Wednesday, 20 February 2019

That Arundel Tomb

On this day in 1956, Philip Larkin signed off on a poem that was to become one of his most famous – An Arundel Tomb. Its resonant last line, 'What will survive of us is love', now bookends, along with 'They f*ck you up, your mum and dad', his popular reputation. Both lines, wrested out of context and mistaken for expressions of personal opinion, are false to Larkin's endlessly nuanced, anxiously qualified poetry. And yet both tell us something about Larkin's poetical personas – the outspoken philistinism at one end, the reluctant tenderness at the other. 'What will survive of us is love' is a line much quoted in funeral services, though few risk quoting even the stanza in which it occurs, hedged about as it is with 'as if', 'almost' and 'almost', with 'untruth' and 'hardly meant'.
  An Arundel Tomb was inspired by a winter visit to Chichester cathedral (with Monica Jones), where Larkin came across the 14th-century effigies of  Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel, and his second wife, Eleanor of Lancaster (whose actual tomb is at Lewes priory). Larkin had never seen a double effigy of this kind in which the couple's hands are joined, and he found the sight 'deeply affecting'. He even, in a later interview, came surprisingly close to endorsing that famous last line: 'I think what survives of us is love, whether in the simple biological sense or just in terms of responding to life, making it happier, even if it's only making a joke...' Which is not claiming a lot for the survival of love, but by Larkin's standards it's a recklessly life-affirming declaration.
 However, Larkin also scribbled at the bottom of one draft of the poem, 'Love isn't stronger than death just because statues hold hands for 600 years.' And he had reservations about An Arundel Tomb as a poem, partly because he'd muddled up the hands (the Earl's right, not left, holds the Countess's) and had not realised that the effigies, having been separated and left forgotten in a corner of the cathedral, were restored in 1843, and it was at that point that the present joined hands were carved (the originals having been lost). He might have learned, too, that the gesture of joining hands is not all that uncommon on medieval monuments (I wrote about one here) and denotes something much closer to dynastic union than to romantic love.
  In its posthumous history, An Arundel Tomb has – thanks to that last line – almost enacted the process it describes. Something 'hardly meant' is in danger of being 'transfigured into untruth', of becoming the poet's 'final blazon'. But that 'sharp tender shock' in the second stanza was, and is, real. And Larkin would probably be happy enough to know that his stone in Poets' Corner carries the legend 'What will survive of us is love'.

8 comments:

  1. Thanks Worm. This tomb (and poem) will of course be featuring in my eagerly awaited book, The Mother of Beauty...

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  2. What a wonderful post, thanks so much.

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  3. Thanks Kate and Karen – this one seems to have gone down rather well.

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  4. شركة كيان لنقل العفش بالرياض والمدينة المنورة وجدة ومكة والطائف والدمام تقديم لكم دليل كامل لشركات نقل العفش بالمملكة العربية السعودية
    نقل عفش شركة كيان
    دليل شركات نقل العفش
    شركة نقل عفش بالمدينة المنورة
    شركة نقل اثاث بالرياض
    شركة نقل عفش بجدة
    شركة نقل عفش بمكة
    شركة نقل عفش بالطائف

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  5. شركة نقل عفش
    اهم شركات مكافحة حشرات بالخبر كذلك معرض اهم شركة مكافحة حشرات بالدمام والخبر والجبيل والخبر والاحساء والقطيف كذلك شركة رش حشرات بالدمام ومكافحة الحشرات بالخبر
    شركة مكافحة حشرات بالدمام
    شركة تنظيف خزانات بجدة الجوهرة من افضل شركات تنظيف الخزانات بجدة حيث ان تنظيف خزانات بجدة يحتاج الى مهارة فى كيفية غسيل وتنظيف الخزانات الكبيرة والصغيرة بجدة على ايدى متخصصين فى تنظيف الخزانات بجدة
    شركة تنظيف خزانات بجدة
    شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالدمام
    شركة نقل عفش واثاث

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