Piper at the Gate

I swear this is the last post about The Wind in the Willows, but I came across a picture on my hard drive that I’d taken this summer of an Oxford doorpost, and it reminded me of a famous passage in Chapter 7, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” quoted below.

IMG_1445And then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fulness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward …

My son thinks the figure looks like Mr. Tumnus, and maybe he’s right.  Anyway, I’d love to know more about this figured lintel, who made it, when, why, etc. If you know, send me a note–my guess is that it’s a conscious allusion from a fellow Grahame fan.  I’m not the only one who loves this passage, after all (check out Van Morrison’s tribute below).

Follow-up, August 2013.  I wrote to Professor Alan Bowman, principal of Brasenose College, about these satyrs (not figures of Pan!). He writes,

The house is in St Mary’s Passage and was incorporated in the development of the High Street side of the college in the late 19th century (architect was Jackson who also did the Examination Schools). There is a brief reference in Joe Mordaunt Crook’s history of the college (p.294) but nothing on the gilded Pan figures. I have asked the archivist to see if we have any more information on them. You might also have noticed that the door itself has a (more recent) carving of Aslan. That connects to the fact that there is a little passage at the back corner of the chapel which leads through to St Mary’s and is supposed to have inspired C.S. Lewis to Narnia and the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (especially the last).

So it turns out my son was right, or at least closer to right than I was! Furthermore, according to a PDF from the College Archives Prof. Bowman attached,

The name ‘St. Mary’s Entry’ seems originally to have been
attached to an area north of the present site, approximately
where the quadrangle known as the Deer Park now stands.  The
building now known as St. Mary’s Entry has been occupied by
Brasenose since at least 1510, the year after the foundation of
the College. …

This may have been the point [the 1880’s] at which the doorway was added, but we have no information about it. Nikolaus Pevsner ascribed the ‘ornate door hood on two satyrs as brackets’ to the Oxford architect Harry Wilkinson Moore (1850-1915).  The Royal Commission on Historical Monuments described them as ‘winged grotesques’.



About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Classics, Emblems, England, Family, Ireland, Mythology, Oxford, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Piper at the Gate

  1. Chris H says:

    I love the Wind in the Willows so keep the theme going please!

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