Philip Larkin

is (4)

I was recently asked who has influenced me, and I wasn’t sure what to answer. Philip Larkin came to mind, however, so I said that; and I am sure it is true that he has been an influence. Larkin must have been asked the same question many times, and he once said – “One never thinks about other poems except to make sure that one isn’t doing something that has been done before- writing a verse play about a young man whose father has died and whose mother has married his uncle, for instance”.

His poem An Arundel Tomb ends with a famous line; one, however, that I don’t like, because I don’t see how it is true. Here is An Arundel Tomb, and that is followed by a piece by me.

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd–
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
Their air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone finality
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

It was years ago I laid my hand on hers;

Her hands were always cold.

Inside this chilly church you could do with furs;

It’s seldom the doors are opened, the bells tolled.

     But we have visitors, the odd church-crawler,

     Whose boot-heels scrape the flags

     Uncertainly – he thinks himself a prowler

     In this old place of worship, with us old lags.

He knows enough- can identify a rood-loft,

Cross-windows and crockets;

And although at the thing itself he has often scoffed,

At the altar he takes his hands out of his pockets.

     And having looked up at the barrel-vault and the steeple,

     He bends to us, reads our inscription;

     And that is when, on seeing some real people,

     He gets the inspiration for his fiction.

I don’t know why he can’t stick to the facts-

Truth is beauty, another poet said.

I placed my hand on hers but still lacked

Warmth- we’re still cold, and still dead.