Category: poetry

‘Water’, Philip Larkin

You can read this poem here.

This poem has a unsentimental but quietly beautiful sense of longing in it, which may come as a pleasant surprise to those more familiar with the angrier, more bitter bits of himself which Larkin often shares. I love the idea of him getting ‘called in’ as a religion construction engineer (“Hello, Phil…? We’ve got a job in your area—are you available?”); but who better, perhaps, than him, as someone who, in the absence of faith, finds the contemplation of death so desperately terrifying? It doesn’t seem surprising, either, that he should see religion as as something ‘construct[ed]’. In ‘Aubade’ he refers to it as ‘That vast moth-eaten musical brocade/Created to pretend we never die’. A man-made construct: intricate, ornate, dense, beautiful perhaps, but ultimately something fabricated to soften and conceal something starker; something ‘motheaten’, too, which is wearing out; and not something concerned with how we might live, but only with how we might face dying. Eeeek. As so often with Larkin, I move between deep and relieved empathy with configurations of him as glimpsed through the poetry (“we read to know we are not alone…”), and an equal sense of relief that I don’t always feel as he does. I’m interested, too, that in both ‘Aubade’ and ‘Water’ he seems to conflate religion and faith. Surely, Philip, they are different things?

It’s as though this poem is haunted by the ghost of belief, echoing as it is with the significance of water in many spiritual traditions. Stanza two, for instance, evokes Christian’s crossing of the river in The Pilgrim’s Progress; and there are obvious recollections of baptism in the ‘furious devout drench’. I love it that it’s a ‘furious devout drench’: that suggests such passion, such intensity, such need and desperation. And ‘dry, different clothes’ is so economical: ‘dry’ evokes a restoration of comfort, a relief, while ‘different’ acknowledges the absoluteness of the change belief would bring about. He/we would not be the same after this ‘sousing’— could never experience the world, and life, in the same way again.

But these are all conditional verbs: ‘If I were called in…I should… Would entail… would employ…I should raise’. ‘Water’ offers a vision of something beautiful, certainly: ‘any-angled light’ is a dazzling phrase, simple, mysterious and coruscating, like the thing it describes. But though Larkin can conjure this vision so vividly, he cannot, in the end, see it with his heart—cannot give felt assent to it. A teetering thing built on ‘If’ as the opening word, ‘Water’ captures a longing, an impulse which, though powerful, can find nowhere to go. It’s not one of those poems which constructs an argument. It leads nowhere. And in this its form enacts something of its content (which I think much great poetry does). Larkin is articulating something in himself which finds no real issue—a spiritual sense without form to embody it or trust to allow it to flow. There’s an inability to resolve which leaves us hanging, ‘endlessly’. Such yearning, such an absence of what to do with it. Oh, the hole where faith might once have been…

Pass the biscuits, would you? I need my post-Larkin carb-fix…

 

 

more workshop information: hurray!

I’m very pleased to be able to say that info. about the first one-day workshop is now up on the site.

I’m getting the chance to work with Simon Davies, late of Dove Cottage, and it’s a such a treat to be plotting and planning together. We had a lovely day yesterday, talking excitedly, eating slightly too much, getting breadcrumbs on the many books of poems which got pulled off the shelves, and generally having ourselves a great time. We are really looking forward to working with whoever turns up and whatever they bring. Do nip over to harvest and seed-time and have a look. One of those people might be you!

thing 2: ‘named by sunlight’: the morning walk

Marooned on a far-away planet, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker, Arthur Dent, wakes up and gives ‘his early morning yell of horror’.

A Martin Amis narrator talks of ‘the difference between cosmic reality and how you sometimes feel when you wake up in the morning’. Doctors (and obsessively-Googled medical sites) refer, more blandly, to ‘diurnal mood variation’. But whatever you call it, how you feel in the morning is not always good.

Or at least, how I feel in the morning. I shouldn’t make assumptions, though I suspect I’m not alone in frequently finding myself struggling, on waking. There’s a greyscale (read more…)

‘sea-glass’, Lucy Underwood

‘Due to weather conditions, the evening boat is cancelled.’
Under the risen wind, the waves’ alternate push
and tug unfurls, rolls back, returns again,
while underfoot the shingle shifts and seethes,
a living ground which slides away from me
with a rasping rattle, like hard-won breath.

Graceless, I flail towards the frilled edge
where the foamed sea unrolls itself in greeting.
Sand swirls in the shallows, litter bobs,
and lank fingers of torn weed trail and clutch at me.
But beyond, the deeper reaches free me: I fall forward
into heaven-pale blue-green water which holds

and lifts me—where light is delighting in itself,
and the breeze-beaten surface is a shifting infinity
of tiny planes where sun is shattered into stars.
I blink brine-burned eyes and gasp, spitting salt.
A joy rises in me which joins now with far ago,
where a small child is tossed in sure square hands,

and squeals, and is caught again, and danger
is always safe. I laugh, and weep, and play
till I am spent. Leaving the water, I stoop to lift
a piece of sea-glass. Tumbled into opacity, it holds
the light. Carefully I fold my fingers over it,
its warm smoothness sweet against my salt-scoured skin.

we’re going to need a lot of cake…

The Big Day.

It’s in the post. Should I hire trumpeters, skywriters, a marquee? A cloistered cell in which to grieve? Do I want a Greek chorus to keen over the event, or a Glee chorus to celebrate it? Do I don some kind of ritual clothing, à la Victorian mourning garb, or go out and buy whatever constitutes my personal equivalent of a combover, a sports car or a push-up bra?

You may detect some ambivalence here. Over the last years (read more…)