A Pastourelle

Posner was sitting on the band of the Isis in the university park—not his university, but the differences between Oxford and Cambridge were so realistically few that he could have been at either, or neither. The only difference to Posner was that Dakin was at Oxford and he was at Cambridge, and the distance between them was how quickly Dakin forgot Posner when Posner went away. Dakin's invitations for Posner to come up were always semi-lukewarm, but they were still invitations, and once Dakin had let the words out of his mouth, nor hell nor high water could keep Posner in Cambridge.

Posner was sitting on the bank of the Isis, waiting for Dakin to get done cleaning up and come meet him. After failing to secure an invitation to the Magdalen Eights' post-race locker room, Posner had suggested this in the hope of getting Dakin away from the rest of the world. Which would be hard to do, since Posner could still hear the cheers from the Eights Week races, taking place downriver. Posner had come to Oxford to watch Dakin rowing in Magdalen's third eight and had had eyes only for him the entire time. Posner had no idea who Magdalen had bumped and cared less—I am one of passion's asses, Pos thought with a self-indulgent smirk, and then paraphrased the next few lines: Plague on this Oxford lass! Though I long for him like mad/ Not one Dakin have I had/ Not a one in all my life.1

The sound of laughter dashed Posner's hope of a high charged homosocial (to borrow a phrase from one of his tutors) evening passed in happy seclusion in Dakin's room. Posner put on a smile and turned to watch Dakin and another boy walking along the bank. There was and was not consolation in the sight—it was only one other boy, but it was still one other boy. And he was fitter than Posner, tall and dark-haired, and less pubescent-looking.

"So, who did you end up bumping?" Posner asked when the other two had sat down—curiously on either side of him—in a tone that he desperately hoped suggest to Dakin that he thought Dakin was bending boys over the benches in the changing room.

"Balliol, New, Lady M., Merton, and CC," Dakin said unconcernedly, and Posner wished like hell from the bottom of his heart that these were coded references that the interloper could not fathom and envied.

"Who's your friend?" the newcomer now asked.

Dakin smiled, and surprised Posner by saying, "He's my Marian2."

"Your what?" the other asked with a laugh.

"My lady-love," Dakin elaborated with an indecent smirk. "Aren't you, Pos?"

Posner smiled superciliously. "Yes, Robin."

"This is Nick, by the way," Dakin said.

"Pleasure to meet you," Posner said politely.

They sat in silence for a moment, admiring the May day. The birds were in the trees, and the sun was in the sky, and the river was as smooth as a surface of green glass. The grass was a perfect color of green, and the daisies littering the bank called out to be made into daisy-chains. Posner resisted for as long as he could, but it was futile. If this was to be a pastoral, it might as well be done properly.

"In somer when the shawes be sheyne/ And leves be large and long/ Hit is full merry feyre foreste / To here the foulys song3," Nick said suddenly, as he stared out over the river.

Posner looked up from his daisy-chain, and saw Dakin giving Nick a sour look. Not to be outdone, Dakin recited the next stanza, "To se the dere draw to the dale / And leve the hilles hee/ And shadow him in the leves grene / Under the green-wode tree.4 What was that for?"

Nick smiled, "I thought that the Queen o' the May might like some verse."

"Queen o' the May?" Posner asked with a touched smile. "Isn't that Tennyson? 'But I must gather knots of flowers and buds and garlands gay/ For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May'5?"

"Yes," Nick said, with a coy look.

"Tennyson?" Dakin scoffed. "You might as well have said Whan that Aprille6."

"Why do you make that sound like a bad thing?" Posner asked. "I'm rather fond of Chaucer."

"Well, what do you suggest?" Nick asked Dakin, almost as a challenge.

"William Watson," Dakin smirked. "What is so sweet and dear / As a prosperous morn in May/ The confident prime of the day/ And the dauntless youth of the year/ When nothing that asks for bliss/ Asking aright, is denied/ And half the world a bridegroom is/ And half of the world a bride?7"

And so saying, Dakin put his arm around Posner. Nick quietly said, "Touche. Well, I'd better be going."

Posner watched with eyes that glistened with excitement and a heart that was beating so fast and loud he thought at any moment Dakin would laugh at him for it. As soon as Nick was out of sight, Dakin withdrew his arm and sprawled on his back across the grass.

"Well?" Posner asked.

"Well?" Dakin returned.

"Where's my bliss?"

Dakin smirked. "Maybe I'll give you some, when you're older."

"Well then what was all that about?" Posner cried.

"You don't think I was going to let him at you?" Dakin asked.

"And why not?" Posner pouted.

"Oh, Pos, you're my nightingale8," Dakin teased. "I don't want you falling in love with anyone else."

1 Dafydd ap Gwilym, "The Girls of Llanbadarn," ll. 1-5
2 The name of the shepherdess in Adam de la Halle's "Le Jeu de Robin et Marion"
3 Anonymous, "May in the Green-wode," ll. 1-4
4 Anonymous, "May in the Green-wode," ll. 5-8
5 Alfred Lord Tennyson, "The May Queen," ll. 11-12
6 Geoffrey Chaucer, "The General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales," l. 1
7 William Watson, "Ode in May," ll. 9-16
8 Dafydd ap Gwilym, "Aubade," l. 39