Tag: reflection

‘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…

 

 

thing 4: ‘so pricketh hem Natur in hir corages…’: a water pilgrimage (part i)

There must be some kind of equation for packing.

If N=number of things you’d like to take, C the number of things you feel you can carry, and P what you can actually fit in your pack, the initial relationship between N, C and P can be assumed to be something like N>C≥P. After that it gets a bit confusing; but the net result is definitely F, which is what you say when you pick it up for the fifteenth time that day and your shoulders are very, very angry.

I was off to Somerset for a two-day water pilgrimage from the Holy Well at Frome to Aquae Sulis, the springs which feed the baths in, well, Bath. (read more…)

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 3: ‘here are the dogs’: my birthday

A few days before my birthday I was checking out the times for Adult Swimming (less interesting than it sounds!) at the leisure centre and found myself scrolling past a timetable entry which said ‘50+ swim’.

Then scrolling back again. Bloody hell, I thought, this time next week I can go to that. I could feel the flesh starting to dangle (more) from my upper arms even as I looked. (read more…)

workshop info is here

I’m just about to set off to do thing 4, and I’ll be writing about thing 3 on the train—so much to do, so many things to wonder about! But this is a quick post to let you know that on the events/workshop pages here at what the afternoon knows there is now information about the first of this year’s events: the workshop series I’m facilitating with Hazel Clarke, the Senior Guide from Dove Cottage. I imagine that sooner or later this will feature as one of the things, as I love this work so much; but in the meantime you can find out more about it here: the way we live now: understanding today, reimagining tomorrow.

Off to force the rucksack zip shut…