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Wolfe quote, part 2

19 February 2011

My friend, Robin F., sent me a message yesterday evening with the source of the Wolfe quote I posted yesterday. Turns out, it is from a larger poem that Wolfe composed for the 1920 Yackety Yack, UNC’s student yearbook, as his senior contribution. Wolfe, much like I was doing this time last year, was looking forward to imagine himself looking back. The library has taken great pains to digitize the entire Yack collection, including this one. I retype what you can find here.

What strikes me even more about this, now that I see the thought in its entirety, is that 90 years ago, Wolfe had the same feelings about leaving UNC that I (along with most of my friends) did. This peculiar emotion that we’ve been having (and alumni of other schools don’t seem to) is nothing new. Rather, the incredible truth is that this institution that I call alma mater has been having the exact same effect on people for longer than anyone can remember.

N.B. These words were composed while the University was still all-male. You should read in gender-neutral terminology wherever male-exclusive ones appear.

We stand ’round the well in the white gleaming moonlight
And look at the square of the buildings old,
And sharp is thought of tomorrow; tonight
Is the last–ah–we’ve been told
How hard it was, but not till now
Have we felt the deep twisting pain of the parting
From you–Carolina–we did not allow
For the deep biting grief that now we feel starting.

Yet it’s not the old buildings that causes the pain
(You brown, dirty buildings–and God knows that’s true),
But comes back the feeling again and again,
That we part from a friend–Carolina, it’s you.
You cared not for sects or for social degree;
You care not for dogmas or creeds now as then;
You take the crude stuff and you fashion it free,
Till shapen and moulded you send forth your men.

Tomorrow we leave–1920, your War Class,
A class proud in deed in a war that was won,
A mixture of warrior and student–we pass,
The warfaring student salutes, and is gone,
Leaving State’s mantle to those just below;
Pausing to listen as South’s slow toll rings,
Then quickens as to our successors we bow,
For–“The kings having gone–long live the kings!”

Ah! sometimes from the straight white path
Our stumbling steps may stray;
And sometimes where the hillside slopes
We’ll choose the easier way;
And sometimes when the path is rough
That takes us straight through life,
Our strength will fail, and craven-like,
We’ll shun the bitter strife,
To choose the broad and paven road
And eat the lotus leaf.

Yes, some will fail and take this road,
For grinding toil and grief
Are on the sterner road you point,
With hand in hand their mate,
Good Manhood, walking true and brave
Along the path that’s straight.
Yes, some will falter on this road
And choose the broader way,
But when again the soft nights come
And Spring has come to stay,
They’ll think perhaps of this last night–
The Campus white and still,
The dorms, the well, the old South bell–
Of all that’s on the “Hill”,
And then they’ll leave the broader path
That leads to life’s ill wrack,
To seek again the narrow one and–
Finding it–come back.

To some will fall the ivy wreath
That marks the place of fame,
While some will plod along beneath
The peaks of greatest name;
The years will pass and very faint
Will be your call to these,
For time is scornful of the past
And ever onward flees.
But sometimes when the Springtime comes,
And the sifting moonlight falls–
They’ll think again of this night here
And of these old brown walls,
Of white old well, and of old South
With bell’s deep booming tone,
They’ll think again of Chapel Hill and–
Thinking–come back home.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 22 February 2011 23:05

    That was rich – thanks for sharing!

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