Saturday, October 22, 2005

Reasons for attendance

"And what's the profit? Only that, in time,
We half-identify the blind impress
All our behavings bear, may trace it home.
But to confess

On that green evening when our death begins,
Just what it was, is hardly satisfying,
Since it applied only to one man once,
And that one dying."

The subject, of course, is that miserable sod, that marvellous poet, Philip Larkin, the last of my personal pantheon to be presented here. What he does with rhythm and thought is a rare virtuosity: these poems will ring in mind for days and weeks when first read. And yes, he is morbid, miserable, and yes, in his private life he was quite the reactionary misogynist and racist. I don't care - his poetry transcends his limitations in a way I have never really seen discussed anywhere. His questions, his doubts, so exhilaratingly, so chillingly put into a flawless form. His questions used to be partially mine, of course, a thing which brought him very close indeed.

Now then I finally do feel that I have found my person and my place and do think that I have not misjudged myself. Or lied. But once they were very crucial issues for me: I also was weighing reasons for attendance, and also listened to the call of the rough-tongued bell. In that very burning, very foolish youth I felt that I understood his issues, that they were mine: "And at his age having no more to show / Than one hired box should make him pretty sure / He warranted no more, I don't know." His true morbidity comes from the fact that in his poetry the questions, fundamentally, are left unanswered and what we have left is an overreaching, chilling doubt, carved in a breathtakingly beautiful rhythm: objects of art in language.


stockholm slender said...

Just testing this word verification thingy. These ad "comments" are highly annoying...

helsinkian said...

A really nice posting on Larkin. Did you check out the poem of the month for November 2005 at the Philip Larkin Society website? It's Faith Healing from 1960's The Whitsun Weddings. When I read that poem I felt your comments on the poetry exceeding the limitations of the poet very apt indeed even in the context of that poem.

I was kind of surprised how he describes the meeting of the believers and the American preacher in his poem: "Stewards tirelessly / Persuade them onwards to his voice and hands / Within whose warm spring rain of loving care / Each dwell some twenty seconds."

That Faith Healing poem is so outrageous and funny and desperate and ironic yet clueless that you can read it exactly the way you like in your context. I think it's just a great choice for a Larkin poem for this month right now. The narrator of the poem certainly has an ironic viewpoint but you can read it the way you like. It says a lot about people and there are some great lyrical lines in there. When I saw the Faith Healing title I wasn't really expecting a good poem but it spoke to me.

stockholm slender said...

Oh yes, certainly a great poem, a very typical Larkin approach, with much dissonence and counterpoint. Somehow the superior patronizing angle is lost into a sort of profound, universal sadness. And yet irony and sardonic detachment also remain. His voice is very unmistakeable and we are much richer for it.