English Poet and Novelist
Philip Larkin, fully Philip Arthur Larkin
English Poet and Novelist
The trees are coming into leaf like something almost being said; the recent buds relax and spread, their greenness is a kind of grief. Is it that they are born again and we grow old? No, they die too. Their yearly trick of looking new is written down in rings of grain. Yet still the unresting castles thresh in full-grown thickness every May. Last year is dead, they seem to say, begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
Work is a kind of vacuum, an emptiness, where I just switch off everything except the scant intelligence necessary to keep me going. God, the people are awful - great carved monstrosities from the sponge-stone of secondratedness. Hideous.
The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow loosely as cannon-smoke... Is a reminder of the strength and pain of being young; that it can't come again, but is for others undiminished somewhere.
You can look out of your life like a train and see what you're heading for, but you can't stop the train.
They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had and add some extra, just for you. But they were fucked up in their turn by fools in old-style hats and coats, who half the time were soppy-stern and half at one another's throats. Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can, and don't have any kids yourself.
You have to distinguish between things that seemed odd when they were new but are now quite familiar, such as Ibsen and Wagner, and things that seemed crazy when they were new and seem crazy now, like 'Finnegans Wake' and Picasso.
They say eyes clear with age.
You know I don?t care at all for politics, intelligently. I found that at school when we argued all we did was repeat the stuff we had, respectively, learnt from the Worker, the Herald, Peace News, the Right Book Club (that was me, incidentally: I knew these dictators, Marching Spain, I can remember them now) and as they all contradicted each other all we did was get annoyed. I came to the conclusion that an enormous amount of research was needed to form an opinion on anything, and therefore I abandoned politics altogether as a topic of conversation. It?s true that the writers I grew up to admire were either non-political or Left-wing, and that I couldn?t ?nd any Right-wing writer worthy of respect, but of course most of the ones I admired were awful fools or somewhat fakey, so I don?t know if my prejudice for the Left takes its origin there or not. But if you annoy me by speaking your mind in the other interest, it?s not because I feel sacred things are being mocked but because I can?t reply, not (as usual) knowing enough? By the way, of course I?m terribly conventional, by necessity! Anyone afraid to say boo to a goose is conventional.
This is my essential criticism of modernism, whether perpetrated by [Charlie] Parker, Pound, or Picasso: it helps us neither to enjoy nor endure. It will divert as long as we are prepared to be mystified or outraged, but maintains its hold only by being more mystifying or more outrageous: it has no lasting power. Hence the compulsion of every modernist to wade deeper and deeper into violence and obscenity.
You know, I know I should be just as panicky as you about the filthy work - one wants to do nothing in the evenings, certainly not spread rotten books around and dredge for a 'line'. It must be like still being a student, with an essay to do after a week's drinking, only you haven't had the drinking. Quite clearly, to me, you aren't a voluntary worker, from the will: you do it by intuitive flashes, more like an act of creation, and when the flashes don't come, as of course they don't, especially when the excess energy of undergraduate days is gone, then it is a hideous unnatural effort.
This is the first thing I have understood: Time is the echo of an axe within a wood.
Those long uneven lines standing as patiently as if they were stretched outside the Oval or Villa Park, the crowns of hats, the sun on moustached archaic faces grinning as if it were all an August Bank Holiday lark; and the shut shops, the bleached established names on the sun-blinds, the farthings and sovereigns, and dark-clothed children at play called after kings and queens, the tin advertisements for cocoa and twist, and the pubs wide open all day-- and the countryside not caring: the place names all hazed over with flowering grasses, and fields shadowing Domesday lines under wheat's restless silence; the differently-dressed servants with tiny rooms in huge houses, the dust behind limousines; never such innocence, never before or since, as changed itself to past without a word--the men leaving the gardens tidy, the thousands of marriages, lasting a little while longer: never such innocence again.
To start at a new place is always to feel incompetent and unwanted.
To write you must be warm, fed, loved and sober.
Uncontradicting solitude supports me on its giant palm; and like a sea-anemone or simple snail, there cautiously unfolds, emerges, what I am.
What do they think has happened, the old fools, to make them like this? Do they somehow suppose it's more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools and you keep on pissing yourself, and can't remember who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose, they could alter things back to when they danced all night, or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September? Or do they fancy there's really been no change, and they've always behaved as if they were crippled or tight, or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming watching light move? If they don't (and they can't), it's strange: why aren't they screaming?
What was the rock my gliding childhood struck, and what bright unreal path has led me here?
When getting my nose in a book cured most things short of school, it was worth ruining my eyes to know I could still keep cool, and deal out the old right hook to dirty dogs twice my size. Later, with inch-thick specs, evil was just my lark: me and my coat and fangs had ripping times in the dark. The women I clubbed with sex! I broke them up like meringues. Don't read much now: the dude who lets the girl down before the hero arrives, the chap who's yellow and keeps the store seem far too familiar. Get stewed: books are a load of crap.
When I see a couple of kids and guess he's fucking her and she's taking pills or wearing a diaphragm, I know this is paradise. Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives?Bonds and gestures pushed to one side like an outdated combine harvester, and everyone young going down the long slide.
When I throw back my head and howl people (women mostly) say but you've always done what you want, you always get your way - A perfectly vile and foul inversion of all that's been. What the old rat-bags mean is I've never done what I don't. So the shit in the shuttered chateau who does his five hundred words then parts out the rest of the day between bathing and booze and birds is far off as ever, but so is that spectacled school-teaching sod (Six kids, and the wife in pod, and her parents coming to stay)... Life is an immobile, locked, three-handed struggle between your wants, the world's for you, and (worse) the unbeatable slow machine that brings what you'll get. Blocked, they strain round a hollow stasis of havings-to, fear, faces. Days sift down it constantly. Years.
When I was a child, I thought, casually, that solitude never needed to be sought. Something everybody had, like nakedness, it lay at hand, not specially right or specially wrong, a plentiful and obvious thing not at all hard to understand. Then, after twenty, it became at once more difficult to get and more desired -- though all the same more undesirable; for what you are alone has, to achieve the rank of fact, to be expressed in terms of others, or it's just a compensating make-believe. Much better stay in company! To love you must have someone else, giving requires a legatee, good neighbours need whole parishfuls of folk to do it on -- in short, our virtues are all social; if, deprived of solitude, you chafe, it's clear you're not the virtuous sort. Viciously, then, I lock my door. The gas-fire breathes. The wind outside ushers in evening rain. Once more uncontradicting solitude supports me on its giant palm; and like a sea-anemone or simple snail, there cautiously unfolds, emerges, what I am.
Once I am sure there's nothing going on I step inside, letting the door thud shut. Another church: matting, seats, and stone, and little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut for Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff up at the holy end; the small neat organ; and a tense, musty, unignorable silence, brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off my cycle-clips in awkward reverence. Move forward, run my hand around the font. From where I stand, the roof looks almost new - Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't. Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce 'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant. The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence, reflect the place was not worth stopping for. Yet stop I did: in fact I often do, and always end much at a loss like this, wondering what to look for; wondering, too, when churches will fall completely out of use what we shall turn them into, if we shall keep a few cathedrals chronically on show, their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases, and let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep. Shall we avoid them as unlucky places? Or, after dark, will dubious women come to make their children touch a particular stone; pick simples for a cancer; or on some advised night see walking a dead one? Power of some sort will go on in games, in riddles, seemingly at random; but superstition, like belief, must die, and what remains when disbelief has gone? Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky, a shape less recognizable each week, a purpose more obscure. I wonder who will be the last, the very last, to seek this place for what it was; one of the crew that tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were? Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique, or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh? Or will he be my representative, bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground through suburb scrub because it held unspilt so long and equably what since is found only in separation - marriage, and birth, and death, and thoughts of these - for which was built this special shell? For, though I've no idea what this accoutred frowsty barn is worth, it pleases me to stand in silence here; a serious house on serious earth it is, in whose blent air all our compulsions meet, are recognized, and robed as destinies. And that much never can be obsolete, since someone will forever be surprising a hunger in himself to be more serious, and gravitating with it to this ground, which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in, if only that so many dead lie round.
One of the quainter quirks of life is that we shall never know who dies on the damn day as we do ourselves.
Only one ship is seeking us, a black-sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back a huge and birdless silence. In her wake no waters breed or break.
Our almost-instinct almost true: what will survive of us is love.