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…Book Blog by Dolly Delightly

Tag: Poems

Seminal Lines

Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.

The Mystery of Pain – Emily Dickinson


Seminal Lines

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
“Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.”
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

The Waste Land – T. S Eliot

Seminal Lines

Turn on your side and bear the day to me
Beloved, sceptre-struck, immured
In the glass wall of sleep. Slowly
Uncloud the borealis of your eye
And show your iceberg secrets, your midnight prizes
To the green-eyed world and to me. Sin
Coils upward into thin air when you awaken
And again morning announces amnesty over
The serpent-kingdomed bed. Your mother
Watched with as dove an eye the unforgivable night
Sigh backward into innocence when you
Set a bright monument in her amorous sea.
Look down, Undine, on the trident that struck
Sons from the rock of vanity. Turn in the world
Sceptre-struck, spellbound, beloved,
Turn in the world and bear the day to me.

Turn on Your Side and Bear the Day to Me – George Barker

Seminal Lines

The roses were so red
And the ivy was so black.

Dear, at a turn of your head
My despair flooded back.

The sky was too blue, and too tender,
The sea too green, air lacked force.

I always fear – it must be remembered,
Some atrocious act of yours.

I’m tired of holly with varnished leaves
And shivering boxwood too,

And the countryside’s infinity
All things, alas, but you!

Spleen – Paul Verlaine

Seminal Lines for Christopher Hitchens

The earth is an oyster with nothing inside it,
Not to be born is the best for man;
The end of toil is a bailiff’s order,
Throw down the mattock and dance while you can.

A friend is the old old tale of Narcissus,
Not to be born is the best for man;
An active partner in something disgraceful,
Change your partner, dance while you can.

The greater the love, the more false to its object,
Not to be born is the best for man;
After the kiss comes the impulse to throttle,
Break the embraces, dance while you can.

The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews,
Not to be born is the best for man;
The second-best is a formal order,
The dance’s pattern; dance while you can.

Dance, dance for the figure is easy,
The tune is catching and will not stop;
Dance till the stars come down from the rafters;
Dance, dance, dance till you drop.

Death’s Echo – W.H Auden

Seminal Lines

It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
Your chemic beauty burned my muscles through.
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

What later purge from this deep toxin cures?
What kindness now could the old salve renew?
It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

The infection slept (custom or changes inures)
And when pain’s secondary phase was due
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

How safe I felt, whom memory assures,
Rich that your grace safely by heart I knew.
It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

My stare drank deep beauty that still allures.
My heart pumps yet the poison draught of you.
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

You are still kind whom the same shape immures.
Kind and beyond adieu. We miss our cue.
It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

Villanelle – William Empson

Seminal Lines

Days that cannot bring you near
or will not,
Distance trying to appear
something more obstinate,
argue argue argue with me
neither proving you less wanted nor less dear.

Distance: Remember all that land
beneath the plane;
that coastline
of dim beaches deep in sand
stretching indistinguishably
all the way,
all the way to where my reasons end?

Days: And think
of all those cluttered instruments,
one to a fact,
canceling each other’s experience;
how they were
like some hideous calendar
“Compliments of Never & Forever, Inc.”

The intimidating sound
of these voices
we must separately find
can and shall be vanquished:
Days and Distance disarrayed again
and gone
both for good and from the gentle battleground.

Argument – Elizabeth Bishop

Seminal Lines

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Somewhere I Have Never Travelled, Gladly Beyond – E. E. Cummings

Seminal Lines

Don’t talk to me of love. I’ve had an earful
And I get tearful when I’ve downed a drink or two.
I’m one of your talking wounded.
I’m a hostage. I’m maroonded.
But I’m in Paris with you.

Yes I’m angry at the way I’ve been bamboozled
And resentful at the mess I’ve been through.
I admit I’m on the rebound
And I don’t care where are we bound.
I’m in Paris with you.

Do you mind if we do not go to the Louvre
If we say sod off to sodding Notre Dame,
If we skip the Champs Elysées
And remain here in this sleazy

Old hotel room
Doing this and that
To what and whom
Learning who you are,
Learning what I am.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris,
The little bit of Paris in our view.
There’s that crack across the ceiling
And the hotel walls are peeling
And I’m in Paris with you.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris.
I’m in Paris with the slightest thing you do.
I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth,
I’m in Paris with . . . all points south.
Am I embarrassing you?
I’m in Paris with you.

In Paris With You – James Fenton

Philip Larkin: A great poet and a bloody good bum

Philip Larkin’s professional life was twofold as that of a poet and that of an ordinary librarian; only nothing about Larkin was ever really ordinary.  This may be, at least in part, due to, as he once confessed to his friend Norman Iles, the fact that he saw himself as an “outsider” while others supposed him to be “very establishment and convention”.  It was Larkin’s quintessentially English humour, his farouche temper, wry wit and scholastic intellect that came auspiciously together making him into one of the most eminent English writers of the post war period.  Larkin’s poetry is characterised by his personal idiosyncrasies, major existential concerns and an acerbic fusion of lyricism and discontent. Speaking about poetry, Larkin once said that his intention had always been to write in a mode defined by “plain language, absence of posturings, sense of proportion, humour, abandonment of dithyrambic ideal – and…a fuller and more sensitive response to life as it appears from day to day.”  The quotidian, its banality as well as its wonder, is indeed a running theme in Larkin’s work much of which is quietly heretical due to Larkin’s outright rejection of both tradition and new literary movements, especially modernism which he thought an “aberration” that “blighted all the arts.”

In trying to explain the fundamental purpose of poetry, Larkin once said that “to write a poem was to construct a verbal device that would preserve an experience indefinitely producing it in whoever read the poem”. This I would say is perhaps one of the most precise definitions and one that invariably applies to Larkin’s own body of work, which resonates and remains with the reader because it is candid without being indiscreet, ironic without being satirical and illuminating without being haughty or condescending. And, everything Larkin wrote contains the human element; confessional admissions and admonitions set out on the page. In the course of his writing career, which began in the 1930s and lasted until the 1970s, Larking produced four slender volumes of poetry – The North Ship (1945), The Less Deceived (1955), The Whitsun Weddings (1964), and High Windows (1974) – with prolonged periods of stasis in between.  A meagre offering from someone who had laboured in the profession for over 40 years; only Larking had written more than initially thought and in 1988, three years after his death, Larkin’s friend and literary co-executor, Anthony Thwait, brought out Collected Poems which contained a cache of 22 juvenilia poems and 61 mature verses Larking had withheld from public view. It is impossible to speculate about his motives behind the decision, but to merely say that Larkin always was and still remains an enigma. A complex and a contradictory man at odds with his public persona, selfish yet altruistic, loving yet self-allegedly unable to love, a reluctant philanderer, predatory yet timorous, devoted yet disloyal, gracious yet impudent, funny but lugubrious. A complicated man.  And a private one, who saw life “as an affair of solitude diversified by company” rather than “an affair of company diversified by solitude.” And yet, Larkin enjoyed both his friends and his women despite cultivating a persona of a miserabilist eremite, who refused to live the literary life rejecting fame and all it demanded. He did, however, have a small demimonde, corresponded obsessively by epistolary means and presided over a small dragoon of staff at the Hull University Library where he worked for over 30 years.

Interestingly, Larkin seems to have thought of himself primarily as a librarian with a side-line in poetry rather than the other way around. In a rare interview with The Paris Review, speaking about his professional life he explained: “My job as University librarian is a full-time one, five days a week, 45 weeks a year. When I came to Hull, I had 11 staff; now there are over a hundred of one sort and another. We built one new library in 1960 and another in 1970, so that my first 15 years were busy.”  And later when asked about writing, Larkin said: “Anything I say about writing poems is bound to be retrospective, because in fact I’ve written very little since High Windows, or since 1974, whichever way you like to put it. But when I did write them, well, it was in the evenings, after work, after washing up…It was a routine like any other.”  It seems as though Larkin always downplayed his achievements preferring to think of himself as a failure, preferring failure in general, which also happens to be a common theme within his work. Not only that, a characteristically glum atmosphere pervades his poems, a vast majority of which revolve around loneliness and dejection, disappointments, loss and the terrifying yet inevitable rowing towards death. Larkin thus gives the impression that the reality of life as it presents itself to him falls short of what he expected. This disillusionment is particularly prominent when it comes to an assessment of what he has, or rather has not, achieved. Frequently, Larkin indicates feeling as if life is merely passing him by. In Aubade he says: “I work all day, and get half-drunk at night/Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare/In time the curtain-edges will grow light/Till then I see what’s really always there/ Unresting death, a whole day nearer now/Making all thought impossible but how/And where and when I shall myself die.”  He feels similarly in Continuing to Live, which opens on a rather sombre note: “Continuing to live – that is, repeat/A habit formed to get necessaries/Is nearly always losing, or going without/ It varies.”  And in The View, when in the last stanza Larkin asks rhetorically: “Where has it gone, the lifetime?/ Search me. What’s left is drear/Unchilded and unwifed/ I’m Able to view that clear/So final. And so near.”  Larkin’s confrontation of these themes head-on is quite admirable, his ability to do so with flair and a sense of humour makes it enviable. Even in Continuing To Live when talking about “loss of interest, hair and enterprise” Larkin is still fully aware of the seriousness of the situation which he surmise in Dockery And Son by saying: “Life is first boredom, then fear/Whether or not we use it, it goes.”

But of course not all of Larkin’s work is defined by this downhearted and pessimistic tone of voice. A great many of his poems are more upbeat albeit all uniformly with cynical connotations. A lot of these are sententious and document Larkin’s difficulties with women and the notion of love. Larkin’s amatory hardships were fairly well known, so much so that it formed the basis for one of Lawrence Durrell’s most famous one liners, when Durrell declared: “It’s unthinkable not to love – you’d have a severe nervous breakdown. Or you’d have to be Philip Larkin.” As wise as Durrell was I think in this particular instance, however, he was sacrificing the man for the sake of a witticism because albeit Larkin struggled with love and declared himself “too selfish” for it he did love and do so very generously.  In Monika Jones’ case, who Larkin met in 1947 while working together at Leicester University, that love last for over 30 years.  In one of his most demonstrative expressions of affection, Larking dedicated The Less Deceived to her. The collection contains several of Larkin’s best known poems including Church Going (“A serious house on serious earth it is/In whose blent air all our compulsions meet/Are recognized, and robed as destinies”), Deceptions (“Slums, years, have buried you.  I would not dare/Console you if I could.  What can be said/Except that suffering is exact, but where/Desire takes charge, readings will grow erratic?/For you would hardly care/That you were less deceived, out on that bed/Than he was, stumbling up the breathless stair/To burst into fulfilment’s desolate attic”) and An Arundel Tomb, which most clearly represents Larkin’s romantic side even if it is despoiled by sceptic preoccupations of a logician. The concluding line of An Arundel Tomb (“What will survive of us is love”) is one of the most conspicuously affirmative in Larkin’s canon. And yet upon closer inspection the poem’s conclusion about the endurance of love, so uplifting in itself, is introduced as a very faint presentiment an “almost-instinct” that is not quite reliable because it is only “almost true”. The “stone fidelity” of the couple sculpted on the tomb is finally dismissed as something “they hardly meant” and the confident first impression is thus renounced as some sort of misunderstanding, or indeed a lie, when Larkin determines that “time has transfigured them into untruth”.

Larkin’s preoccupation with adverse themes is less abstract when considered with the fact that he started out his professional life as a fledgling writer, with two novels behind him by the age of 25, but later abandoned his aspirations comprehensively discouraged by Kingsley Amis’ success with Lucky Jim (1954), which took some of its inspiration from their friendship. In 1982 he told The Paris Review: “I wanted to ‘be a novelist’ in a way I never wanted to ‘be a poet,’ yes. Novels seem to me to be richer, broader, deeper, more enjoyable than poems.”  It seems that from the very start the act of writing poetry was for Larkin tinctured with failure, which makes his poetic success all the more extraordinary. Talking about the subject most prevalent in his work, Larkin once said: “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.” A bloody good thing too as it seems to have made him into the poet he was. And no other could talk of death so intensely yet tentatively as Larkin does in Next, Please when in the closing stanza he says: “Only one ship is seeking us, a black/Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back/ A huge and bridles silence. In her wake/ No waters breed or break.” No other could capture the essence of intimacy more strikinglythan he did in Talking In Bed: “Talking in bed ought to be easiest/Lying together there goes back so far/An emblem of two people being honest… It becomes still more difficult to find/Words at once true and kind/Or not untrue and not unkind.” No other could be at once more funny and morose, “Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three/(which was rather late for me) -/Between the end of the Chatterley ban/And the Beatles’ first LP.” (Annus Mirabilis). No other could be more flippant: “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.” (This Be The Verse). Or more heart-wrenching than Larking is in Home is so Sad when he says: “Home is so sad. It stays as it was left/Shaped to the comfort of the last to go/As if to win them back. Instead, bereft/Of anyone to please, it withers so/Having no heart to put aside the theft/And turn again to what it started as,/A joyous shot at how things ought to be,/Long fallen wide. You can see how it was/Look at the pictures and the cutlery/The music in the piano stool. That vase.” In short, no one could be Philip Larkin except Philip Larkin who was a great poet and a bloody good bum.

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