Blog Archives

The Best Poems about Oxford

Eight classic poems about the city of Oxford

Oxford has been home to a number of poets, and has educated far more. Some of them have seen fit to celebrate the city of Oxford in their poetry – below are eight of the finest Oxford poems in all of English literature.

Matthew Arnold, Thyrsis. This poem makes it onto this list because it is the origin of the famous epithet for the city of Oxford: ‘city of dreaming spires’. Arnold was educated at the University of Oxford along with his friend and fellow poet Arthur Hugh Clough, whose death in 1861 Thyrsis commemorates. This long pastoral elegy is closely related to the next Oxford poem on this list, which was also written by Arnold…

Matthew Arnold, ‘The Scholar-Gypsy’. The story for this long narrative poem, which Arnold wrote in 1852-3, was taken from Joseph Glanvill’s 1661 book The Vanity of Dogmatising. The poem is about an Oxford student who abandoned his studies to join a group of gipsies. The Scottish scholar John William Mackail said of the poem that it ‘is inseparable from Oxford; it is the poetry of Oxford made, in some sense, complete.’ So a selection of the best Oxford poems would be unthinkable without it. Ralph Vaughan Williams set part of this poem to music in An Oxford Elegy. Read the rest of this entry