This summer a group of Torrey Honors College students will be travelling to Cambridge, England for a three-week course in Great Books by local authors. One such local author on our list is Christopher Smart (1722-1771; Pembroke College BA 1744). We’ll read and discuss his long, later poems Song to David and Jubilate Agno.
But recently one of his short, early poems caught my eye, partly because it’s once again graduation season and partly because the poem’s got some local Cambridge color.
You have to read this poem aloud with an exaggerated self-importance, imagining yourself in festal garb of academic style. The idea is simple: What if a smart-aleck college grad boasted of his accomplishment in exactly the tone of voice Horace used in bragging (factually, as it turns out!) that his poetry would live on throughout the ages? That’s the joke, here it goes:
On Taking a Batchelor’s Degree
In allusion to Horace, Book iii, Ode 30
Exegi monumentum aere perennius, &c.
[Mmore durable than brass My monument shall be, etc.]
‘Tis done: — I tow’r to that degree,
And catch such heav’nly fire,
That HORACE ne’er could rant like me,
Nor is King’s-chapel higher.
My name in sure recording page
Shall time itself o’erpow’r,
If no rude mice with envious rage
The buttery books devour.
A title too, with added grace,
My name shall now attend,
Till to the church with silent pace
A nymph and priest ascend.
Ev’n in the schools I now rejoice,
Where late I shook with fear,
Nor heed the Moderator’s voice
Loud thund’ring in my ear.
Then with Æolian flute I blow
A soft Italian lay,
Or where Cam’s scanty waters flow,
Releas’d from lectures, stray.
Meanwhile, friend Banks, my merits claim
Their just reward from you,
For HORACE bids us challenge fame,
When once that fame’s our due.
Invest me with a graduate’s gown,
Midst shouts of all beholders,
My head with ample square-cap crown,
And deck with hood my shoulders.