I don’t think Kipling liked the Oxford of Tolkien, Lewis, and the other inklings, who had fought in the war. He saw the levity of the young.
Note the date. His son was dead in the Charnel-house of the Western Front. The poem still rings true, for much of the university is foolishness and hypocrisy.
Then and now.
The Clerks and the Bells
Oxford in 1920
THE merry clerks of Oxenford they stretch themselves at ease
Unhelmeted on unbleached sward beneath unshrivelled trees.
For the leaves, the leaves, are on the bough, the bark is on the
And East and West men’s housen stand all even-roofed and
(Men’s housen doored and glazed and floored and whole at every
And so the Bells of Oxenford ring:-"Time it is to learn!"
The merry clerks of Oxenford they read and they are told
Of famous men who drew the sword in furious fights of old.
They heark and mark it faithfully, but never clerk will write
What vision rides ‘twixt book and eye from any nearer fight.
(Whose supplication rends the soul? Whose night-long cries
And so the Bells of Oxenford ring:-"Time it is to eat!"
The merry clerks of Oxenford they set them down anon
At tables fair with silver-ware and naperies thereon,
Free to refuse or dainty choose what dish shall seem them good
For they have done with single meats, and waters streaked blood …
(That three days’ fast is overpast when all those guns said "Nay”!)
And so the Bells of Oxenford ring:-"Time it is to play!"
The merry clerks of Oxenford they hasten one by one
Or band in companies abroad to ride, or row, or run
By waters level with fair meads all goldenly bespread,
Where flash June’s clashing dragon-flies-but no man bows his head,
(Though bullet-wise June’s dragon-flies deride the fearless air!}
And so the Bells of Oxenford ring:-"Time it is for pray!”
The pious clerks of Oxenford they kneel at twilight-tide
For to receive and well believe the Word of Him Who died.
And, though no present wings of Death hawk hungry round
Their brows are bent upon their hands that none may see their face-
(Who set aside the world and died? What life shall please Him best?)
And so the Bells of Oxenford ring:-"Time it is to rest!"
The merry clerks of Oxenford lie under bolt and bar
Lest they should rake the midnight clouds or chase a sliding star.
In fear of fine and dread rebuke, they round their full-night sleep,
And leave that world which once they took for older men to keep.
(Who walks by dreams what ghostly wood in search of play-
Until the Bells of Oxenford ring in the light again.
Unburdened breeze, unstricken trees, and all God’s works restored-
In this way live the merry clerks,-the clerks of Oxenford!