Poem | All Souls

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All Souls College, Oxford (Lawrence OP / Flickr)

All souls: an excellent name for a November day
or a wealthy Oxford college with a sundial
created by Christopher Wren. T. E. Lawrence
got in; future PM Harold Wilson failed 

the entrance exam, which consisted 
of the candidate’s response to a single word,
such as “censorship,” “chaos,” “comedy,” and “culture.”
One recent year the aspirants were asked whether

the “moral character of an orgy” changes
“when the participants wear Nazi uniforms.”
Also, “Is there anything to be said for astrology?”
“The dice of God are always loaded” (Emerson). Discuss.

Oh, to be an Oxford don tasked with 
formulating questions about relativism,
cultural imperialism, Dark Energy, Dark Matter,
Las Vegas, and the present status of concepts of “the soul”!

Published in the March 2021 issue: 
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David Lehman is the editor of the Oxford Book of American Poetry, the general editor of the Best American Poetry anthology series, and the author of such recent books as One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir and Playlist: A Poem. He writes a monthly column on movies for the American Scholar.

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