Today we have a guest post from the lovely Nicky Rowbottom!
Out of all the poets I have read, the one I love the most is Philip Larkin. His use of description and imagery is not always kind, but is always very real – a few words providing a mass of detail. The poem that shows this off to greatest advantage is ‘The Whitsun Weddings’, covering every wedding guest cliche while also providing a snapshot of the times he was writing about:
The fathers with broad belts under their suits
And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;
An uncle shouting smug; and then the perms,
The nylon gloves and jewellery substitutes,
There is, however, one work of his which touches me more than any other, and that is ‘An Arundel Tomb’. It is beautiful and romantic and ever since I read it, should I ever visit a museum or church, I look at the tombs in a very different way.
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His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.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 not 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 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 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.
View the intro/roundup.