Posted by: John Looker | 1 October, 2017

A Young Gentleman Goes Up To University

A Young Gentleman Goes Up To University

with his father’s second-best horse
and a cap newly sewn by his mother’s own hand.
We may picture him kicking up dust in the lanes,
home disappearing behind.

After years constrained in the schoolroom
and occasional holy days rooted
to the fields and woods of childhood – today
in the morning sun the world seems righted.

Miles ahead lie lodgings in a Hall by a river
and many convivial haunts.
There’ll be Latin of course and theology; sparring
at table; cards, and riding to hounds.

Meanwhile it’s the road, through unfamiliar places:
market towns, manors – sights that he yearned
to see; obelisks on hills. Then at last
there it is: the City with all its bells! And beyond?
            Why, anything and everything.

© John Looker 2017

This is dedicated to Jacob, for whom I wrote it a year ago. I hope others will like it, especially at this season.

I also offer it for the UK’s National Poetry Day 2017 for which the theme this year is ‘Freedom’




  1. This is great, John. I notice in this poem, as I have in so much of The Human Hive collection, that each line seems carefully constructed as a semi-autonomous unit – as though the meter of the line is given freedom to deviate from that of the line before and after, while retaining an ear on the meter of the whole.

    Am I right in thinking the form is, or approximates, a folk ballad with slant rhyme?

    Liked by 1 person

    • More or less Brad. Although it was meant to convey some strongly felt hopes and wishes, I thought it needed the light touch of a narrative poem with a bouncy rhythm and half rhymes – harking back to an Arcadian past in form as well as images. Doesn’t that sound earnest though!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Transported to another time and place. Excellently conjured.


  3. Can’t say this reminded me of my own university days, but then I wasn’t born into the 16th century gentry, more’s the pity. I enjoyed the poem all the same.


    • Thank you Andy. Maybe a tiny resemblance?!


  4. This reminds me of all the students I’ve worked with over the decades, John. It has the timeless quality of a ballad that conjures up the hopes and dreams of most of the young freshmen looking toward a future they can’t see. Having it set in a past long forgotten echoes into contemporary times, reminding us that while everything is different today, everything, underneath it all, in spite of the unlikelihood of a young man riding to his new school on a horse, is still the same. Dreams still stir in young minds and hearts and expectation of a glorious future still helps make the journey to education and life away from home filled with mirages that might come to be. Ethel writes a poem like this now and then, and I have to say, when either one of you comes up with one, I rejoice.


    • Thank you Tom for this warm-hearted response to my poem. For some inexplicable reason I missed your comment when you posted it yesterday and have just found it. It interests me that you are able to view it from the vantage point of your career in higher education – that is a most valuable insight. Setting the poem in the past provides quite a contrast with contemporary life and yet, as you affirm, there are enduring, perhaps eternal, parallels. Many thanks.


  5. I would echo what Ben said: a wonderful poem that transports us to another era. I love the vivid narrative and the high hopes of this young man.


  6. For me the poem climaxes in the sounds reverberating between obelisks on hills and bells. The fusion of the vertical image and the spaciousness of the bells envelopes me as alongside the excited youth I gaze at the end of the “road” which end suddenly opens into a boundless future. Now that’s poetry!


    • Thank you Tom – you are most encouraging and as someone who is exacting in their own writing, your comments are always instructive.


  7. Love all the little details in this one that make it come alive, so you see the family he is leaving behind as well as him: ‘second best horse’ and ‘cap newly sewn’. I agree with Tom: it immediately struck me as timeless too. And full of joy and expectation! A really lovely poem.


    • Thank you Bennison Books – it is very good of you to comment and I’m delighted that you enjoyed it!


  8. This is terrific! I love the way the observation (or imagination?) of him kicking up the dust is framed – it takes me straight into how I felt at that time and how vivid the journey from home to college seemed. The setting in the past for me emphasizes the universality of that sense of joyous freedom to go after possibility.


  9. I’m glad you saw the historic setting in that way, as emphasising the universality of the experience. That’s what I aimed for. Thank you so much for your comment.


  10. This one deserves accolades in the UK’s National Poetry Day 2017. I commend you for giving freedom a unexpected perspective while setting it in the past to establish a universal, enduring truth, and then to wrap it in your rhythmic words. Hurrah!


    • That’s most kind, Jane – thank you. I relish that hurrah!!


  11. Lovely nostalgia !


  12. As a fourth year medical student, this hits me hard. I’ve been training like a race horse in this dog-eat-dog field of study and I really miss home. But I will make sure to make this sacrifice worth it! Thank you for this poem!

    My motivational blog:


    • Thank you so much for telling me this. It means a lot when I hear that a poem has resonated with someone. Good luck with your career too – having more than one medical professional in my extended family, I know the hard work entailed!


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