Thursday 8 January 2015

I Remember, I Remember

On this day in 1954, Philip Larkin finished one of the best of his early mature poems, I Remember, I Remember (published the next year in The Less Deceived). A sardonic antitype of the sentimental lyric of the same name by Thomas Hood, it is a work full of literary echoes. Like any poem about a train halting somewhere in England, it inevitably recalls Adlestrop ('A whistle went: Things moved. I sat back...') - but it also pre-echoes Larkin's own yet unborn Whitsun Weddings. And that last line - 'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere' - surely calls to mind Auden's 'Poetry makes nothing happen'. A poem of thorough disenchantment, it is also quietly, satirically funny about all those cliched things that did not happen to the young poet - and of course, being Larkin, it is technically very accomplished indeed.

Coming up England by a different line
For once, early in the cold new year,
We stopped, and, watching men with number plates
Sprint down the platform to familiar gates,
"Why, Coventry!" I exclaimed. "I was born here."

I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign
That this was still the town that had been 'mine'
So long, but found I wasn't even clear
Which side was which. From where those cycle-crates
Were standing, had we annually departed

For all those family hols? . . . A whistle went:
Things moved. I sat back, staring at my boots.
'Was that,' my friend smiled, 'where you "have your roots"?'
No, only where my childhood was unspent,
I wanted to retort, just where I started:

By now I've got the whole place clearly charted.
Our garden, first: where I did not invent
Blinding theologies of flowers and fruits,
And wasn't spoken to by an old hat.
And here we have that splendid family

I never ran to when I got depressed,
The boys all biceps and the girls all chest,
Their comic Ford, their farm where I could be
'Really myself'. I'll show you, come to that,
The bracken where I never trembling sat,

Determined to go through with it; where she
Lay back, and 'all became a burning mist'.
And, in those offices, my doggerel
Was not set up in blunt ten-point, nor read
By a distinguished cousin of the mayor,

Who didn't call and tell my father There
Before us, had we the gift to see ahead -
'You look as though you wished the place in Hell,'
My friend said, 'judging from your face.' 'Oh well,
I suppose it's not the place's fault,' I said.

'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.'


  1. God he was good, wasn't he.

  2. That he was, Brit - and no slouch as a novelist. I'm reading A Girl In Winter right now - watch this space...

  3. I certainly agree to some points that you have discussed on this post. I appreciate that you have shared some reliable tips on this review.

  4. God, but ain't he miserable, though, too! Was moved to pen a tribute (in the Larkinesque form) that is also a critique of the relentless misery.


    First water, poetic aristocracy,
    a cricket lover, plied exquisite line
    and length. An expert witness in elegy
    he mourned his life, alive, as he refined
    the elegant corralling of a phrase;
    the management of words schooled to erase
    the early grief afflicting him. His main
    relief and consolation found in art,
    whose sorcery’s felicity imparts
    integrity to dull quotidian pain.

    For him fulfillment gained from causing change
    was insufficient. Being able to
    impinge and choosing how to rearrange
    was little privilege. No clue
    how to charm mortality’s blind funk,
    nor how to raise foundering courage sunk
    in terror. Unless, like Baudelaire, the verse
    he fashioned conjured fears, rescued his life
    in metre, end-stopped time, consoled the strife
    that froze his heart, helping dissolve the hearse

    that passed so near. Momento Mori were
    his stock in trade. He was danse macabre’s hep cat.
    But why should this unman us? Let’s concur
    that old Skull Hill’s our natural habitat.
    The Bone House is our living room, it throws
    things into focus. Such perspective grows
    us balls. It sets life’s gemstone, making keen
    the sweetness we receive. Colours brightened
    and sounds more plangent. Tastes, too, are heightened
    knowing the lease will be guillotined.

    While Bechet wailed out an enormous yes
    he always kept his options open, knew
    “What will survive of us is love”, confessed
    he sensed, though, this was only “almost true.”
    Preferred half measure modern alienation,
    a fifties form of British constipation,
    insisting on his English diffidence,
    was unconsoled and less deceived, defined
    by negativity. The yes declined
    in non-commitment. Never once relents.