Poems by Philip Larkin


                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.
                Arid interrogation: yet the dread
                Of dying, and being dead,
                Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

                The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
                - The good not used, the love not given, time
                Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
                An only life can take so long to climb
                Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never:
                But at the total emptiness forever,
                The sure extinction that we travel to
                And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
                Not to be anywhere,
                And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

                This is a special way of being afraid
                No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
                That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
                Created to pretend we never die,
                And specious stuff that says no rational being
                Can fear a thing it cannot feel, not seeing
                that this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
                No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
                Nothing to love or link with,
                The anaesthetic from which none come round.

                And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
                A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
                That slows each impulse down to indecision
                Most things may never happen: this one will,
                And realisation of it rages out
                In furnace fear when we are caught without
                People or drink. Courage is no good:
                It means not scaring others. Being brave
                Lets no-one off the grave.
                Death is no different whined at than withstood.

                Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
                It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
                Have always known, know that we can't escape
                Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
                Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
                In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
                Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
                The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
                Work has to be done.
                Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

At Grass

                   The eye can hardly pick them out
                   From the cold shade they shelter in,
                   Till wind distresses tail and main;
                   Then one crops grass, and moves about
                   - The other seeming to look on -
                   And stands anonymous again

                   Yet fifteen years ago, perhaps
                   Two dozen distances surficed
                   To fable them : faint afternoons
                   Of Cups and Stakes and Handicaps,
                   Whereby their names were artificed
                   To inlay faded, classic Junes -

                   Silks at the start : against the sky
                   Numbers and parasols : outside,
                   Squadrons of empty cars, and heat,
                   And littered grass : then the long cry
                   Hanging unhushed till it subside
                   To stop-press columns on the street.

                   Do memories plague their ears like flies?
                   They shake their heads. Dusk brims the shadows.
                   Summer by summer all stole away,
                   The starting-gates, the crowd and cries -
                   All but the unmolesting meadows.
                   Almanacked, their names live; they

                   Have slipped their names, and stand at ease,
                   Or gallop for what must be joy,
                   And not a fieldglass sees them home,
                   Or curious stop-watch prophesies :
                   Only the grooms, and the grooms boy,
                   With bridles in the evening come.

MCMXIV (17 May, 1960)

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never before such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word - the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

Send no Money (21 August, 1962)

Standing under the fobbed
Impendent belly of Time
Tell me the truth, I said,
Teach me the way things go.
All the other lads there
Were itching to have a bash,
But I thought wanting unfair:
It and finding out clash.

So he patted my head, booming Boy,
There's no green in your eye:
Sit here and watch the hail
Of occurence clobber life out
To a shape no one sees -
Dare you look at that straight?
Oh thank you, I said, Oh yes please,
And sat down to wait.

Half life is over now,
And I meet full face on dark mornings
The bestial visor, bent in
By the blows of what happened to happen.
What does it prove? Sod all.
In this way I spent youth,
Tracing the trite untransferable
Truss-advertisement, truth.