Thursday 17 September 2020

Larkin's Afternoons

Here's a suitably seasonal poem by our old friend, Mr Larkin. Published in The Whitsun Weddings (1964), it dates from 1959, and is vintage Larkin: beautifully crafted, simple but inventive in language, vividly present and intensely sad. 


Summer is fading:
The leaves fall in ones and twos
From trees bordering
The new recreation ground.
In the hollows of afternoons
Young mothers assemble
At swing and sandpit
Setting free their children.

Behind them, at intervals,
Stand husbands in skilled trades,
An estateful of washing,
And the albums, lettered
Our Wedding, lying
Near the television:
Before them, the wind
Is ruining their courting-places

That are still courting-places
(But the lovers are all in school),
And their children, so intent on
Finding more unripe acorns,
Expect to be taken home.
Their beauty has thickened.
Something is pushing them
To the side of their own lives.

The daring enjambment and near-repetition that leads the poem into its final stanza is a brilliant touch (he pulls the same trick, to different effect, with every stanza of 'High Windows'). 
  As parent and then grandparent, I have spent many hours 'at swing and sandpit', attending my children and grandchildren, and always too absorbed in the experience (in all its joy and, it must be admitted, boredom) to take a detached view. Larkin, childless and wifeless, and always one of the unconsoled, has an outsider's perspective – but there is truth in it, sadly. 

Talking of poetry, I have decided, on Patrick Kurp's recommendation (see Anecdotal Evidence passim), to  take a look at the American poet Turner Cassity. Having got my hands on a copy of his collection Between the Chains (1991), I opened it and found this epigraph:

'"We are too used to the idea of work to realise its meaning," said Hugo. "I had early suspicions of it, and dared to act on them."
"What a comment on life," said Lavinia, "that to be out of work is held to be sad and wrong!"
"Satan lies in wait for idle hands," said Selina.
"But only Satan, Grandma. And he is hardly seen as a model of behaviour."

Yes, it's Ivy Compton-Burnett, from The Mighty and Their Fall. I think I'm going to enjoy Turner Cassity.