Pembroke College, Cambridge, which has just celebrated the 650th anniversary of its foundation, may not have the academic, iconic status of, say, King's or Trinity but, apart from its overall excellence as an institution, it does have two particular claims to fame. In this century it has produced no fewer than five captains of the national cricket team: F. T. Mann, A. E. R. Gilligan, A. P. F. Chapman, F. G. Mann, and P. B. H. May, the England captain with the record number of Test victories. In its six-and-a-half non-sporting centuries it has also produced a galaxy of poets and I doubt whether any other single Oxbridge college can rival these twin peaks.
Christ's may have had Milton and no college had Shakespeare, but Pembroke had, properly presented in this engaging anthology in chronological order: Edmund Spenser, Richard Crashaw, Thomas Gray, Christopher Smart, Ronald Bottrall and Ted Hughes, to name but the most famous few out of the 50 poets included. Among the rest are Harry Fainlight, Clive James and the delightfully named Faithful Teate:
Sin entred man at first but byone hole;
But ev'ry pore
Throughout my skin,
My God! My God! becomes a door
Whence blood goes out whilst wrath comes in.
Teate fathered that dreadful Shakespeare-improver Nahum Tate, not included here on the, presumed, grounds that he was, happily, not a Pembroke man.
Of particular interest to THES readers must be one Brian Cox. Although the editors give his birth date as 1933, internal evidence would indicate that this is none other than the redoubtable C. B. Cox of Black Paper fame, who gives his date of birth in Who's Who as 1928. He is, appropriately enough, represented by one poem called "English Teacher" and another entitled "Buckingham Palace" in which he describes his investiture as a CBE: Bowing to a hard-working
Queen, who asks
"What do you do?" And I reply politely, withdraw in haste, wondering where's the loo.
The editors' introduction is nicely free of trumpet-blowing and sound on those other aspects of college life that tend to go with poesy: "Where Gray was a model fellow, Kit Smart was a model student, in that he drank too much, got into debt, put on a play, and dreamed of a career editing a London literary journal. In 1747, soon after being elected a Fellow, he was arrested for debt. He then embarked on his literary career in LondonI" The incidental intelligence is sometimes even more interesting than the poetry. D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, no Byron he, taught at Edinburgh Academy where Robert Louis Stevenson was one of his pupils and his son, also D'Arcy Thompson, was the author of that seminal zoological classic On Growth and Form.
The first poet in this admirably scholarly but not pedantic book is John Bradford, who was a Protestant martyr, burned at the stake in 1555. The last, born in 1966, is Mark Wormald who, in a somewhat calmer age for both academics and poets, supervised my son for the English Tripos.
Tom Rosenthal, while definitely not a poet, was at Pembroke College from 1956 to 1959.
Editor - Robert Macfarlane and David Quentin
Publisher - Pembroke College Cambridge
Price - £6.00
Pages - 112