Work Has To Be Done

Larkin

Philip Larkin

Sonnet for Elizabeth

by Joseph C. MacKenzie

I fear no more the settling of the night
Or mind its grey, evaporating shades;
Mine ears are deaf to time’s lost serenades,
Mine eyes content with thy soul’s loving light.

Thy morning’s halo puts the stars to flight,
And warms me in its luminous cascades;
And though the fairest luster sometimes fades,
No shadow taints thy bloom, O benedight!

When this brief season’s sun shall fail to rise,
And cease to gild our interfluent streams,
These verses shall emit thy beauty’s glow,

And make some heart, behind some future eyes,
To marvel how thy radiance yet gleams,
And how I loved thee, more than men could know.


Has it always been the norm from time immemorial that we experience those moments where we feel like we should be given a reprieve from this relentless expectation of earning a living and allowed to focus on what is most important right in front of us.  The vast majority of us have bills to pay and not the financial resources to take a break during our working years.  Most of us have no one who is in a position to give us that sense of security to take over the finances during a time of crisis to allow ourselves to devout our full consciousness on healing or re-invention.   Or if we do, we jeopardize the life lines that job security represents and we either have to be willing to risk it, or feel like you are not putting other’s at risk unnecessarily if you take a break.  It’s why the responsibility of being responsible is so pernicious.

In this weird epoch we have entered in 2020, where the sands seem to shift beneath our feet daily on several fronts, I think many of us are starting to question this  endless march of productivity for productivity’s sake.  It seems a bit pointless.  I stumbled across Joseph Coelho, a marvelous poet who is making video’s to help bring poetry into the classroom.   He has a whole series of video’s on YouTube around poetry.  I loved this video and his suggestion of writing a poem in the sand. 

In response to a recent post, a friend sent me the first stanza and a link to Philip Larkin’s Aubade.   Aubade is a masterful poem, both in its construction and it’s content.   A brief comment on its construction.  Each stanza is 10 lines, with roughly a rhyming sequence of ABABCCDEED.  Each line is 10 or 11 syllables long.  The five stanzas provide 50 lines and 500 syllables of canvass with which to work.  Each stanza is like a mini sonnet, with one four line ABAB clipped out.  I rather like it and will keep that idea open in the future as a writing structure for ideas that lend themselves to 20 or 30 or 40 lines. 

I appreciate Larkin’s deft touch with stark subjects.   Larkin doesn’t pussy foot around, either about himself or the world about him.   He articulates what most of us feel at times, about death and life and love; it can be a bit of a slog at times.   But Larkin has a way of weaving in a bit of hope as well, another day will dawn and the light grows stronger.  Go walk on the beach and write a poem and leave it for  strangers to be inspired and the waves at high tide to wash away. 


Aubade

By Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)
 
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 done, 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 for ever,
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 will not 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.

Never Such Innocence Again

PhilipLarkin
Philip Larkin

Go Now

By Edward Thomas

Like the touch of rain she was
On a man’s flesh and hair and eyes
When the joy of walking thus
Has taken him by surprise:

With the love of the storm he burns,
He sings, he laughs, well I know how,
But forgets when he returns
As I shall not forget her ‘Go now’.

Those two words shut a door
Between me and the blessed rain
That was never shut before
And will not open again.


MCMXIV (1964)

by Philip Larkin

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 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

A Life Reprehensibly Perfect

Waving Goodbye

How lucky I am to have something that saying good-bye is so hard.

A. A. Milne

Waving Good-Bye

by Gerald Stern

I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us over our feelings,
so I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts,
her smiling face and her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.


Departures and arrivals, leaving and returning home, this is the way of summer vacations and more metaphysical deliberations on the meaning of “home.” I have wished loved ones off this past week and depart myself on multiple journeys over the course of the next few. But it is a much more interesting and ominous departure I am contemplating of late, a departure from “things.”  It is cliche to talk about how the things we possess come in time to possess us, but why else do we pay such elaborate mortgages and taxes to afford houses or condos large enough to store all the things a middle aged person accumulates? I have had a rule for the past year; for everything that is brought in something has to depart.  It works to a point but inevitably the scale tips towards more and never toward less.  It takes something radical to actually move the needle in the direction of fewer things.

 My possessions consist mostly of clothing, books, music and art these days. None of it expensive or elaborate.  None of the categories are large enough to be called a collection, and yet it is much to large to be easily relocated. So who owns whom?  I spend little time in the condo in which they are housed, and yet I pay the bills each month so that my pictures can hang on the wall, and my clothes can hang in the closet in relative prosperity.  Its a bit absurd if I think about it clearly, and yet it is comforting in an odd way to know where things are.   So who or what owns what or whom?   I’ll continue to pretend I am the one in control, at least I know I am the one paying the bills, but I would like to see my art be a little more grateful for its wall space, lest I decide to take the plunge and box it all up for storage and stop paying their “gallery” rent unless they are going to contribute more to my sense of home, and less to my sense of obligation.


 

Poetry of Departures

Philip Larkin

Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,
As epitaph:
He chucked up everything
And just cleared off,
And always the voice will sound
Certain you approve
This audacious, purifying,
Elemental move.

And they are right, I think.
We all hate home
And having to be there:
I detest my room,
It’s specially-chosen junk,
The good books, the good bed,
And my life, in perfect order:
So to hear it said

He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;
Surely I can, if he did?
And that helps me to stay
Sober and industrious.
But I’d go today,

Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,
Crouch in the fo’c’sle
Stubbly with goodness, if
It weren’t so artificial,
Such a deliberate step backwards
To create an object:
Books; china; a life
Reprehensibly perfect.

Add Some Extra, Just For You

Larkin
Phillip Larkin

 

This Be The Verse

by Phillip Larkin

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.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

 


Phillip Larkin made English Lit 101 much more interesting for a legion of young people by penning This Be The Verse. It opens with the single most identifiable first line for teenage angst of any poem every written. The holiday season has a way of raising anxiety for many people, it brings out their inner bah-hum-bug. I am the opposite. I pretty much enjoy everything about Christmas and New Years. I enjoy the fellowship with family. I like to bake. I like to cook. I like to have people over to my house. I like making and giving presents. I like the corny Christmas shows on TV. I even like Christmas music. I realize that many find this a character flaw, which is why I am bringing you a little Joni Mitchell -and Phillip Larkin to counter balance the good cheer with classic curmudgeonly poetry.  If you have a bit of inner Grinch, may this no, no, no darken your day like winter solstice in Norway.

 


To Failure

by Philip Larkin

You do not come dramatically, with dragons
That rear up with my life between their paws
And dash me butchered down beside the wagons,
The horses panicking; nor as a clause
Clearly set out to warn what can be lost,
What out-of-pocket charges must be borne
Expenses met; nor as a draughty ghost
That’s seen, some mornings, running down a lawn.

It is these sunless afternoons, I find
Install you at my elbow like a bore
The chestnut trees are caked with silence. I’m
Aware the days pass quicker than before,
Smell staler too. And once they fall behind
They look like ruin. You have been here some time.

 

The Mind In Delicate Delusion

 

Mark Wagner
Collage made from one dollar bills by Mark Wagner

Money

by Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)

Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
‘Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.’

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don’t keep it upstairs.
By now they’ve a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life

—In fact, they’ve a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can’t put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
Won’t in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

Philip Larkin, “Money” from Collected Poems. Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin.  Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber, Ltd.

Sonnet 145

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651 – 1695)

Éste que ves, engaño colorido,
que del arte ostentando los primores,
con falsos silogismos de colores,
es cauteloso engaño del sentido;

éste en quien la lisonja ha pretendido
excusar de los años los horrores,
y, venciendo del tiempo los rigores
triunfar de la vejez y del olvido,

es un vano artificio del cuidado,
es una flor al viento delicada,
es un resguardo inútil para el hado;

es una necia diligencia errada,
es un afán caduco y, bien mirado,
es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada.

What you see here is colorful illusion,
an art boasting of beauty and its skill,
which in false reasoning of color will
pervert the mind in delicate delusion.
Here where the flatteries of paint engage
to vitiate the horrors of the years,
where softening the rust of time appears
to triumph over oblivion and age,
all is vain, careful disguise of clothing,
it is a slender blossom in the gale,
it is a futile port for doom reserved,
it is a foolish labor that can only fail:
it is a wasting zeal and, well observed,
is corpse, is dust, is shadow, and is nothing.

Translated by Willis Barnstone.