When I decided to start this blog, I had to choose a name for it. Not an easy task. Several ideas I tried had already been taken.
The words I chose come from yet another poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I first encountered this poem as a junior in college, traveling in England. A brochure for the city of Oxford included the first two lines of it, and after spending a day in Oxford, I fell in love with both the university and the description of it that Hopkins gave.
It wasn't until later that I read the rest of the poem, where Hopkins expresses dislike for the newer buildings that have been built around the campus (creating the "base and brickish skirt") and then the final part about Duns Scotus, a philosopher who had a great impact on Hopkins' thinking and his decision to convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism.
When I was in Oxford, I had never heard of Duns Scotus. And I don't think I remembered then that Hopkins had gone to school there.
But I did know that C.S. Lewis had taught there, and I was eager to find whatever traces of him that I could. I was there on a Saturday, and most if not all the students were on break, so the campus was not very populated, and many of the buildings were closed.
I was there alone, and I guess I just walked up to someone and asked if they knew where Lewis' office had been. They did. This man walked me over to the proper building and showed me the steps that led up to Lewis' former office. In my enraptured naivete, I assumed that it would have been turned into a museum or shrine or something, like Keats' house in Rome that I had visited earlier.
But, no. Lewis' office was now someone else's office. I was so disappointed to learn this! Nothing I could look at or learn from. I could only look up the steps and think that he must have walked up them many times.
I asked the man if there were anyone around who might have known Lewis. He pointed me to a gardener, an elderly gentleman busy among the bushes. I spoke with the gardener briefly, asking him to tell me anything he remembered about Lewis. He basically said, "Well, his office was right over there, so he used to walk through this way a lot, and I did see him. And he was a nice chap, quite friendly." And that was it.
It wasn't what I expected, to say the least. I guess I had wanted in some way to pay my respects and thank Mr. Lewis somehow, and there seemed no way to do it.
And yet because of that experience I feel a little kindredness with Hopkins, in roaming that beautiful city and breathing the same air that someone before me had breathed, seeing the same lawns and leaves, trees and towers. And reflecting on how deeply that person's writings had influenced my thinking and my understanding of faith.
So, here's the poem, and now you know where "folkflocksflowers" comes from:
Duns Scotus’s Oxford
TOWERY city and branchy between towers;
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, lark-charmèd, rook-racked, river-rounded;
The dapple-eared lily below thee; that country and town did
Once encounter in, here coped and poisèd powers;
Thou hast a base and brickish skirt there, sours
That neighbour-nature thy grey beauty is grounded
Best in; graceless growth, thou hast confounded
Rural rural keeping—folk, flocks, and flowers.
Yet ah! this air I gather and I release
He lived on; these weeds and waters, these walls are what
He haunted who of all men most sways my spirits to peace;
Of realty the rarest-veinèd unraveller; a not
Rivalled insight, be rival Italy or Greece;
Who fired France for Mary without spot.