The Oxford Files; or, Mike and Brian Rock the Ox!

Brian Rejack (Illinois State University) and Mike Theune (Illinois Wesleyan University)
AKA: the hosts of This Week in Keats

Re: Keats’s September 1817 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds

A few weeks back, we promised a co-written poem–written in the style of Keats’s verses on Oxford–detailing our adventures while visiting Oxford in July 2015. It took us a while to perfect our comic genius, but we’re pretty confident that perfection has now been achieved.

For a bit of context, both of us spent time studying at Oxford in our earlier days (we’ll not specifying when exactly, in order to preserve mystery about our ages–vanity thy names are Rejack and Theune!). When we visited Oxford two years ago, it was the first time either of us had been back since our time spent there many years prior. So we did our best to visit some of our old haunts and relive the glory days. And without further ado, behold our poem!


When Mike beheld the Freud,
His heart was overjoyed,

For he fondly recalled nights spent tippling;

Ah! then the drinks were flowing,
The dance moves were glowing,

Although the booze’s effects were crippling.

Mike reminisces…

This time around, sadly,
The boys timed things badly,

And arrived before noon, too soon for cocktails.

Off they went to the pub,
Since they needed some grub–

Perhaps as well a pint or two of stock ales.

Too, too soon for fond cocktails!

Then Brian gazed north,
Where they soon ventured forth,

For Jude the Obscure a-beckoned to them.

No, not poor Jude the man,
Hardy’s luckless orphan,

But the tavern named by those who knew him.


There was plenty of beer,
And plenty of cheer,

And, for Brian and Mike, no reason to grouse.

Once they became sated,
As it had been fated,

Our heroes approached the Phoenix Picture House!

Watch Amy–it’s really sad…

As we and you see,
One movie was Amy.

But since they’d seen that tragic tear-jerker,

(Both wept a lot),
They fled the spot

And entered the Bridge to get berserk… er.

One of us *may* have once been thrown out of the Bridge after getting caught sneaking in via a backdoor…

Next day Mike left the shire,
Thanks to a cabby for hire,

And he sought the grounds of hallowed Guy’s—

Hospital, that is,
Where Johnny Keats spent his

Youth among sawbones and patients’ loud cries.

Bronzy Keats!

Where a bronzed statue sits,
For new, patient visits,

One might repose beside the young master.

Thus in so placing his brain,
Mike felt a bit less pain,

And all the dark world seemed less a disaster.


While Mike went to London,
Brian got his flight on,

And soared on the viewless wings of a plane.

For he sat in coach,
And felt like a roach,

Nor could he escape like David Blaine.

Dude knows how to escape!

So he sat in his seat,
With some cardboard to eat,

While his airship sent him to the States.

He touched down in CO
(Short for Colorado),

And with great speed passed by all the gates.

Why this reason for haste,
From this young man of taste?

Well, fair reader, he was making a bee-line,

To two furry friends,
Upon whom he depends,

And, yes, they are of the genus feline.

George and Lady Georgiana

We must leave you here,
Our readers so dear,

For our poem’s gotten silly, weird, and long.

But the heroes got home,
After quite a great roam,

And brought you this gift: a duty-free song.

George assisted in the poem’s composition

Letter #24: To John Hamilton Reynolds, September 1817

Today’s letter exists only in a fragmentary form. Presumably during one of the first few days of Keats’s visit to Benjamin Bailey at Oxford, Keats wrote to Reynolds to inform him of his arrival. In that letter he included these playful verses offering some initial observations on the place.

Keats’s verses on Oxford, from his letter to Reynolds.

This particular copy of the poem comes from Harry Buxton Forman’s 1883 edition of Keats’s complete writings. Forman got the text from a letter written by Charles Brown to his friend Henry Snook in March 1820. As you can see from the bit of the letter above the poem, Brown says he had just come across the lines for the first time in spring 1820, almost three years after they were first written. Brown may have seen them from the letter itself, probably then still in Reynolds’s possession, but to the KLP it seems more likely that he encountered another copy of the verses. Brown says nothing about the context on the poem provided in the letter.

So how do we know about this letter? Well, our indefatigable Keats-chronicler, Richard Woodhouse, made two transcriptions of the poem, and in his copies, he added Keats’s setup for the verses: “Wordsworth sometimes, though in a fine way, gives us sentences in the style of school exercises–for instance ‘The lake doth glitter / Small birds twitter’ &c. Now I think this is an excellent method of giving a very clear description of an interesting place such as Oxford is–”

One of Woodhouse’s two transcriptions, with the two-sentence setup for Keats’s poem.

Sadly for us, Woodhouse did not copy the entire letter. His transcripts are found not among his other copies of Keats’s letters, but in the two notebooks he used for Keats’s poems. Alas. At least we have these two sentences preserved from the letter. If we had only Brown’s letter as the source for the poem, the KLP would likely not be talking about the text as a letter.

Below you’ll find the two images of Woodhouse’s transcripts, courtesy of Harvard. For a response to this fragment of this letter, the co-hosts of This Week in Keats (Brian Rejack and Mike Theune) have been co-writing a poem in imitation of Keats’s imitation of Wordsworth, chronicling Rejack and Theune’s adventures in Oxford during a visit in summer 2015. The poem (and pictures!) will be forthcoming next week. Since the date of the letter is uncertain (and *not* because Brian and Mike are slow composers of poetry), we feel justified in delaying the response until next week. More soon!

Keats’s poem, as copied by Richard Woodhouse. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.1). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Keats’s poem, as copied again by Richard Woodhouse. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.2). Houghton Library, Harvard University.