Guest poem submitted by Paul E. Collins:
(Poem #1819) The Winter Palace
Most people know more as they get older: I give all that the cold shoulder. I spent my second quarter-century Losing what I had learnt at university. And refusing to take in what had happened since. Now I know none of the names in the public prints, And am starting to give offence by forgetting faces And swearing I've never been in certain places. It will be worth it, if in the end I manage To blank out whatever it is that is doing the damage. Then there will be nothing I know. My mind will fold into itself, like fields, like snow.
This is a beautifully bleak little poem. Instead of the cynical bitterness that characterises some of Larkin's most popular pieces, here we have a dreary despair where nothing is worth knowing or doing, matched by an uncertain, halting rhythm and carried along by a progression of ideas in sharply delineated couplets. Larkin's chatty, colloquial tone is in evidence here, but somewhat subdued. It feels more that we are eavesdropping on the narrator's private thoughts ("it will be worth it ... in the end") than that he is talking to us directly. The poem is enlivened, too, by a certain self-deprecating wit: the second couplet, with its clownish half-rhyme and casual jab at the irrelevance of formal education, is wonderfully quotable. For a poem about apathy and brain-death, _The Winter Palace_ evokes plenty of thoughts and emotions. Can the narrator, who initially boasts of giving the "cold shoulder" to knowledge and experience, genuinely be pleased with his detachment from society, or is it some sort of last-ditch defence mechanism against his failure to fit *into* society? It is surely part of him that is "doing the damage", not (as he half-heartedly proposes) some consequence of the external things he has learned. The last couplet is simple but remarkably poignant, evoking a kind of mental shutdown that is tantamount to suicide.