Philip Larkin (1922-1985)


Since the Majority of Me / Toads / Toads Revisited Poetry of Departures / Coming /Wires / Vers de Societe An Arundel Tomb/ Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album Aubade / Talking in Bed / Wants / Annus Mirabilis He Hears that his Beloved has become Engaged / No Road Ignorance / Send No Money / Broadcast / Reasons for Attendance/Money/Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel/

Since the Majority of Me

Since the majority of me Rejects the majority of you, Debating ends forthwith, and we Divide. And sure of what to do We disinfect new blocks of days For our majorities to rent With unshared friends and unwalked ways. But silence too is eloquent: A silence of majorities That, unopposed at last, return Each night with cancelled promises They want renewed. They never learn.

Toads

Why should I let the toad work Squat on my life ? Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork And drive the brute off ? Six days of the week it soils With its sickening poison - Just for paying a few bills ! That's out of proportion. Lots of people live on their wits: Lecturers, lispers, Losels, loblolly-men, louts - They don't end as paupers; Lots of folks live up lanes With fires in a bucket, Eat windfalls and tinned sardines - They seem to like it. Their nippers have got bare feet, Their unspeakable wives Are skinny as whippets - and yet No one actually starves. Ah, were I courageous enough To shout stuff your pension! But I know, all too well, that's the stuff That dreams are made on: For something sufficiently toad-like Squats in me, too; Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck, And cold as snow, And will never allow me to blarney My way into getting The fame and girl and the money All at one sitting. I don't say, one bodies the other One's spiritual truth; But I do say it's hard to lose either, When you have both.

Toads Revisited

Walking around in the park Should feel better than work: The lake, the sunshine, The grass to lie on, Blurred playground noises Beyond black-stockinged nurses - Not a bad place to be. Yet it doesn't suit me. Being one of the men You meet of an afternoon: Palsied old step-takers, Hare-eyed clerks with the jitters, Waxed-fleshed out-patients Still vague from accidents, And characters in long coats Deep in the litter-baskets - All dodging the toad work By being stupid or weak. Think of being them! Hearing the hours chime, Watching the bread delivered, The sun by clouds covered, The children going home; Think of being them, Turning over their failures By some bed of lobelias, Nowhere to go but indoors, Nor friends but empty chairs - No, give me my in-tray, My loaf-haired secretary, My shall-I-keep-the-call-in-Sir: What else can I answer, When the lights come on at four At the end of another year? Give me your arm, old toad; Help me down Cemetery Road.

Poetry of Departures

Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand, as epitaph: He chucked up everything And just cleared off, and always the voice will sound Certain you approve This audacious, purifying, Elemental move. And they are right, I think. We all hate home And having to be there: I detect my room, It's specially-chosen junk, The good books, the good bed, And my life, in perfect order: So to hear it said He walked out on the whole crowd Leaves me flushed and stirred, Like The she undid her dress Or Take that you bastard ? Surely I can, if he did? And that helps me to stay Sober and industrious. But I'd go today, Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads, Crouch in the fo'c'sle Stubbly with goodness, if It weren't so artificial, Such a deliberate step backwards To create an object: Books; china; a life Reprehensibly perfect.

Coming

On longer evenings, Light, shill and yellow, Bathes the serene Foreheads of houses. A thrush sings, Laurel-surrounded In the deep bare garden, Its fresh-peeled voice Astonishing the brickwork. It will be spring soon, It will be spring soon - And I, whose childhood Is a forgotten boredom, Feel like a child Who comes on a scene Of adult reconciling, And can understand nothing But the unusual laughter, And starts to be happy.

Wires

The wildest prairies have electric fences, For though old cattle know they must not stray Young steers are always scenting purer water Not here but everywhere. Beyond the wires Leads them to blunder up against the wires Whose muscle-shredding violence gives no quarter. Young steers become old cattle from that day, Electric limits to their widest senses.

Vers de Societe

My wife and I have asked a crowd of craps To come and waste their time and ours: perhaps You'd care to join us? In a pig's arse, friend. Day comes to an end. The gas fire breathes, the trees are darkly swayed. And so Dear Warlock-Williams: I'm afraid-- Funny how hard it is to be alone. I could spend half my evenings, if I wanted, Holding a glass of washing sherry, canted Over to catch the drivel of some bitch Who's read nothing but Which; Just think of all the spare time that has flown Straight into nothingness by being filled With forks and faces, rather than repaid Under a lamp, hearing the noise of wind, And looking out to see the moon thinned To an air-sharpened blade. A life, and yet how sternly it's instilled All solitude is selfish. No one now Believes the hermit with his gown and dish Talking to God (who's gone too); the big wish Is to have people nice to you, which means Doing it back somehow. Virtue is social. Are, then, these routines Playing at goodness, like going to church? Something that bores us, something we don't do well (Asking that ass about his fool research) But try to feel, because, however crudely, It shows us what should be? Too subtle, that. Too decent, too. Oh hell, Only the young can be alone freely. The time is shorter now for company, And sitting by a lamp more often brings Not peace, but other things. Beyond the light stand failure and remorse Whispering Dear Warlock-Williams: Why, of course--

An Arundel Tomb

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 no guess how early in Their supine stationary voyage The 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 grass. A bright Litter of birdcalls strewed the same Bone-littered 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 transfigures them into Untruth. The stone fidelity 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.

Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album

At last you yielded up the album, which, Once open, sent me distracted. All your ages Matt and glossy on the thick black pages! Too much confectionery, too rich: I choke on such nutritious images. My swivel eye hungers from pose to pose - In pigtails, clutching a reluctant cat; Or furred yourself, a sweet girl-graduate; Or lifting a heavy-headed rose Beneath a trellis, or in a trilby hat (Faintly disturbing, that, in several ways) - From every side you strike at my control, Not least through these disquieting chaps who loll Al ease about your early days: Not quite your class, I'd say, dear, on the whole. But o, photography! as no art is, Faithful and disappointing! that records Dull days as dull, and hold-it smiles as frauds, And will not censor blemishes Like washing-lines, and Halls'-Distemper boards, But shows the cat as disinclined, and shades A chin as doubled when it is, what grace Your candour thus confers upon her face! How overwhelmingly persuades That this is a real girl in a real place, In every sense empirically true! Or is it just the past ? Those flowers, that gate, These misty parks and motors, lacerate Simply by being over; you Contract my heart by looking out of date. Yes, true; but in the end, surely, we cry Not only at exclusion, but because It leaves us free to cry. We know what was Won't call on us to justify Our grief, however hard we growl across The gap from page to page. So I am left To mourn (without a chance of consequence) You, balanced on a bike against a fence; To wonder if you'd spot the theft Of this one of you bathing; to condense, In short, a past that no one now can share, No matter whose your future; calm and dry, It holds you like a heaven, and you lie Unvariably lovely there, Smaller and clearer the years go by.

Aubade

I work all day, and get half drunk at night. Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. In time the curtain edges will grow light. Till then I see what's really always there: Unresting death, a whole day nearer now, Making all thought impossible but how And where and when I shall myself die. Arid interrogation: yet the dread Of dying, and being dead, Flashes afresh to hold and horrify. The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse - The good not used, the love not given, time Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because An only life can take so long to climb Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never: But at the total emptiness forever, The sure extinction that we travel to And shall be lost in always. Not to be here, Not to be anywhere, And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true. This is a special way of being afraid No trick dispels. Religion used to try, That vast moth-eaten musical brocade Created to pretend we never die, And specious stuff that says No rational being Can fear a thing it cannot feel, not seeing that this is what we fear - no sight, no sound, No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, Nothing to love or link with, The anaesthetic from which none come round. And so it stays just on the edge of vision, A small unfocused blur, a standing chill That slows most impulses down to indecision. Most things may never happen: this one will, And realisation of it rages out In furnace fear when we are caught without People or drink. Courage is no good: It means not scaring others. Being brave Lets no-one off the grave. Death is no different whined at than withstood. Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape. It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know, Have always known, know that we can't escape Yet can't accept. One side will have to go. Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring Intricate rented world begins to rouse. The sky is white as clay, with no sun. Work has to be done. Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Talking in Bed

Talking in bed ought to be easiest, Lying together there goes back so far, An emblem of two people being honest. Yet more and more time passes silently. Outside, the wind's incomplete unrest Builds and disperses clouds about the sky, And dark towns heap up on the horizon. None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why At this unique distance from isolation It becomes still more difficult to find Words at once true and kind, Or not untrue and not unkind.

Wants

Beyond all this, the wish to be alone: However the sky grows dark with invitation-cards However we follow the printed directions of sex However the family is photographed under the flag-staff - Beyond all this, the wish to be alone. Beneath it all, the desire for oblivion runs: Despite the artful tensions of the calendar, The life insurance, the tabled fertility rites, The costly aversion of the eyes away from death - Beneath it all, the desire for oblivion runs.

Annus Mirabilis

Sexual intercourse began In nineteen sixty-three (Which was rather late for me) - Between the end of the Chatterly ban And the Beatles' first LP. Up till then there's only been A sort of bargaining, A wrangle for the ring, A shame that started at sixteen And spead to everything. The all at one the quarrel sank: Everyone felt the same, And every life became A brilliant breaking of the bank, A quite unlosable game. So life was never better than In nineteen sixty-three (Though just too late for me) - Between the end of the Chatterly ban And the Beatles' first LP.

He Hears that his Beloved has become Engaged

For C.G.B. When she came on, you couldn't keep your seat; Fighting your way up through the orchestra, Tup-heavy bumpkin, you confused your feet, Fell in the drum - how we went ha ha ha! But once you gained her side and started waltzing We all began to cheer; the way she leant Her cheek on yours and laughed was so exalting We thought you were stooging for the management. But no. What you did, any of us might. And saying so I see our difference: Not your aplomb (I used mine to sit tight), But fancying you improve her. Where's the sense In saying love, but meaning indifference ? You'll only change her. Still, I'm sure you're right.

No Road

Since we agreed to let the road between us Fall to disuse, And bricked our gates up, planted trees to screen us, And turned all time's eroding agents loose, Silence, and space, and strangers - our neglect Has not had much effect. Leaves drift unswept, perhaps; grass creeps unmown; No other change. So clear it stands, so little overgrown, Walking that way tonight would not seem strange, And still would be followed. A little longer, And time would be the stronger, Drafting a world where no such road will run From you to me; To watch that world come up like a cold sun, Rewarding others, is my liberty. Not to prevent it is my will's fulfillment. Willing it, my ailment.

Ignorance

Strange to know nothing, never to be sure Of what is true or right or real, But forced to qualify or so I feel, Or Well, it does seem so: Someone must know. Strange to be ignorant of the way things work: Their skill at finding what they need, Their sense of shape, and punctual spread of seed, And willingness to change; Yes, it is strange, Even to wear such knowledge - for our flesh Surrounds us with its own decisions - And yet spend all our life on imprecisions, That when we start to die Have no idea why.

Send No Money

Standing under the fobbed Independent belly of Time Tell me the truth, I say Teach me the way things go. All the other lads there Were itching to have a bash, But I thought wanting unfair: It and finding out clash. So he patted my head, booming Boy, There's no green in your eye: Sit here, and watch the hail Of occurrence clobber life out To a shape no one sees - Dare you look that straight ? Oh thank you, I said, Oh yes please, And sat down to wait. Half life is over now, And I meet full face on dark mornings The bestial visor, bent in By the blows of what happened to happen. What does it prove? Sod all. In this way I spent youth, Tracing the trite untransferable Truss-advertisement, truth.

Broadcast

Giant whispering and coughing from Vast Sunday-full and organ-frowned-on spaces Precede a sudden scuttle on the drum, 'The Queen', and huge resettling. Then begins A snivelling of the violins: I think of your face among all those faces, Beautiful and devout before Cascades of monumental slithering, One of your gloves unnoticed on the floor Beside those new, slightly-outmoded shoes. Here it goes quickly dark. I lose All but the outline of the still and withering Leaves on half-emptied trees. Behind The glowing wavebands, rabid storms of chording By being distant overpower my mind All the more shamelessly, their cut-off shout Leaving me desperate to pick out Your hands, tiny in all that air, applauding.

Reasons for Attendance

The trumpet's voice, loud and authoritative, Draws me a moment to the lighted glass To watch the dancers - all under twenty-five - Solemnly on the beat of happiness. - Or so I fancy, sensing the smoke and sweat, The wonderful feel of girls. Why be out there ? But then, why be in there? Sex, yes, but what Is sex ? Surely to think the lion's share Of happiness is found by couples - sheer Inaccuracy, as far as I'm concerned. What calls me is that lifted, rough-tongued bell (Art, if you like) whose individual sound Insists I too am individual. It speaks; I hear; others may hear as well, But not for me, nor I for them; and so With happiness. Therefor I stay outside, Believing this, and they maul to and fro, Believing that; and both are satisfied, If no one has misjudged himself. Or lied.

Money

Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me: "Why do you let me lie here wastefully? I am all you never had of goods and sex, You could get them still by writing a few cheques." So I look at others, what they do with theirs: They certainly don't keep it upstairs. By now they've a second house and car and wife: Clearly money has something to do with life --- In fact, they've a lot in common, if you enquire: You can't put off being young until you retire, And however you bank your screw, the money you save Won't in the end buy you more than a shave. I listen to money singing. It's like looking down From long French windows at a provincial town, The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel

Light spreads darkly downwards from the high Clusters of lights over empty chairs That face each other, coloured differently. Through open doors, the dining-room declares A larger loneliness of knives and glass And silence laid like carpet. A porter reads An unsold evening paper. Hours pass, And all the salesmen have gone back to Leeds, Leaving full ashtrays in the Conference Room. In shoeless corridors, the lights burn. How Isolated, like a fort, it is --- The headed paper, made for writing home (If home existed) letters of exile: Now Night comes on. Waves fold behind villages.