Love Songs in Age

February 21, 2012


She kept her songs, they took so little space,
The covers pleased her:
One bleached from lying in a sunny place,
One marked in circles by a vase of water,
One mended, when a tidy fit had seized her,
And coloured by her daughter–
So they had waited, till in widowhood
She found them, looking for something else, and stood

Relearning how each frank submissive chord
Had ushered in
Word after sprawling hyphenated word,
And the unfailing sense of being young
Spread out like a spring-woken tree, wherein
That hidden freshness, sung,
That certainty of time laid up in store
As when she played them first. But, even more,

The glare of that much-mentioned brilliance, love,
Broke out, to show
Its bright incipience sailing above,
Still promising to solve, and satisfy,
And set unchangeably in order. So
To pile them back, to cry,
Was hard, without lamely admitting how
It had not done so then, and could not now.

Philip Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings, London: Faber, 1973: 12.


So, I had decided not to like Larkin, because all the poems I’d ever known of his had been read to me and mostly forgotten, except for his one about Mr Bleaney, which I’d had read to me several times very poorly and so was forced to remember. That all changed when I was going through mum’s bookcases the other day, was accosted by a silm, winsome little edition of his Whitsun Weddings, and found myself forced to admit that his poems are beautiful. They are smooth and firm and deliberate, yet he works them into things of such conversational subtlety that it seems as though his thoughts are unfolding so freely and perfectly. Perhaps just as there are poems made to be read and held before audiences (the sensory and dramatic grandeur of Paradise Lost comes to mind), there are also poems made to be read, curled up by yourself, in a happy or compassionate intimacy (I’m thinking now of Milton’s sonnets on blindness or his wife). Larkin’s beauty only came to me in privacy.

Anyway. Crudely underthought generalisations aside, Larkin is a total dude, and there might be a lot of him to come over the next little while. Such as this, from “For Sidney Bechet“, which sent me into conniptions of ecstasy when I got to it last night:

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes.


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