Wednesday 3 November 2021

'And now the leaves...'

 On this day 60 years ago, Philip Larkin wrote a fine seasonal sonnet, which was left among his uncollected works – 

And now the leaves suddenly lose strength.
Decaying towers stand still, lurid, lanes-long,
And seen from landing windows, or the length
Of gardens, rubricate afternoons. New strong
Rain-bearing night-winds come: then
Leaves chase warm buses, speckle statued air,
Pile up in corners, fetch out vague broomed men
Through mists at morning.
                                           And no matter where goes down,
The sallow lapsing drift in fields
Or squares behind hoardings, all men hesitate
Separately, always, seeing another year gone –
Frockcoated gentleman, farmer at his gate,
Villein with mattock, soldiers on their shields,
All silent, watching the winter coming on.

Structurally this is an odd one: proceeding conventionally enough for the first seven lines, then there's an awkward turn to usher in the long sentence that rounds the sonnet off, resetting this autumn scene in a long historical span – yet another great Larkin ending.
'Rubricate' is a bit awkward too, but an apt evocation of the effect of reddening trees punctuating the landscape like the red-letter rubrics in a manuscript. 

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