But now their naked bodies scorn the cold,
And from their eyes joy looks and laughs at pain;
The infant wonders how he came so old,
And old man how he came so young again;
Still resting, though from sleep they still refrain,
Where all are rich, and yet no gold they owe.
And all are kings, and yet no subjects know,
All full, and yet no time on food they do bestow.
Three rivers here of milk and wine and honey flow. -- Giles Fletcher, 1586-1623
"Don't you even have a Homecoming Queen?" asked a woman from foreign parts.
"Sure, said a student. "This year it's a basset hound."
"Naw," said a stickler, "the hound was only runner-up. The band is the quenn.The whole band is Homecoming Queen, I think."
It's the sort of doubt common in Charlottesville, and you never have any idea whom to ask, to get it straight, since it's exactly the sort of question they like to mull over on the back burner, without ever settling it.
Now your reporter here, who left the Universiy of Virginia a while back, and I do not really believe it's almost 40 years, for as we know statistics lie, your reporter thinks it equally likely that a hound or 76 trombones might be queen of the Homecoming Weekend and what, when you come down to it, is the difference?
It occurs to some people, though never to me, to return to their old school for a sentimental pilgrimage. For honor's sake, let me say I only came kicking and screaming, for I well remember the discomfort I felt as a student when old boys came back. Whey the hell weren't they out at Farmington getting bombed on double martinis? Why were they hanging around looking absurd at a dance weekend?
I noticed some fellows on the Lawn, the quadrangle, chucking ice cubes up on the roof of the colonnade and investigated.
"Who's that up there?" I asked.
"Some alumnus," said a youth. The alumnus -- if that's what it was -- had a sort of blanket draped over his shoulders and one leg cocked up on the Chippendale railing around the roof. He may have been Napoleon; I don't think he was Jesusu Christ. But whatever.
"They come back and tear up the university," said a young man.
They do much worse than that. Sometimes they sit around with dried tears on their faces look disgusting, and I well remember when I lived in Room No. 51 on the West Lawn, the old codgers came by the dozens and banged on the door.
"Sorry as hell to bother you," they always began. "But this used to be my room and I wonder if you'd mind if I bopped in and showed it to my grandson here. Oh. This is my son's boy, Tumbleweed. Tattersall Gruffmutt, 2nd. Tat, say hello to Mr. Mitchell."
"Ummgh," the kid would always say, "Hi ya doon."
Then the two of them would enter, and the old man would press his lips to conceal his view that the place had gone to hell, and the boy with him look with some interest at the pile of dirty shirts on the floor. They were the ones barging in, after all, but they always made you feel it was you, not they, standing inspection.
Besides, I figured it up one day, and there was no way that many men could have had my room before me. Unless they had piled in 10 deep on the floor for the last century or so.
So one thing I knew, thank the Lord, was that I'd never bang on the door of my old room.
"That used to be my old room," I said to a photographer.
But I have never til yet knocked. Once over the weekend, late at night, when I found myself walking past it, I did touch the doorframe. Like those rural Christians who touch their radios when a biggie prayer comes on. To hook into the electricity.
And I have no doubt it's the same with everybody, sophisticated or innocent, this reaching out to touch something that doesn't even know it's being touched, like a doorframe or a radio or a clod of dirt or whatnot. Linking up with the chain, so to speak; holding on to the garland. 'Showy Chivalry'
The weekend started with an academic procession at roughly dawn under lowering skies. A growl of brass tootles sounded at one end of the quadrangle and at this signal the beadle emerged with his staff from the big domed building at the other end. Behind him came the distinguished faculty.
You will notice at all schools that no matter how long the faculty has been around, and no matter how many times they must have marched in these processions, they always manage to look as if they're new on Mars, rather suprised at the terrain. Game, of course. Readiness is everything in a man, and they're on their way like that ragtag army of Xenophon's, but they clearly doubt they'll ever get home alive.
Behind them come a couple of hundred student's, veneered in academic gowns to receive Intermediate Honors for their splendid grades. A fringe of bluejean and padded shoes stick out at the bottom to betray the basic, and perhaps solid, animal within.
"Interesting place," said a Midwesterner who had come years ago to a graduate school and had stayed to work for the school. "I noticed when I first came here a showy kind of chivalry that rather awed me. On dance weekends, they'd pick up their girls at the station with the kind of polish and gallantry we never even tried back home. We'd have just looked ridiculous, but these guys seemed to do it naturally. Style and confidence came easy to them.
"But I noticed these same guys by midnight would be behaving with a -- well -- sloth, that would have been unthinkable with us. You'd have been shot on the spot in Ohio."
In other words, except for gun control in Charlottesville, no man would now be living.
And even so, some are not. Needless to say, since the years have gone by. All the same, it's something you may not have reckoned on, if you go back to your old school. You may be surprised. Remember Phlebas, who was once tall.
Football is a major event of the weekend. Virginia lost for the 20th straight time to Clemson, for tradition is not taken lightly here.
"It was better when we lost all the time," said a man. "It go to the point we thought it was vulgar -- or at least impossible -- to win, so we made the best of it. But then we started winning a lot of games and it's upset everybody. You take it harder when you really thought you were going to win."
In my day, of course, we had Bill Dudley, but civilization is in retreat everywhere.
They don't drink at football games now, I am glad to notice, since it's against the law. In the old days they did.
They have done something strange to the stadium. They added a whole second story that sort of cantilevers out over what used to be the top row.
I was told this construction was deemed unsafe after it was built, and nobody could use the place for a couple of years while they patched it up with chicken wire or something, and for a time there was no great demand for season tickets up there. But later they took it like Vesuvius and figured it was okay now. Some of us stood in the end zone, for with age comes a deep distrust of repairs.
Most of the young men and women looked fine. Others were from Clemson. And of course they looked fine, too, in their way. Noble Beta
Near the stadium is the university chruchyard, which I knew well since our cross-country team ran past it day after day.
There were many notable dogs at the school, not all of them granted divine honors at death, but universal grief broke out when Beta died in 1939. I had not yet gone to school, but I'd been up and of course knew Beta. Beta was from a good plain family, and through his inborn noble spirit and unerring charm (he once peed on a visiting team, it was said) rose to the highest ranks. A great funeral was planned and then it turned out, for some reason, there were objections to burying him in the churchyard with the classics professors and so on.
There is a turnaround for cars as you approach the entrance gate, and a circle of sod in the center, dappled with old oaks.Beneath them Beta was planted (and later old Seal, too, though George should be there and isn't: George was the only one that could catch ice cream when you abruptly squeezed it out into the air, computing its trajectory without flaw and snapping right and left as it oozed out his jaws; he never missed a bite, and moreover sometimes he slept in my room as in many others for he was like the inconstant or visiting moon, but as I say not all are given monuments who deserve them).
So I visited these historic graves with their stone monuments and portraits of the dogs emblazoned on them. Beta's funeral was the grandest since Jefferson's.
The cross-country course continued up Observatory Hill, and words cannot say the chaos that has occurred past the Hough House. All sorts of weird buildings that aren't supposed to be there.If they want to live like that it's their life, and maybe they just put Californians in those dormitories.
Miss Betty Booker, on whom be peace, ran the rooming house where first-year men used to stay. It's still there, quite the worse for wear with a dumb-looking fire escape thing from the second floor. That's government meddling for you. The place caught on fire a few times but we never had any trouble. Just threw the mattress out the windows. Miss Betty would be severe, but it would pass.
She had been a singer, she sang in Berlin and at Covent Garden and (new men were all informed by the old ones) before every crowned head of Europe.
"Sing for us," we'd say a couple of times a year.
"No," she'd say. "Not now. My voice is not what it was."
But once she did, and she sang with great authority, sound musicianship. Once I heard her (she was on the first floor, off her drawing room, while we animals all slept on the second and third floors) singing the National Anthem at great volume towards midnight. Two Bottles?
After the game the men that live in the cubicles of the Lawn (and women, too, now) set out card tables on the grass. They always have white tablecloths on them; you wonder - somebody must provide them free, for there's no way in God's world that many men would find that many white tablecloths for that many card tables. Each man puts out two bottles of stuff, usually, and a bowl of potato chips, the small remnants of which are visible after the first three minutes and not seen again.
"Now are these different fraternities that have the different tables down the lawn?" asked a visiting woman.
Good grief. It's enough to make a cat laugh. A fraternity with two bottles?
The guys are just being hospitable.
"Do you have to be invited?" she asked.
"A woman never has to be invited," she was reminded.
"But what if hundreds of people show up?"
"They do. But you don't have to drink the guy out of house and home You tend to drop by the rooms of the guys you know. You adjust the wind to the shorn lamb. If you don't know him, you can introduce yourself. He's not going to bite."
"Do they do anything down here besides drink?" she asked.
"Sure. They've all got beds."
"Oh dear," she said (unused to gallantries of the sort). "Still, I think you could learn to love this place."
Some men used to learn a lot at school, but my friends were all a cut above that. I got through the college all right, learning naught, and flunked out of law school twice. The dean said there was no reason to re-admit me. He said it had only been done once before, for no reason.
A reporter even then, I was keen to know who the other guy was, but could see I was not expected to ask. My sources were not good enough to find out privily. In any case, God's hand was in my deliverance from law school, a place in which, for the first time in my life, I found myself surrounded by men I didn't much like. Except for luck and God, a man might wind up a lawyer.
Proceeding down the Lawn quadrangle you come to the celebrated statue of Homer with the young Telemachus at his feet. Wait. Odysseus and Telemachus. Homer and Chapman? Laertes and his grandson, that's who it is. But is must be Homer, after all. Maybe not Telemachus. No matter a celebrated bronze.
On the architrave of the building behind it, that inscription is Plato, not Homer. Ye shall know, etc. (in Greek). Mr. Robert Webb taught us Greek or tried to. There were five in the class, but two of them were just going to be preachers and had to take Greek. They were going to Edinburgh to learn to rattle on forever and maintain Presbyterian grief. The rest of us were sane, if dumb.
"And why, Mr. Mitchell, is the aorist used in this rather unexpected construction?" he would ask.
"Zub-zub," or speculations to that effect, I would venture.
"And why not, Mr. Hobson?"
"Zub-zub," Hobson would say hoping to sound different.
"I think if we turn back to Chapter 3," he would say.
I made a D. Not passing.
As you know from your own experience, you can never say how you ever learned anything or what, exactly, it is you think you learned. It's like the larvae, I now believe, by which you turn into something the same as you were only different, and with all respect to Mr. Webb, on whom be peace, and I say all due respect because it was unthinkable to approach him any other way, I now believe we learned, or "learned" more from him thaan from most.
He once came to view some Sternbergias, yellow flowers, that bloomed near my room, to judge for himself whether they were the likely "lilies of the field" mentioned in Holy Writ. He was not a man to make up his mind casually, and I don't know what he decided, though I suspect he reviewed mountains of scholarly evidence on all sides.
He was elegant. They said he trimmed his lawn with nail scissors. Once he gave some students a ride back from Richmond one night after the theater. At Somebody's Corner or other his car skidded on Grade A slick red Virginia clay and turned over in a ditch with the wheels still turning around in the air when we crawled out.
Mr. Webb adjusted his jacket and, not being able to kick the tires since they were up there too high, started marching down the road to think what to do.
"Robert," cried his wife from the car. "Robert," at tremendous volume, for of course she was uneasy also.
"Damn," said Mr. Webb. "Oh, damn."
It was the only time he showed unsuitable emotion.
Every year, however, in class he would get to a passage in which Socrates quotes Homer's Achilles. Achilles is about to avenge the death of Patroclus, his friend, but before he does so his mother, Thetis (and she was a goddess) appears to him to warn him that if he slays Hector, he himself will die next.
"Then let me die," he says, and rattles on for a bit in words that make you wonder why goddam poets since Homer call themselves poets at all, and Mr. Webb would begin to weep. Anyone would, of course, so you looked out the window and coughed so as not to notice and in a minute he'd clear his throat and get on with it.
There was Mr. Wilson, too, whose specialty was Shakespeare. Opinion was divided, but I felt he was at his best in "Anthony and Cleopatra." He would read the lines from a podium, taking all the parts, and adjusting his voice to suit the different characters.
There are so many scene changes in "Anthony and Cleopatra" and so many characters that sometimes he'd get the wrong voice.
"Of many thousand kisses, this one last I lay upon thy lips," he would say with emotion. He was stunning as Cleopatra, too:
"Peace. Peace," he'd cry, "dost thou not see the baby at my breast?"
If the voice was wrong for the line, it was all the more glorious. For students are easy to keep happy, making much of small pleasures. It was his way to make certain nobody ever skipped over a word, as slothful students might do if left to themselves. He figured, correctly, that once you'd heard all the words a few times, you'd do the rest yourself.
If you came back from New Guinea still in uniform, passing through, Mr. Wilson would insist you spend the night in the state bedroom of his house, that Jefferson designed, and that had a cornice of skeletized oxheads running around the ceiling three feet deep. He knew you'd remember the room and the night, no matter what you said. Mr. Glenn on Equity
Eating is both up and down nowadays at Charlottesville. It's easier now to get dinner at 10 o'clock. On the other hand, Charity Pitts is gone, who used to get mad at the butcher (who had the gall to dare ask her for ration points during the war, though as she said at the time, who else but Charity Pitts ever bought his most expensive cuts, through thick and through thin) and would pick up the big cleaver and cut the chops herself, the right way, as the butcher trembled.
President Roosevelt sometimes came down and ate at her boarding house. If you were a callow youth (and most of us were) you rarely entered or left Charity's without awe. Thank God she fed me in the days when it was impossible, no matter what you ate, to push the scales past 146.
My grandmother made me go call on one of her cousins, who also ran an eating house, and nothing would do I had to eat there. Once in Richmond that woman ran into an amazing special on guinea hens and had about 3,000 of them unloaded in coops back of her house. We ate guineas for 14 days straight, and she said men were insane to complain of having to eat guinea hen. In any case we had to eat them down to the last one, and in the meantime my mongrel, Jack (a terrier who accompanied me to school until the president found out who owned that damn dog that barked for the squirrels to come down from the oak out his bedroom window and begged me not to bring him back), used to go visit the poor penned guineas every day and bark for hours at them.
Life is cruel. You may as well learn to take it. It prepares you for a job down here.
The faces all look the same as they looked when I was in school. Except mine. There was a guy the spit and image of Bev, our team captain. And so help me God, there's a kid exactly like the one that showed up one day at the track to our amazement. He was from Toddler Tott, Va., or some such place and he looked as much like a runner as President Taft. He had a chest like a drum and short stocky legs like a basset and we greyhounds (as we saw ourselves) thought Jesus.
But I've always been glad we were polite to him, since it turned out he ran the tails off the rest of us. You learn, at good schools, not to give yourself airs.
Of course none of this is worth reporting except to save you the bother of going back to your old school yourself. The bother and the pain. Believe me, I suffered much.
I sent to the room -- or tried to, only the whole place was full of rocks and garnets in glass cases, instead of the classrooms I had known -- that old Mr. Glenn used to lecture us on Equity. He said it occurred to him once that he'd be more respected if he took off from school and went into private practice and made a million dollars, so that's what he did, then came back and resumed teaching and sure enough people were more respectful.
He used to catch the wastebasket on fire, since he was always throwing matches or dumping ashes in it. Usually a little Vatican-type smoke emerged and nothing else, but one day flames came out and Mr. Glenn, without pausing in his remarks, stuck his foot in to put out the fire and got it stuck.
We sat transfixed.
"If one of you goddam Virginia gentlemen would come up here and help put this fire out I'd appreciate it," he thundered.
At school you learn there's a time to act and a time to refrain from acting and you may need to judge quickly. High-Tech -Chi Phi
Chancellor Street has been made one-way the wrong way, as far as I am concerned, and grave changes have been perpetrated in Elliewood Avenue, now full of holes in walls and taverns in basements and eating places in one of which I dined. Surprisingly well, I admit. There were 13 men in the room and only three wore jackets. Fine. But for dinner? There should be decompression chambers for old boys before they enter abruptly on a modern school.
All the fraternities have parties on dance weekends. I went to my old house, called Chi Phi, which is on Rugby Road and appeared to be on fire. But the big trucks turned out to be generators for cables, similar to those that supply the power for Newark, needed to operate the sound system for the band.
I am proud, I guess, to say my old house made three times as much noise as any other.
"Welcome," shrieked a man names John Harris.
"You John Harris' boy that was here when I was?"
No. Nor was John Elliott Elliott's kid. But kids all look alike, you see one you've seen them all.
"We had a brother from the Class of '33 last night," Brother Barnett screamed.
"Walked as good as anybody," said a current brother, possibly meaning to be encouraging.
The band is the loudest I have ever heard, and man and boy I've heard some loud ones, and the lights were out because all the power there was, was needed for the amplifiers, even with the portable generators outside.
Chi Phi pioneered, I was told, in high-tech among the houses:
"All those kegs are connected so when one runs out the valves bring on the next and you don't have to hoist them up on the bar," it was explained.
"Like the reserve gas tank in a Kharmann-Ghia," I said.
"Exactly. Only more sophisticated," the teacher said.
Like most technology -- but I saw no need to comment on the beer standing three inches deep on the floor where a valve had failed to keep its finger in the dike.
I wandered among several houses. A woman of my family broke her back once at the St. Anthony house -- a fire hose was squirted on her by firemen trying to put out the fire on the Chesapeake and Ohio track where -- but never mind all that, she says to this day she recalls it as a beautiful party and once during the six months she was in a body cast she had the pleasure of knocking a physician out of a revolving door at the hospital.
The St. A's were pretty quiet, since they were still recovering from an afternoon bash they had given, and it was possible to speak with them by only hollering slightly.
Bill Blue said he was from somewhere but his family had lived in Charlottesville.
"You must be Augusta Blue's nephew," I said, and he said sorry, he hadn't heard of her.
Never heard of Augusta Blue? She married -- but I caught myself in time and, as Dante recommends in his great poem, passed on.
It always seemed to me more people fell down the St. A's basement stairs than anybody else's and I noticed they looked about the same. The St. Elmo's were quiet indeed, to the point you could converse in normal tones, though this is not to say they are not a good house. On the contrary, one of the best. They had so many lights working you could see the girls.
One of them, a daughter of Leda, said she had gone to Madeira, a school in Washington, and had been five years at the university studying history. She had been depressed, at one point, and in despair she was not learning anything.
"You must not worry, my dear," I said, wanting to be helpful but knowing how touchy girls are nowadays at any hint it doesn't make much difference.
"And then it occured to me," she said, "that I was learning more than I had realized."
I wonder if her father knows of this. "All these people," she said, with a nod towards the room, "are terribly intelligent."
"Elmo's intelligent?" I said. "Come on, now."
"So very intelligent," she said. The Bus to Babylon
So we had a fine time and you could wander about, dropping in and out of the talk and I realized it was after 2.
I went to the hall were the Gay Union was having its dance, to see what was going on there, but they had all gone home. I was sorry. I went to another spot in the building, a place they call Paviliion XI, run by the school so students can sit around together and hear music and become civilized. sSort of.
"No band tonight," said the girl who stamped paws at the entrance. "The drummer got sick. We're real worried about him."
But hark, my pulse, like a soft drum beats my approach, tells thee I come.
"You got a folk singer in the back room?" I asked.
"Yeah, and he's good."
You can buy enough cider to sink Denver for a buck. Gene Mills sang. He's a philosophy major. He was trying to make the animals like some 18-century Irish harp tunes.
No way. So he sang stuff everybody knew but me.
I was walking on back. That chapel is where I got married. I passed by St. Paul's. I walked past The Virginian. Past the geology building, where old Mr. Roberts used to play Beethoven at terrible volume at 3 o'clock in the morning; past where the ginkgos used to drop their fruit that smells like vomit, and so upset my old aunt once who said it was shocking the Virginia men got so sick on the sidewalks.
I passed the place where Pete used to teach. He was an instructor, fresh from Gonville and Caius when I knew him. His daddy gave him three first names for a running start and the general hell of it (Urban James Peters Rushton) but he wasn't wordy.
Some of us used to go to his house on Fridays and he had a fire and some beer and he taught us in bull sessions what he knew about language. How the syllables sing. How short they are. We had good times there, Pope and Severn and Bob and --
Bob. Now there was a friend. God, everything about him. Some wrestle now on the yellow sand in sport. Look, those are Teucer's sons; they are grave, they are not without beauty. And Orpheus is there with his lyre struck with an ivory plectrum. The son of Thetis, too. And she was a goddess.
So, it's time to say good-bye and ship the girls back on Sunday morning.
"Hi. My name's Steve," said a guy on the bus.
So the girls ship the guys back, too. How very novel.
As the sun fades in the east, then, let us board our bus for Babylon and say farewell to historic Charlottesville, the queen city of the Charlottesville area.
Charlottesville is built on a hill. As you well know if you stay down in Gildersleeve Wood.
Up the hill, over the rocks, through the brambles, beneath the low branches and out -- free at last -- and there once more is the unencumbered Lawn, the Tuscan posts all straight, the arches true.
I tell you one thing, they didn't have all these damn hills in my day. On which, as they say, Truth stands.
Thither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord. Rank on rank, year by year, one by one.