Posts filed under ‘Philip Larkin’
Love, we must part now: do not let it be
Calamitious and bitter. In the past
There has been too much moonlight and self-pity:
Let us have done with it: for now at last
Never has sun more boldly paced the sky,
Never were hearts more eager to be free,
To kick down worlds, lash forests; you and I
No longer hold them; we are husks, that see
The grain going forward to a different use.
There is regret. Always, there is regret.
But it is better that our lives unloose,
As two tall ships, wind-mastered, wet with light,
Break from an estuary with their courses set,
And waving part, and waving drop from sight.
Classic Larkin. Tired of “too much moonlight and self-pity”, the poet gives us instead the glorious line “we are husk, that see/ The grain going forward to a different use” as well as the vivid image of two ships parting. I particularly love “wind-mastered, wet with light”.
And then, of course, there is the grudging acknowledgement that “there is regret”, breaking the sonnet in an unusual way, the line itself providing the perfect stopping point between the tumbling phrases of the first part, and the gathering departure of the second. It’s the kind of music that Larkin does so well.
P.S. Over at Guardian Unlimited, Nick Tanner pens a pleasant, though surely unnecessary tribute to Larkin.
On longer evenings,
Light, chill and yellow,
Bathes the serene
Foreheads of houses.
A thrush sings,
In the deep bare garden,
Its fresh-peeled voice
Astonishing the brickwork.
It will be spring soon,
It will be spring soon –
And I, whose childhood
Is a forgotten boredom,
Feel like a child
Who comes on a scene
Of adult reconciling,
And can understand nothing
But the unusual laughter,
And starts to be happy.
It’s that time of the year again. It isn’t Spring yet, but it will be soon . And Larkin’s poem captures that sense of foreshadowing beautifully. This is classic Larkin – crisp, unsentimental, yet closing with that one delicious image that perfectly conveys the tentativeness of the season.
 Well, in the Northern Hemisphere anyway.
Talking in bed ought to be easiest
Lying together there goes back so far
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside the wind's incomplete unrest
builds and disperses clouds about the sky.
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation
It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind
Or not untrue and not unkind.
All his life (Martin Amis informs me ) Philip Larkin was a miser – a fact that Larkin himself, with characteristic honesty, acknowledges elsewhere. Yet a trait that is unattractive in a person can make for good, even great poetry, and Larkin's miserliness, it seems to me, is the key to the genius of his poems. It's the sparseness, the austerity of his work that first strikes you: this is a man who was (IMHO) one of the best poets of his century, and yet his collected poems take up little more than a 150 pages, and include only about ten dozen poems. By the end of his life (Amis again) Larkin was writing little more than one poem a year.
And reading the poems themselves (like this one here) you can see why. These are poems picked as bare as meaning will allow, skeletons of poems from which everything but the essential bones have been picked clean by Larkin's scavenging talent. Every word is carefully chosen and reluctantly offered, you can almost feel the pain Larkin feels with every extra line he has to put in.
And yet there is no compromise here – Larkin says exactly what he means (even going back, in that glorious last stanza, to correct a possible overstatement) and is able to create both sense and image with the pithiest, most concise phrasing ("dark towns heap up on the horizon"). This is an incredibly sad, incredibly weary, incredibly beautiful poem, a poem that comes to you from a "unique distance from isolation", and, like much of Larkin's other work, defeats you entirely by involving you in the confession of its own surrender.
 Amis' essay on Larkin, originally published in the New Yorker in 1993, can be found in The War Against Cliche – a brilliant collection of Amis' essays and criticisms.