I browsed a digital collection of Larkin (1922-1985) to get an idea of his poetry. Returning appears to be the theme of aging, or in the words of this biography, “A sense that life is a finite prelude to oblivion underlies many of Larkin’s poems”. The man himself said “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth”. So I select a poem called sad steps for today:
Groping back to bed after a piss
I part the thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.
Four o’clock: wedge-shaped gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-pierced sky.
There’s something laughable about this,
The way the moon dashes through the clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)
High and preposterous and separate—
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,
One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
far-reaching singleness of that wide stare
Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can’t come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.
I like how the poem begins with a piss, and how the man (“a piss” implies a man, doesn’t it?) is parting the thick curtains to look outside, to glance at the world from his prison. He suprised he is by the rapid moving clouds (time flies!) and the cleanliness about the moon that doesn’t care and will shine in exactly the same way when we will all be long gone.
4am. I know the kind of moonlight and understand Philip well when he thinks the whole thing laughable. The moon dashes in the next stanza through the clouds and the arrogant moon is like a cannon killing us, its light turning the world into a deadly place by sharpening the roofs.
Outcry of ridiculousness, behind us rage the wolves of memory, ahead of us the cold moonlight. And all is so immense (we hear Pascal’s famous sentiment here). The far-reaching singleness up there, the gaze of the moon (?) that confronts us with the relentless reality of meaningless.
A reality that youth can handle, with strength and pain. And the only consolation, or even redemption, for Larkin seems to be the fact that this youthfulness will still exist ‘for others’ after we’re gone.
In ‘love again’ we hear that funny, let’s call it Larkin-touch, again:
Love again: wanking at ten past three
(Surely he’s taken her home by now?),
The bedroom hot as a bakery,