Illustration by Marcelina Jagielka

Love, in all its forms, is inescapable in Oxford; the cobblestones and ancient buildings plant a resilient seed of romanticism that grips your foundations and grows without a tea break. The way the sun falls on the fields of Port Meadow, the brightness of the stars as they shine in University Parks – it goes without saying that some of the greatest poets spent their formative years here in worn-out tweed blazers and battered brogues, two-stepping down the very same streets as us, their academic descendants. How could one slip down the river in a punt without feeling the ghosts of all those lovers and friends that laughed as they tumbled into the water or found themselves caught on a tree root by the bank? 

Philip Pullman called it ‘the city of dreaming spires’. And seeing each other through the dim purple lights of Plush, bodies pressed together under damp brick walls, truly independent and responsible for ourselves for what is often the very first time, our hearts certainly do allow themselves to dream. 

The bonds that form when days are spent enduring essay crises and wine-soaked evenings together are formidable and evident; people become your greatest friends and family and, before you know it, you’re on trips to Tesco together and sitting in each other’s beds expressing your deepest fears and trivial troubles until 2 A.M. One wonders how many marriages and life long partnerships have been conceived under the lamplight of Merton Street. Or, at the very least, torrid and intense love affairs that will be recalled way into the later years of life. You can see it happening, walking to the lodge; someone you know calling up to their lover, leaning out of their window. LED lights turned red, pairs of students pushed together on benches. On nights out, arms drunkenly hooked, heads on shoulders in the glare of kebab vans. People pressed together against walls and gates in smoking areas. Smiles across the library, giggles and whispers. Lingering candlelit glances across the pews in evensong; budding love, soundtracked by the choir’s gentle exclamation of a heavenly one. 

I have watched even the most defiant people trip head over heels, the sudden descent into Spotify playlists and notes exchanged over desks and hallways. 

Of course, it’s not all roses and endless love and Romeo and Juliet. There are casual hookups and vodka-scented make-out sessions. Still, these too are lit by the same dreamy light. These too are moments worthy of poetry. 

Even now, as I write this under a tree in Christchurch Meadows, there is a couple with Carry Cups filled with coffee sat on the bench behind me, laughing about their friends, their tutors, and the night before. When I leave I will pass through the kissing gate by Merton, and I would bet five hundred pounds that the number of college puffer coat wearing hand-holders will be greater than I will be able to count on both hands. (I was right – there were twelve). 

Perhaps these are the ramblings of an English student that has watched too many rom-coms and read too much Austen, but I don’t think so. I think there is something about this city that breathes intimacy into us all.