Monday, January 19, 2004

After reading about him recently, I recently looked through Philip Larkin's Collected Poems. Of course, it's easy to get a grin out of a poem like:

This Be The Verse

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.

I like it, but it's a bit one-sided in a way. To some extent I also enjoy the feminist revisionism of:

The Literary World

'Finally, after five months of my life during which I could write nothing that would satisfied me, and for which no power will compensate me...'

My dear Kafka,
When you’ve had five years of it, not five months,
Five years of an irresistible force meeting an
immoveable object right in your belly,
Then you’ll know about depression.

Mrs. Alfred Tennyson
begging letters
admiring letters
insulting letters
enquiring letters
business letters
and publishers’ letters.
She also
looked after his clothes
saw to his food and drink
entertained visitors
protected him from gossip and criticism
And finally
(apart from running the household)
Brought up and educated the children.

While all this was going on
Mister Alfred Tennyson sat like a baby
Doing his poetic business.

(Even if part I is annoyingly self-pitying.) But there's something really fine and profound about these:


The eyes of strangers
Are cold as snowdrops,
Downcast, folded,
And seldom visited.

And strangers' acts
Cry but vaguely, drift
Across our attention's
Smoke-sieged afternoons.

And to live there, among strangers,
Calls for teashop behaviours:
Setting down the cup,
Leaving the right tip,

Keeping the soul unjostled,
The pocket unpicked,
The fancies lurid,
And the treasure buried.


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.

I like the way that poem speaks to so many kinds of profound ignorance--of learning, of the technology all around us, even of our own bodies and natures.

Other poems that stood out were: Home is So Sad, Best Society, Toads, Toads Revisisted, Since The Majority Of Me, Next, Please, and Winter Palace.



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