(Poem #73) I Remember, I Remember
Coming up England by a different line For once, early in the cold new year, We stopped, and, watching men with number plates Sprint down the platform to familiar gates, 'Why, Coventry!' I exclaimed. "I was born here.' I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign That this was still the town that had been 'mine' So long, but found I wasn't even clear Which side was which. From where those cycle-crates Were standing, had we annually departed For all those family hols? . . . A whistle went: Things moved. I sat back, staring at my boots. 'Was that,' my friend smiled, 'where you "have your roots"?' No, only where my childhood was unspent, I wanted to retort, just where I started: By now I've got the whole place clearly charted. Our garden, first: where I did not invent Blinding theologies of flowers and fruits, And wasn't spoken to by an old hat. And here we have that splendid family I never ran to when I got depressed, The boys all biceps and the girls all chest, Their comic Ford, their farm where I could be 'Really myself'. I'll show you, come to that, The bracken where I never trembling sat, Determined to go through with it; where she Lay back, and 'all became a burning mist'. And, in those offices, my doggerel Was not set up in blunt ten-point, nor read By a distinguished cousin of the mayor, Who didn't call and tell my father There Before us, had we the gift to see ahead - 'You look as though you wished the place in Hell,' My friend said, 'judging from your face.' 'Oh well, I suppose it's not the place's fault,' I said. 'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.'
The title of today's poem is, of course, a take on Thomas Hood's famous 'I Remember, I Remember', one of those poems which *everyone* seeems to have studied in school or read at some point in their lives. Larkin brings a whole new perspective to childhood and growing up; like Auden in 'Musee des Beaux Arts' (Minstrels, Poem #68), he is concerned with the meaningfulness of 'events' in our lives, as opposed to the unadorned fact of 'living'. The whole poem hinges on the effectiveness of the last line, a line whose 'truth' comes as a revelation. And (in my mind, at least) the purpose of poetry is to create such revelations, to open up new ways of looking at the world, to make the reader feel " - like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken;" Larkin's poem performs this task admirably. As an aside, note the exquisite skill with which Larkin translates the rhythms of conversational English into metrical (and rhymed) verse - it seems effortless because it's done so very well. thomas. [Biography] Philip Larkin was born in 1922 in Coventry, England. He attended St. John's College, Oxford. His first book of poetry, 'The North Ship', was published in 1945 and, though not particularly strong on its own, is notable insofar as certain passages foreshadow the unique sensibility and maturity that characterizes his later work. In 1946, Larkin discovered the poetry of Thomas Hardy and became a great admirer of his poetry, learning from Hardy how to make the commonplace and often dreary details of his life the basis for extremely tough, unsparing, and memorable poems. With his second volume of poetry, 'The Less Deceived' (1955), Larkin became the preeminent poet of his generation, and a leading voice of what came to be called `The Movement,' a group of young English writers who rejected the prevailing fashion for neo-Romantic writing in the style of Yeats and Dylan Thomas. Like Hardy, Larkin focused on intense personal emotion but strictly avoided sentimentality or self-pity. In 1964, he confirmed his reputation as a major poet with the publication of 'The Whitsun Weddings', and again in 1974 with 'High Windows': collections whose searing, often mocking, wit does not conceal the poet's dark vision and underlying obsession with universal themes of mortality, love, and human solitude. Deeply anti-social and a great lover (and published critic) of American jazz, Larkin never married and conducted an uneventful life as a librarian in the provincial city of Hull, where he died in 1985. -- from the Academy of American Poets website, [broken link] http://www.poets.org/LIT/findfst.htm You can read the original 'I Remember, I Remember' by Thomas Hood at [broken link] http://www.geocities.com/~spanoudi/poems/hood01.html#1