Rich Beyond the Wealth of Kings

Queen’s Part I

Last night on the way home from a match in Eglish in Tyrone I got to talking with one of our players who is a first year student in Film Studies at Queen’s. She was telling me about her course which involves watching and discussing a range of films and also experiences with her first year philosophy course.

As we talked it reminded me of my own time in the English Department at Queen’s. We were taught by Professor Devlin, a traditionalist in the sense that he wore a black academic gown when delivering his lectures. These were in my memory inevitably well attended, well delivered and highly accomplished. Word would go about for example after he had given a lecture that it was particularly good.

In particular I remember him delivering enthralling set pieces on Dorothy Wordsworth, Thomas de Quincy and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I had the privilege also of being in his tutorial group for a two-term course on Romantic and Victorian Literature. We would sit in his study in the English Department in University Square overlooking the main lawn at the front of the Lanyon Building.

Professor Devlin in my memory had fairly rudimentary expectations of what we, as students should be bringing to the table in terms of our reading and understanding what we had read. I recall his scathing horror when a classmate replied to the question of what he thought of Silas Marner “I thought it was a nice wee book.”

He received a withering glare and wasn’t let off the hook with such an anodyne and pathetic response. Another friend related to me how in response to a similar question about Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci replied that she was a very scary lady or words to that effect. I could imagine his response having witnessed him in action. I slagged the guy afterwards about the Nice Wee Book reply and he was visibly embarrassed at having given such a watery answer.

On one other occasion I was out for the night and on the way home one of the fellas in our company tried to bend back the bough of a young sapling that had been planted along University square. The tree snapped close to its base. It was a wanton piece of drunken foolishness which typified a lot of the behaviour at the time. The modern Holylands is not much better or worse, the difference being it attracts more attention. However you dress it up, the tree was finished.

I thought no more of the vandalism until the next morning in Devlin’s class. He brought up the subject of the trees, those beautiful saplings he called them, I particularly remember his use of the word sapling. He was irate and pointed out at the vandalised trees, comparing them to the scene in Wordsworth’s ‘Nutting’ where the boy ponders on the beauty of the Hazelnut trees before wreaking devastation.

I felt a severe pang of guilt by association. Not that I had snapped the young tree bough myself but that I knew who did it. We had celebrated the night out as some sort of night’s craic but here was the hangover of the morning after. Wordsworth’s words a ‘j’accuse’ of their own, directed straight at me:

“Exulting, rich beyond the wealth of kings

I felt a sense of pain when I beheld

The silent trees and the intruding sky.”

These sorts of escapades typified our lives as students. At the time we had days and nights of drink fuelled adventure. Looking back more than ever I feel the sense of pain and stupidity of some of our collective exploits.

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