All Souls College

High Street 01865 279379
Open 2pm - 4pm, Free Admission

The main entrance to the College is on the High Street near Catte Street.

All Souls College was built in the 15th century for the clergy as a center for prayer and learning by Henry VI. The name comes from a remembrance of the dead from the Hundred Years War with France in the 14th and 15th centuries ("...all souls of the faithfully departed..."). Students of this college are of the highest caliber, and they get elected, they do not apply, though some truly outstanding students can take (sit) exams to try and get in.

Don't Miss:

Twin gothic towers in the Great Quad; a large sundial built by Sir Christopher Wren, which sits on the wall of the Codrington library

Notable Facts:

  • WB Yeats, though not a fellow of the college, loved the chapel and spent much time there. He composed "All Souls Night" in tribute to it.

  • The tradition of the "All Souls Mallard" - At the beginning of each century, on January 14th, the warden leads a procession throughout the college to look for a mythical duck that appeared when the college was first being built, all the while singing the 'mallard song'. The mallard song, however, is not just sung once a century, but twice each year, at the November Gaudy and at the Bursar's Dinner in March.

  • All Souls College is different from all other Oxford colleges in that it has no students. Its members automatically become Fellows (academics who are full governing members of the College).

  • The sundial was designed by Christopher Wren and installed for only £32 and reads, "Pereunt et impautantur" - or - "They (the hours) pass and are set to your account"

All Souls' Night - Epilogue to "A Vision" By WB Yeats

Midnight has come, and the great Christ Church Bell
And may a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls’ Night,
And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel
Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;
For it is a ghost’s right,
His element is so fine
Being sharpened by his death,
To drink from the wine-breath
While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.

I need some mind that, if the cannon sound
From every quarter of the world, can stay
Wound in mind’s pondering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound;
Because I have a marvellous thing to say,
A certain marvellous thing
None but the living mock,
Though not for sober ear;
It may be all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Horton’s the first I call. He loved strange thought
And knew that sweet extremity of pride
That’s called platonic love,
And that to such a pitch of passion wrought
Nothing could bring him, when his lady died,
Anodyne for his love.
Words were but wasted breath;
One dear hope had he:
The inclemency
Of that or the next winter would be death.

Two thoughts were so mixed up I could not tell
Whether of her or God he thought the most,
But think that his mind’s eye,
When upward turned, on one sole image fell;
And that a slight companionable ghost,
Wild with divinity,
Had so lit up the whole
Immense miraculous house
The Bible promised us,
It seemed a gold-fish swimming in a bowl.

On Florence Emery I call the next,
Who finding the first wrinkles on a face
Admired and beautiful,
And knowing that the future would be vexed
With ‘minished beauty, multiplied commonplace,
preferred to teach a school
Away from neighbour or friend,
Among dark skins, and there
permit foul years to wear
Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.

Before that end much had she ravelled out
From a discourse in figurative speech
By some learned Indian
On the soul’s journey. How it is whirled about,
Wherever the orbit of the moon can reach,
Until it plunge into the sun;
And there, free and yet fast,
Being both Chance and Choice,
Forget its broken toys
And sink into its own delight at last.

And I call up MacGregor from the grave,
For in my first hard springtime we were friends.
Although of late estranged.
I thought him half a lunatic, half knave,
And told him so, but friendship never ends;
And what if mind seem changed,
And it seem changed with the mind,
When thoughts rise up unbid
On generous things that he did
And I grow half contented to be blind!

He had much industry at setting out,
Much boisterous courage, before loneliness
Had driven him crazed;
For meditations upon unknown thought
Make human intercourse grow less and less;
They are neither paid nor praised.
but he d object to the host,
The glass because my glass;
A ghost-lover he was
And may have grown more arrogant being a ghost.

But names are nothing. What matter who it be,
So that his elements have grown so fine
The fume of muscatel
Can give his sharpened palate ecstasy
No living man can drink from the whole wine.
I have mummy truths to tell
Whereat the living mock,
Though not for sober ear,
For maybe all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Such thought—such thought have I that hold it tight
Till meditation master all its parts,
Nothing can stay my glance
Until that glance run in the world’s despite
To where the damned have howled away their hearts,
And where the blessed dance;
Such thought, that in it bound
I need no other thing,
Wound in mind’s wandering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.

The Mallard Song

This is the text as reconstructed from the older copies:

The Griffine, Bustard, Turkey & Capon
Lett other hungry Mortalls gape on
And on theire bones with Stomacks fall hard,
But lett Allsouls' Men have ye Mallard.
Hough the bloud of King Edward,
by ye bloud of King Edward,
It was a swapping, swapping mallard!

Some storys strange are told I trow
By Baker, Holinshead & Stow
Of Cocks & Bulls, & other queire things
That happen'd in ye Reignes of theire Kings.
Hough the bloud, &c.

The Romans once admir'd a gander
More than they did theire best Commander,
Because hee saved, if some don't foolle us,
The place named from ye Scull of Tolus.
Ho the bloud, &c.

The Poets fain'd Jove turn'd a Swan,
But lett them prove it if they can.
To mak't appeare it's not attall hard:
Hee was a swapping, swapping mallard.
Ho the bloud, &c.

Hee was swapping all from bill to eye,
Hee was swapping all from wing to Thigh;
His swapping tool of Generation
oute swapped all ye wingged Nation.
Ho the bloud, &c.

Then lett us drink and dance a Galliard
in ye Remembrance of ye Mallard,
And as ye Mallard doth in Poole,
Lett's dabble, dive & duck in Boule.
Ho the bloud, &c.

The second verse, which refers to English chroniclers of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, was discarded in 1752, and the fifth was expunged on grounds of decency in 1821. In recent times it has become customary for the Lord Mallard to produce a new verse on each occasion (usually referring to some topical matter) in lieu of the "indecent" verse. The original verses are being restored for the new millennium. No one knows which King Edward is referred to, or why.