The Wizard's Pupil
by Dorothy Sayers
* It was written with red and black ink, and much of it he could not understand; but he put his finger on a line and spelled it through. At once the room was darkened, and the house trembled.
OLD FAIRY TALE.
Time like a sullen school-boy stands
Beside the Wizard's knee,
The book of life between his hands,
And spells out painfully
The crabbed Christ-cross row,
The Alpha and the O.
His grimy fingers slowly trace
Each odd, repellent sign
In a dull fear to lose the place;
His voice, with listless whine,
Drawls through the scheduled hour
The syllables of power.
While Zeta is so like to Xi
Small thought has he to spare
For what the screed may signify,
(The Wizard in His chair
Smiles, knowing ere He look
All that is in the book).
But sometimes ill and sometimes well,
Reluctant and perplexed,
He gropes and stammers through the spell
From one sound to the next;
And when the last is read
God's Word wakes the dead.
This is from a collection of poems Sayers published in 1918 when she was about twenty-one (it was her second book of poems, and, indeed, her second book at all). She had graduated with honors from Somerville College in Oxford at this point, but had not yet received her MA -- because Oxford University did not allow women to matriculate and receive formal degrees until 1920.