Monday, October 12, 2009



by Philip Larkin

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

This poem faces the scribbles and appointments of my week next week inside my yellow, treasure trove of a Faber Diary. I flicked forward just now to write something relatively uninteresting: 'marking' [October 19-23] and something interesting: 'Janet Frame Lecture' [Te Papa, 6pm, October 22], and there it was. After an especially chaotic, drivel of a day, the poem stopped me a moment, allowed calm to pool around my feet, made me smile.

Really, Larkin gets it - the bigger picture: life, death, religion, love, the march of days - and offers to the reader not the whole catastrophe but the exact point at which these things catch the light. That corner or curve or secret niche - caught in brightness and spilling with shadow. 

There, he seems to say. He doesn't dwell, he just remarks, simply, gloomily at times, cynically at others, as if these things have just that moment caught his eye, then he departs shaking his head. More on Larkin and his work here and here.   And a comment on his poem An Arundel Tomb earlier on the blog.

Postscript: Found this terrific quote on the link above which helps dispense with the idea of Larkin as a total curmudgeon. The author is quoting critic James Naremore at this point and later turns to another critic called King.

"...The greatest virtue in Larkin's poetry is not so much his suppression of large poetic gestures as his ability to recover an honest sense of joy and beauty." The New York Times quotes Larkin as having said that a poem "represents the mastering, even if just for a moment, of the pessimism and the melancholy, and enables you—you the poet, and you, the reader—to go on." King senses this quiet catharsis when he concludes: "Although one's final impression of the poetry is certainly that the chief emphasis is placed on a life 'unspent' in the shadow of 'untruth,' moments of beauty and affirmation are not entirely denied. It is the difficulty of experiencing such moments after one has become so aware of the numerous self-deceptions that man practices on himself to avoid the uncomfortable reality which lies at the heart of Larkin's poetic identity."

1 comment:

Rachel Fenton said...

Larkin is in my top ten all time favourite poets! You've made me get my books out now! My favourite is "The Winter Palace" - deconstruction and death: what more could a girl ask for?