Wednesday 10 September 2014

Sonnet Time

I am work-whelmed this week - but there's always time for a sonnet. Here's one by Philip Larkin, in the Italian form, with the turn, unusually, after the ninth rather than the eighth line. It proceeds steadily, building up a quiet, static scene from provincial life - a scene imbued with the seedy melancholy of a Sickert interior - until, at the very end, a sudden swerve of tone changes everything and delivers a very different kind of poem.

Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel

Light spreads darkly downwards from the high
Clusters of lights over empty chairs
That face each other, coloured differently.
Through open doors, the dining-room declares
A larger loneliness of knives and glass
And silence laid like carpet.  A porter reads
An unsold evening paper.  Hours pass,
And all the salesmen have gone back to Leeds,
Leaving full ashtrays in the Conference Room.

In shoeless corridors, the lights burn.  How
Isolated, like a fort, it is --
The headed paper, made for writing home
(If home existed) letters of exile:  Now
Night comes on.  Waves fold behind villages.

There's a similar - and similarly effective - swerve towards the end of Larkin's Money.

And the Royal Station Hotel is now the Mercure Hull Royal Hotel, which, 'with its iconic status as one of the central landmarks of the city, offers the splendor of Victorian architecture with a dramatic, luxurious and modern twist in decor and style.' How delightful.


  1. The poem is a kind of verbal equivalent of a Hopper painting. The evocation of loneliness and exile is very similar to a painting I saw once of a person sitting alone in a room (in a flat or a hotel?) simply looking out. Its this kind of abandonment Larkin does well.

  2. I read Money. It was great until the end, which I think fell a bit flat. He said, It is intensely sad but that's surely redundant? The sadness is taken for granted isn't it? Doesn't that violate the old precept to show not tell?

    The irony is that for most of the poem he shows rather exquisitely, so it seems a shame to drop the ball at the last. Or am I being unfair?