Dorothy L. Sayers is rarely considered to be an author of mythopoeic literature or one whose own writings contain the metaphors or allegories of myth and legend. Yet, as a young adult at Oxford University, Sayers produced a variety of poems that, centering upon Oxford and her experiences as a student, explored mythic themes as they related to the university. Her early poems, written while an undergraduate at Oxford and directly afterward, were built upon three motifs: classical mythology, mediaeval legend, and Christian romanticism. These Oxford-centered poems were included in Dorothy L. Sayers’s first book titled, OP. I., published in 1916 by Basil Blackwell as part of the Adventurers All series. Sayers delighted in the use of ancient mythopoeic allusions to Oxford University, referring to this academic kingdom of enchantment by various symbolic means and devices. Although her interest in supernatural literature is not often acknowledged, Sayers was deeply involved, in her young writing years, with the romanticism of myth and legend, particularly as it inspired her early poetry.
In this paper, I focus on one major motif found in OP. I., that of classical mythology, particularly within the context of Hellenic legend, which Sayers applied in the first poem of OP. I., titled, “Alma Mater”. In “Alma Mater”, an extended narrative poem recounting the story of Helen, Paris, and Idaeus, Sayers introduces the symbolism of the Trojan Cycle in allegorical reference to Oxford University, and as the story holds allegorical keys to Sayers’s own experiences and orientation to Oxford. The importance accorded the narrative poem in length and pride of place within the book sets the tone of OP. I. The myth-centered allegorical devices used by Sayers give us a rare and clarifying perspective on the poetic imagination of young Dorothy L. Sayers, as expressed within this first book of poems, set within the legendary kingdom of Oxford University.
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