Tuesday, August 09, 2011


Man Was Never Made for Books

John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), Gaudeamus!, from his Musa Burschicosa: A Book of Songs for Students and University Men (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1869), pp. 100-103:
To be sung at the close of the Winter Session.

AIR—'Gaudeamus igitur!'

'The end of woman or of man, I think,
Is not a book.'—MRS. BROWNING.

Gaudeamus, Burschen brave,
Tune your throats and blithely sing!
Where the hedge is greenly sprouting,
Where the angler goes a-trouting,
Walk we forth and greet the Spring!

Man was never made for books;
Books may not give law to him:
Not Agamemnon, nor old Homer,
Nor Ulysses, that wise roamer,
Made their eyes with reading dim.

Happy birds, that to the sky
Rise, and sing in tuneful bands,
While we sit in dingy places,
Polishing the rusted graces
Of dead men in distant lands!

Why should I disturb the dead?
Let the slain lie where he fell!
Why revive forgotten squabbles?
Feuds of Greek and Roman rabbles
From the mouldy record spell?

Shake the dust out from your ears;
Hear the vernal chorus swell!
Thrush and blackbird, lark and swallow,
While you ponder o'er the tallow
That from last night's candle fell!

What's the fruit of learned pains?
Value stock, and you will find
Thorny problem, prosy lecture,
Subtle substanceless conjecture,
Swelling systems big with wind!

Men from thistles cull no grapes,
Reap no health from bookish toil;
Blinking eyes, and bad digestion,
Sleepless nights and brain-congestion,
That's the fruit of midnight oil!

Fare-ye-well, ye old grey walls,
Inky benches, dusty chairs,
Learnèd tutors, grave professors,
Chancellor, rector, and assessors,
You are named in all my prayers!

Fare-ye-well, old Attic plays,
Whose cross-readings tortured me,
Grindings, crammings, preparations,
Saturday examinations,
When the student should be free!

Vivat home, and home's dear haunts,
Wooded walk and flowery dell!
Welcome father, sister, mother,
Everything that makes no bother,
And the girl that loves me well!

Vivat Highland glen and ben,
Sweeping breeze and sunny sky,
Rapid torrent grandly swirling,
Deep broad current darkly curling,
Where the big trout gulps the fly!

Vivat all that frees the soul
From the cumbrous chains of art,
All the living founts of knowledge
Which no books at school or college
Ever gave to thirsting heart!

Pereat who sneaks to-day
In dull rooms and sunless nooks!
Who, devoid of rummelgumption,
Courts dyspepsy and consumption,
Poring over bloodless books!

You have heard my song, brave boys!
Let no pedants clip your wing;
While green life is all before us,
March we forth and swell the chorus
Of blithe birds that greet the Spring!
Henrik Nordenberg, Interior with Boy at Window

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