxenford ring in the light again. Unburdened breeze, unstricken trees, and all Gods works restored In this way live the merry clerks, the clerks of Oxenford!
Return to the Rudyard Kipling library , or . . . Read the next poem; The Coastwise Lights