A thousand tongues
“There is an air about it, resonant of joy and hope: it speaks with a thousand tongues to the heart: it waves its mighty shadow over the imagination…and points with prophetic fingers to the sky.” — William Hazlitt, describing Oxford
This was my third visit to Oxford, but the first time I stayed more than three days. The weather was as close to perfect as I could have wished, and I walked to my heart’s content and more, averaging 8 miles a day. Much of that walking was part of class sessions or group activities, but a fair amount of it was my own exploration. There were some great class outings, and none more memorable than climbing the narrow spiral staircase in the 13th century tower of the University Church.
The tower was so cramped that a few visitors who were there that day felt, on seeing inside it, too claustrophobic to even try to climb it. Those of us who did had no regrets; the view from the top was breathtaking, and extended almost 360° to give an unparalleled view of the city. Reading Hazlitt’s description of Oxford, I immediately thought of that panorama.
I can’t think of any thriving city of such relatively small size where so many of the buildings have been in use for so long. Yet there is nothing that feels antiquated about Oxford, at least not to me. Perhaps the presence of so many colleges with their youthful population explains part of the animated atmosphere, but I think that is only a part of the appeal.
As is my travel habit, I spent much time exploring the residential areas just outside the city center, riding the buses with the locals and roaming around the grocery stores hunting for snacks and teas I can’t get at home. Like the city center, these places were modern, yet set in charming historic neighborhoods where I was tempted to stop and take photos so often that always ran out of time before I saw as much as I wanted to see.
I’m a great believer, though, that we don’t need to go someplace far-off and exotic to find fascinating things. Most places will speak to us with a thousand tongues, if we stop to listen. Here’s wishing us all a week of tuning in to the resonance of joy and hope wherever we find ourselves.