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MCMXIV -- Philip Larkin

Guest poem submitted by Anustup Datta:
(Poem #502) MCMXIV
 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 wheats' 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.
-- Philip Larkin
Philip Larkin is not usually counted among the so-called War Poets, and his poem
is naturally more detached, though none the less harsh and caustic for that. I
think comparing the lines of entraining soldiers (and presaging the lines of
trenches stretched across the countryside) with the ticket queues at the
Kensington or at an Aston Villa match on August Bank Holiday is absolutely
devastating in its irony. Also note the biting satire of "The thousands of
marriages/Lasting a little while longer" - never such innocence again, indeed -
the Great War destroyed all that was sweet and innocent in civilization.


35 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Sunil Iyengar said...

The adjective "differently-dressed" (line 22) recalls Larkin's phrase
"differently-swung stars" from a later poem, "How Distant."

How Distant

How distant, the departure of young men
Down valleys, or watching
The green shore past the salt-white cordage
Rising and falling.

Cattlemen, or carpenters, or keen
Simply to get away
From married villages before morning,
Melodeons play

On tiny decks past fraying cliffs of water
Or late at night
Sweet under the differently-swung stars,
When the chance sight

Of a girl doing her laundry in the steerage
Ramifies endlessly.
This is being young,
Assumption of the startled century

Like new store clothes,
The huge decisions printed out by feet
Inventing where they tread,
The random windows conjuring a street.

-- Philip Larkin

Sunil Iyengar.

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