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Parkville Alley

The professor at work

The professor is painting his gate.
     As the sun warms the ground
     the only slight sounds
are the swishes his brush-strokes create. 
It is early, some time before eight.
     While his wife slumbers on
     and unhelped by his son
the professor is painting his gate. 

The marking of papers must wait. 
     Though the act may inflame
     his detractors, who claim
the department is in quite a state
and the standard to which they translate
     the works of Hugo
     is appallingly low,
the professor is painting his gate. 

His writings may well fascinate
     but the proofs lie unread
     by the side of his bed
and his critics, still insatiate,
merely sharpen their pencils and wait—
     while the world remains vague
     on the life of d'Antraigues
the professor is painting his gate. 

What becomes of the culture he taught?
     Now the philistine hordes
     are down-treading the boards
has the battle that so long was fought
now been lost? Has the thing become sport?
     Let his colleagues demur—
     alors, le professeur
est en train de peindre sa porte. 

Some have said he may one day be great,
     that his restless esprit
     courts a rare destiny,
but for now this appointment with fate
is postponed until some future date,
     while the name that lifts eyebrows
     on many French highbrows
is quietly painting his gate. 

Now he stops, and his back becomes straight.
     He steps back a pace
     and a smile splits his face.
There is nobody near to ovate
but with pleasure quite commensurate
     with achieving the peak
     of
palmes académiques
the professor has finished his gate.


Written for Colin Duckworth during a stay in Parkville, Melbourne in December 1984. Colin had recently been given the award of Commandeur des ordre des palmes académiques for services to French culture. The gate in question opens from the professor's house onto a back alley very much like that shown in the photograph.