Friday, 24 April 2015

Your Larkins Today

Today's date - the 24th of April - seems to have been a good one, creatively, for Philip Larkin. On this day in 1954 he signed off on this cheery little number, Continuing to Live - an elegant expression of his appalled fixation with death. The formal finesse is, as usual with Larkin, wonderful to behold. Those half-rhymes, those clinching, squashing fourth lines of each quatrain...

Continuing to live — that is, repeat
A habit formed to get necessaries —
Is nearly always losing, or going without.
It varies.

This loss of interest, hair, and enterprise —
Ah, if the game were poker, yes,
You might discard them, draw a full house!
But it’s chess.

And once you have walked the length of your mind, what
You command is clear as a lading-list.
Anything else must not, for you, be thought
To exist.

And what’s the profit? Only that, in time,
We half-identify the blind impress
All our behavings bear, may trace it home.
But to confess,

On that green evening when our death begins,
Just what it was, is hardly satisfying,
Since it applied only to one man once,
And that one dying.

Then, on April 24th, 1968, Larkin gifted us Sad Steps, one of the more resigned masterpieces of his maturity, combining a wonderfully vivid evocation of an everyday experience (especially to those of a certain age) with bleakly amused reflections on moon imagery and the passing of time and youth. It's a shock to realise that he was only 45 when he wrote it... 

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by   
The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.

Four o’clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie   
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.   
There’s something laughable about this,

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow   
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart   
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

High and preposterous and separate—   
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain   
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain   
Of being young; that it can’t come again,   
But is for others undiminished somewhere.


  1. One has to assume that the production of his art gave Larkin some kind of consolation as, unrelentingly, nothing else did. Sad cove. He seems to have had problems with the existential. One has also to assume that the pleasures of the art (which I can see) outweigh the bleakness of the sentiments. Close run thing for me. Don't the truly great artistic sensibilities (Shakespeare, Mozart, Sterne etc), encompass more than misery and mourning in the face of the human condition?

  2. Abolutely Guy, but there's a whole lot more to Larkin than misery - you could number him among the Stoic Comedians.

  3. Interesting Nige. Point me in the right direction. I've read most of the major collections but few belly laughs. What humour I've encountered seems bitter rather than joyful.

  4. A wit? Yes. Hugely elegant? Certainly. Would you grant him the title 'stoic'? If he'd been through Bergen-Belsen maybe, but all he 'suffered' was 50s and 60s Britain. Too precious? Too fastidious? Holding life with a pair of sugar tongs? In his own words:

    -Where has it gone, the lifetime?
    Search me.What's left is drear.
    Unchilded and unwifed, I'm
    Able to view that clear:
    So final.And now so near.
    All work and no wassail.
    Fait l'existence pas facile.

    Makes me think of Sartre and bad faith which always spoils the alloy.


  5. شركة نقل عفش بالرياض وجدة والدمام والخبر والجبيل اولقطيف والاحساء والرياض وجدة ومكة المدينة المنورة والخرج والطائف وخميس مشيط وبجدة افضل شركة نقل عفش بجدة نعرضها مجموعة الفا لنقل العفش بمكة والخرج والقصيم والطائف وتبوك وخميس مشيط ونجران وجيزان وبريدة والمدينة المنورة وينبع افضل شركات نقل الاثاث بالجبيل والطائف وخميس مشيط وبريدة وعنيزو وابها ونجران المدينة وينبع تبوك والقصيم الخرج حفر الباطن والظهران
    شركة نقل عفش بجدة
    شركة نقل عفش بالمدينة المنورة
    شركة نقل اثاث بالرياض
    شركة نقل عفش بالدمام
    شركة نقل عفش بالطائف
    شركة نقل عفش بمكة
    شركة نقل عفش بينبع
    شركة نقل عفش بالخرج