Guest poem submitted by Radhika Gowaikar:
(Poem #1968) The Old Fools
What do they think has happened, the old fools, To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose It's more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools, And you keep on pissing yourself, and can't remember Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose, They could alter things back to when they danced all night, Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September? Or do they fancy there's really been no change, And they've always behaved as if they were crippled or tight, Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming Watching the light move? If they don't (and they can't), it's strange; Why aren't they screaming? At death you break up: the bits that were you Start speeding away from each other for ever With no one to see. It's only oblivion, true: We had it before, but then it was going to end, And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour To bring to bloom the million-petalled flower Of being here. Next time you can't pretend There'll be anything else. And these are the first signs: Not knowing how, not hearing who, the power Of choosing gone. Their looks show that they're for it: Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines - How can they ignore it? Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms Inside your head, and people in them, acting People you know, yet can't quite name; each looms Like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning, Setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting A known book from the shelves; or sometimes only The rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning, The blown bush at the window, or the sun's Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely Rain-ceased midsummer evening. That is where they live: Not here and now, but where all happened once. This is why they give An air of baffled absence, trying to be there Yet being here. For the rooms grow farther, leaving Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear Of taken breath, and them crouching below Extinction's alp, the old fools, never perceiving How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet: The peak that stays in view wherever we go For them is rising ground. Can they never tell What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night? Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout The whole hideous inverted childhood? Well, We shall find out.
The last two poems brought to mind this one. As in some of his other poems, Larkin starts brashly, perhaps even offensively. But by the time he is done we are given an intimate view of what it must be like to "have lighted rooms / Inside your head" and "trying to be there / Yet being here." The analogy of death with a "peak" is quite unusual (I am sure I have never seen it before) and works perfectly with "the constant wear and tear / Of taken breath." The last line is pure Larkin. It is rather a long poem, but we are in good hands. Do read it aloud. -- radhika.