Musing in Oxford

Image of Clarendon roof by Holly Ordway
Image of Clarendon roof by Holly Ordway

I’d been musing (pun intended) on the topic of this piece for a while, getting nowhere – until I encountered two muses within a few days of each other in Oxford…

One was in the Ashmolean Museum, where I saw an ancient Greek statue of a muse in white marble, still beautiful two millennia later despite bearing substantial marks of wear-and-tear. The other was one of a set of muses atop the roof of the Clarendon Building, which stands as a sort of entrance to the great Bodleian Library. Many a time I’ve seen these elegant ladies, either glimpsed from the window of the Upper Reading Room in the Bodleian, or gazed at from below on Broad Street. On the day I took this picture, the weather had cleared after several weeks of steady clouds and frequent rain, and I felt like I was seeing everything fresh and bright.

Perhaps these two muses took pity on me – in any case, once I brought them together, I discovered that in stone, bronze, light, air, and time, I had the ingredients for a poem!

There you are, in marble: headless, broken-
Armed, still bearing witness to the artist’s
Searching for a way to show what beauty
Is – and shaping stone into a Muse.
There you are, in bronze, and touched by sun,
Keeping faithful watch at Bodley’s gates;
Do you invite us to look up? to see
The changing sky, swift-moving clouds, the grace
Of light and air at play above us? A rare
And unexpected gift, a chancy glory –
We cannot count on it to ever recur,
We cannot set in stone this passing gleam.
And yet the days are filled with gifts like these,
Each fleeting moment with its hidden Muse.

*****

Holly is a poet, teacher, and apologist exploring the intersection of literature and faith, reason and imagination. She is the author of the memoir Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms.  

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