The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, October 1918
In the last issue it was suggested that those students who read back numbers or "The Spike," would not linger over the club reports. With more truth, we should like to add, neither will they linger over the editorials.
Why do we have editorials?
It was to find a solution to this problem, that we set out to read diligently, all the editorials from the first until the last. The impression was soon borne in upon us that Martha might have done likewise, whereas Mary would have concentrated on certain contributions in verse that are to be met with in the pages of "The Spike"—verse that has grown up round V.U.C., that shows something of the life of College and something of the spirit that animated those first students. Truly we present students have much to be grateful for, to those former students who set such a standard.
The best among the verses written during the first ten years of V.U.C., are to be found in "The Old Clay Patch"—now, unfortunately, out of print. This collection was edited by Messres. de al Mare and Eichelbaum. In the foreword they write: "It is hoped that this book will to some extent set a standard-a standard which, we trust, will in the future be oftentimes reached and surpassed. We cannot help but acknowledge that we have not reached this standard. Most of us must further admit that, not having ourselves read any of these verses, we do not know even what that standard is.
First then, let us endeavour to discover wherein we fail. Each year sees an addition to the quantity; but quality is a different matter. Much of the verse published in "The Spike" during the last few years falls into one or other of the following classes:—
Let us name first that spurious kind of verse that is just "dashed off" in a hurry. Even the making of a cake requires a certain page 14 amount of preparation, and a cook is not likely to be successful unless she follows out correctly the rules in her recipe book, why then does anyone imagine that the writing of verse requires so little care and forethought?
Then there is that type of verse that closely resembles in form (and often in subject) the poem of an artist. It is to all intents and purposes nothing but a pseudo-translation of English scenes and ideas into New Zealand ones by obvious substitutions. Such exercises are useful, for they teach the observant how the poet gains his effects; but they are apt to create a false atmosphere or, at best, to attract a comparison that would be invidious.
Thirdly, there are verses on and about Love. All of us, no doubt, who have taken up pen and tired to write verse have sinned grievously in this respect. For the most part, having had no experience ourselves (we are too apt to imagine that a newly-awakened eagerness-due to spring perhaps-is the first dawn of love) we are forced to express ideas as old as the ages, in words that have been long used in such connection. As Pope would say:—
"While they ring round the same unvaried chimes,
With sure returns of still expected rhymes,
Where'er you find 'the cooling western breeze,'
In the next line, it 'whispers through the trees';
If crystal streams "with pleasing murmurs creep,"
The reader's threatened (not in vain) with "sleep."
But besides all these, there are the verses that are really worth while; and these are the verses with which every student should be acquainted, for they contain those indefinable qualities known as college spirit and local atmosphere. The best way of proving this statements is quotation:
"We will be of the world and feel its heart
Beat, and our own will beat in sympathy;
But we will keep a little space apart
And sown with rosemary, for our abode
Within the windows opening on the sea.
And if the dust be all about or tread,
And white the glare along the climbing road,
Clear thought will come of how the East was red
With promise, and the lanes with blossom rife,
And fresh the dew upon the lawn of lire"—
Thus writes S. S. M. in the "Ode on the Laying of the Foundation stone of Victoria College," 27th August, 1904. This same S. S. M. knew something to the college spirit as seen in sport, for he is the author of the "Sports Chorus"—too well known to need repetition, and of "Superannuated":—
Out in the field the forwards are a-lining;
The backs are crouched all ready in their place.
Cold and grey, with a wink of sun a-shining—
It's just the day for scrum, and rush, and pace.
Hard the luck that I must sit here whining,
And watch another fill the vacant space:
While for the fresh old fight my heart is pining,
And for the times when I was in the race."
Among the best of the verses written by Hubert Church is his sonnet on "Victoria College," beginning:
Thou shalt be greater than the city that lies
Beneath thee; though the waves curve tender foam
Athwart her beach, thou hast a fairer home,
Where mountains watch thee with eternal eyes."
In songs of jest as well, there is even more "local colour." The best jester we have had signs himself S. E. Typical of his work is "Chanson Triste," in which the ventilators, the windows and the page 15 plaster of the newly-built V.U.C. signs each its won peculiar song; but it was before our day that—
"The breezes all caused sneezes as they entered through
Alma Mater's ventilators, as they used to do!"
Then there is his delightful "Inaugural Ode on the V.C. Officers' Training Corps"—of which the last verse runs as follows:—
"Here is the flower of our manhood in bud;
See how their noble eyes blaze as they mobilize,
Eager to wallow to victory through blood,
Like that unholy 'un, bony Napoleon.
Stealthily, creepily, whispering in shouts,
Steadily, sleepily, out go the scouts.
Then comes the main brigade, uniforms tell,
Making a plain brigade look rather well;
(Even a puny form wrapped in a uniform,
Looks rather well).
Bravely they thresh along, weary and hot,
Sometimes it's echelon, sometimes it's not.
Guns to the right of them mow them like grass,
Strangely, in spite of them, onward they pass.
Powder is flying around and each man'll
Soon be applying his oil and his flannel
Such is the sum of a warrior's toil,
Oceans of trouble, and afterwards—oil."
Every English Honours' student, after having toiled through the Anglo-Saxon Reader, will know how to appreciate "Those Good-oldays"; and there are many more still, from the same pen, written in the same delightful vein of humour.
It seems as if we could quote on indefinitely from these old "Spikes"; but verse of this class appears more and more seldom, though we still have had contributions from S. E., from M.L.N., from M.E.H.; and every here and there, showing promise of better things, appear such lines as:—
"Where e'en the nesting birds
From out the troubled furze sing sorrow brokenly."
These, then, are some of the verse that you will find scattered through the pages of "The Spike." The writers, no doubt, consider themselves but painstaking artificers, falling far short of their aim; but it seems to us that the tree surpassed itself in its first flowering, and never since have we had such blooms.
What is the use of such traditions if they are not pregnant with future excellence?
In this war generation, many of our number have been carrying on these traditions in a different form, perhaps, and in far-off lands, but in no unworthy fashion. And who knows but that there will be a second flowering, when they once more are with us-and when we have learnt to give of our best and to do our best for College; not content to get out of her what we can, either of knowledge or of pleasure; but realizing that if there is any special word we can do for her-well—
"It's there we ought to be."
The problem of the editorial is still unsolved and is likely to remain so, for we intend, in conclusion, to quote S. S. M.'s "Au Revoir":
"We have toiled through the moonlit even's
We have broken tryst with the sun,
That here a pass might be entered,
Here first-class honours won:
We have had our game together,
With the journey home in the rain;
We are off for the long vacation—
So-long till we toil again."