by Geoffrey Bache Smith
O scholar grey, with quiet eyes,
Reading the charactered pages, bright
With one tall candle's flickering light,
In a turret chamber under the skies;
O scholar, learned in gramarye,
Have you seen the manifold things I see?
Have you seen the forms of traced towers
Whence clamorous voices challenge the hours:
Gaunt tree-branches, pitchy black
Against the long, wind-driven wrack
Of scurrying, shuddering clouds, that race
Ever across the pale moon's face?
Have you heard the tramp of hurrying feet.
There beneath, in the shadowy street,
Have you heard sharp cries, and seen the flame
Of silvery steel, in a perilous game,
A perilous game for men to play,
Hid from the searching eyes of day?
Have you heard the great awakening breath,
Like trump that summons the saints from death,
Of the wild, majestical wind, which blows
Loud and splendid, that each man knows
Far, O far away is the sea,
Breaking, murmuring, stark and free?
All these things I hear and see,
I, a scholar of gramarye:
All are writ in the ancient books
Clear, exactly, and he that looks
Finds the night and the changing sea,
The years gone by, and the years to be:
(He that searches, with tireless eyes
In a turret-chamber under the skies)
Passion and joy, and sorrow and laughter,
Life and death, and the things thereafter.
For Christmas I received the biopic Tolkien, which makes the interesting choice of focusing almost entirely on Tolkien's early friendship with Christopher Wiseman, Robert Gilson, and Geoffrey Bache Smith (together making up the T.C.B.S), as well as with Edith in the years leading up to their marriage. The Tolkien estate wasn't happy with it, but in fairness, the Tolkien estate hasn't usually been happy with much. It over-reads Tolkien's early life in terms of his later works (and as critics have noted, overdoes the story-comes-from-the-author's-life trope); it also misses much more obvious opportunities to introduce links with his earlier work (Beren and Luthien, in particular). It also underplays the seriousness of Tolkien's Catholicism. But I thought it was actually enjoyable enough.
Geoffrey Bache Smith was himself a later member of the T.C.B.S. (the Tea Club, Barrovian Society), joining after Vincent Trought died of illness. There were others who were members beside the most notable four, e.g., Ralph Stuart Payton and Thomas Barnsley. Gilson, Smith, and Payton died at the Battle of the Somme. Barnsley was killed in 1917. Of all the close friends, only Tolkien and Wiseman survived. All of Geoffrey Bache Smith's poems were published posthumously.
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