BETA

The Lay of the Seven Oars


Listen ! Lords of the sounding oar,1
Where on meadow-margined shore2
Shrine and spire of Gothic grace3
Fall embowered o’er Isis’ face ;4
Broken, where most broadly glassed,5
By the boat-race flashing past :6
List to the deeds of the doughtiest crew7
Famous deeds—less famed than true,8
That ever dipped oar for the loved ‘ Dark Blue.’9
Where at Henley’s woodland brink10
Silver-dimpling eddies blink,11
Where the islet sees the reach12
Broad’ning through the belted beech,13
Twice ten years and seven agone,14
On the Thames their oar-wake shone.15
Short of an oar—their stroke-oar too,16
For vict’ry they were not too few,17
And I, who now sing of it, was there to view.18
Talk of Thebes with her champions seven !19
There the tug of war was even.20
At each portal the chief who watched.21
Was with an equal hero matched.22
The warrior bard1 to fight at odds23
Backed not even his demigods.24
What would they have deemed of fate,25
If her scales had borne unequal freight,26
And the wall, kept by seven, been assailed by eight ?27
Hero names delight the muse :28
Lowndes and Bourne and Royds and Hughes29
Trimmed one pinion—the balance bore30
Three, the worth and weight of four,31
1 The poet Æschylus, wlio fought at Marathon.
Brewster, Menzies, Cocks, but ranged32
In places from their wont estranged ; 133
For with anguished heart and throbbing head34
Bold Menzies, the captain, lay pining abed ;35
And Shadwell at the helm the forlorn hope led.36
Brewster—honoured name and dear !—37
Pressed in death a soldier’s bier.38
Well his noble form I knew,39
The darling stroke of our college crew.40
Pull, you men ! ’ was his cheery tone,41
A merry Irish eye o’er his shoulder thrown.42
Long since then, ’neath a southern sky43
He led his riflemen lovingly,44
But sapped his dear life, in his prime to die.245
A message reached the rival crew,46
Menzies is helpless, and we too few ;47
Deign, in honour’s name, to row48
Seven to seven.’ They would not so49
Answer unworthy oarsmen’s fame !50
That boat—but I’ll not tell her name51
Any odds were offered on her.52
So ours took her station, and gazing upon her53
We said in our hearts, ‘ All is lost save our honour ! ’54
1 The striking feature of the race was not only that one oar was missing, and that
the stroke that should have been, but that a considerable proportion of the crew
changed their places on the spur of the moment in order to balance, or approximately
so, the two sides of the boat. The real amount of this disadvantage perhaps only
those who have rowed in an eight can truly measure. Thus, though the missing oar
was Mr. Menzies the stroke (brother or cousin, I believe, of the one named in line 5),
the place left ultimately vacant was the bow. More fully given, the crew were as
follows :  No. 2, G. Hughes, Oriel ; No. 3, R. Menzies, University ; No. 4, E. Royds,
Brasenose ; No. 5, W. Brewster, St. John’s ; No. 6, G. D. Bourne, Oriel ; No. 7, J. C.
Cocks, Trinity ; No. 8, R. Lowndes, Christchurch ; Coxswain, A. Shadwell, Balliol.
2 Captain Brewster of the Ist battalion Rifle Brigade. He served in the Kaffir
war of 1852-3 and received the medal. There exposure and hardships brought on
rheumatic fever, and, it is supposed, laid the foundation of mortal disease. When his
battalion was ordered to the Crimea, he marched with it as far as Portsmouth, but
was forbidden by the medical board to embark. He had the reputation of being one
of the ablest adjutants and most popular officers of his time. For him and with him
his men would do anything, and in bush-fighting against the Kaffirs he was very
active in finding work for them to do. Being thus disqualified for foreign service, he
became colonel of the Inns of Court Volunteers, who followed him to his premature
grave in July 1864. His popularity at College was equal to that which he enjoyed in
the army, as the present writer can testify. Besides his share in the seven-oared race
he had formed one of the victorious crew in the Oxford and Cambridge boat race of
the previous year, 1842.
Hark ! their blades in war-dance crash ;55
Waters kindle at the flash.56
Home each oar, from aft to fore,57
Drawn like a cloth-yard shaft of yore,58
All, in high-flown pride of feather,59
Curl, and soar, and dive together.60
Then what a storm of joyful fear61
Bursts from our lips in a thunder-cheer,62
For the ‘ Dark Blue ’ is leading as the bend they near.63
In her thoroughbred stride, like a rush of flame,64
Whirling her water-fans, on she came.65
Father Thames, beneath the roar,66
Rocked in his bed from shore to shore.67
The empty bow 1 the flag shot past,68
Scantly won by a length at last !69
Gallant Menzies felt his blood70
Toss his heart like the troubled flood,71
For he knew his men’s music and it did him good.72
Oxford, in whose laurelled shrine73
Athens and Olympia shine,74
Be thine oar’s march ever such,75
Thine the long-drawn water-clutch,76
That spans the wave in stately time,77
Like Great Tom heaving his vesper chime !78
Though many a laurel thine—yet this,79
The crowning flower of perfect bliss,80
Thine oarsmen shall reckon their Salamis.81
From the Thames their oar-track fades,82
Other champions wield the blades ;83
But on the flood of Time ’tis bright,84
An ever broad’ning line of light.85
In memory of their fame, I vote86
We call the Great Bear the Seven-oared Boat,87
To which to sink ’tis never given 288
For what heroes ever in the stars of heaven89
So well have earned a place as the glorious Seven ?90
1 See the note on stanza 4.
2 —Homer.