Friday 28 December 2018


On this day in 1953, Philip Larkin signed off on an intriguing 'unfinished' poem, Negative Indicative. It is well named, as everything indicative (or descriptive) in it is framed as negative, as something that is never going to happen, to be experienced, or has never happened – though from the vividness of the notation, it clearly has, all of it. Perhaps it is another of Larkin's appalled confrontations with death, the ultimate 'never again'. None of this will ever happen again. At least it ends with a beautiful moment, something that might almost seem affirmative. Where would Larkin have gone, I wonder, with that 'emblematic sound of water'?

Never to walk from the station's lamps and laurels
Carrying my father's lean old leather case
Crumbling like the register at the hotel;
Never to be shown upstairs

To a plain room smelling of soap, a towel
Neatly hung on the back of a rush chair,
The floor uneven, the grate choked with a frill,
Muslin curtains hiding the market square;

Never to visit the lame girl who lives three doors
Down Meeting-House Lane — 'This pile is ready; these
I shall finish tonight, with luck' — to watch, as she pours
Tea from a gold-lined jubilee pot, her eyes,

Her intelligent face; never, walking away
As light fails, to notice the first star
Pulsing alone in a long shell-coloured sky,
And remember the year has turned, and feel the air

Alive with the emblematic sound of water —

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