Wednesday 20 June 2018

The last shape of things

On this day in 1955 Philip Larkin wrote the short and surprisingly sweet Long Sight in Age...

They say eyes clear with age,
As dew clarifies air
To sharpen evenings,
As if time put an edge
Round the last shape of things
To show them there;
The many-levelled trees,
The long soft tides of grass
Wrinkling away the gold
Wind-ridden waves – all these,
They say, come back to focus
As we grow old.

It was unpublished in his lifetime, and some think it unfinished, but it works perfectly well as it stands. As usual with Larkin's poems, the formal structure is precise but barely noticeable. Here one abcacb sestet is followed, and thematically echoed, by a second after the semicolon. The poem is perfectly rounded; there is no evident need for more.
  Long Sight in Age now features as part of a Larkin display at the Hull and East Riding Eye Hospital, even though, in ophthalmological terms, what 'they say' is clearly wrong: ageing is usually a matter of increasingly fuzzy vision, declining acuity of long sight and short sight both. As our eyes age, we enter an increasingly impressionistic world of 'ghostlier demarcations' (not, alas, accompanied by 'keener sounds').
 For me, oddly, things have not been so simple on the ocular front: after I retired, my long sight surprised me by coming back, so that I no longer need glasses for distance, only for reading (and for that my eyesight has become definitely worse). Meanwhile, of course, my mental world becomes more fuzzy and impressionistic, and names, in particular, are harder and harder to retrieve from the decrepit, over-stuffed filing cabinets of memory. This is only a minor nuisance, and the effort of retrieval is probably good mental exercise, even if takes its time. Better two days late than never?

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