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An Arundel Tomb -- Philip Larkin

Guest poem submitted by Ann Ang:
(Poem #756) An Arundel Tomb
 Side by side, their faces blurred,
 The earl and countess lie in stone,
 Their proper habits vaguely shown
 As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
 And that faint hint of the absurd--
 The little dogs under their feet.

 Such plainess of the pre-baroque
 Hardly involves the eye, until
 It meets his left hand gauntlet, still
 Clasped empty in the other; and
 One sees, with sharp tender shock,
 His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

 They would not think to lie so long.
 Such faithfulness in effigy
 Was just a detail friends could see:
 A sculptor's sweet comissioned grace
 Thrown off in helping to prolong
 The Latin names around the base.

 They would not guess how early in
 Their supine stationary voyage
 Their air would change to soundless damage,
 Turn the old tenantry away;
 How soon succeeding eyes begin
 To look, not read. Rigidly they

 Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
 Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
 Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
 Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
 Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
 The endless altered people came,

 Washing at their identity.
 Now, helpless in the hollow of
 An unarmorial age, a trough
 Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
 Above their scrap of history,
 Only an attitude remains:

 Time has transfigured them into
 Untruth. The stone finality
 They hardly meant has come to be
 Their final blazon, and to prove
 Our almost-instinct almost true:
 What will survive of us is love.
-- Philip Larkin
This is the last poem in Larkin's collection 'The Whitsun Weddings'. If one
must sum up Larkin's poetry in general, it would be in the famous line: 'To
all that shot and missed'. Larkin deals with the reality and imperfection of
human existence. He spares no one; he tells all the ugly truths. His poems
constantly drive home how human intentions fall short of the final goal.

This is what gives rise to the sweet irony in the last stanza of this poem.
The seeming goal of eternal love has come about despite the fact that there
was no original intention. Why does it come about? Because human beings
still want to believe that there can be such a thing as perfect everlasting
love even though we know intellectually that it cannot exist, hence 'Our
almost-instinct almost true'. It's so human, this contradiction and
precisely why this poem is strangely moving in its apparently jaded tone.


[Minstrels Links]

Other Larkin poems to have featured on the list:
Poem #73, "I Remember, I Remember"
Poem #100, "Days"
Poem #178, "Water"
Poem #254, "The North Ship"
Poem #502, "MCMXIV"
Poem #544, "Toads"
All of which can be found at
[broken link]

16 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Sweetsexy4eva said...

I belive this poem is very Un Larkin for it shows no real pesimistic approach
that he usually adapts. Instantly the fact that the figures within the
statue are holding hands seems remarkable for Larkin to show such intimacy
and love. In his other poetry 'lying in bed' he does the opposite and shows
that no matter how close too people are they acn be on seperate planets but
with tis peom he contadicts that idea. For no matter how history, time,
weather or acknoledgement of what the statue stands for changes their love
and the fact that they are holding hands remians the same. The final line is
the final breaking point:
'What will survive of us is love'
The fac that in poem like' love songs in age' he states that everything that
in youth you belived about love is found to be a lie when you reach maturity
and loose the one you love. So if Larkin is true in what he says in this
poem what you learn about love at any age should not be a lie because it is
the only thing that will survive the trial and trivuloations of life.
Alexandra Cooke

Andrew Felton said...

If anybody needs to be confronted with the beauty and thrill of poetry, they will be after reading this. I read this as a young college student and was radically moved by it- 'changed utterly' in the words of W.B. Yeats. To me, An Arundel Tomb is a reminder of the subliminal power of the truly great poet and his work. Larkin crystallises in this poem a freshly-created universe that tells us of the transience of life and yet, at the same time, the timelessness of love (it persists rigidly) nutshelled in that last line - 'what will survive of us is love'. The line 'snow fell - undated' just knocks me off my feet. Through the changefulness of time lies the changelessness of love...


Rupert Lawler said...

Actually what Larkin is saying in love songs in age is the fickle nature of the music industry and uses that as a representation of the narro minded un enlightened people within our society and is very typical of Larkin-quite simple really.

stephen leake said...

Please correct the word 'finality' to 'fidelity' in the final stanza!!!!


Stephen Leake

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nike free run cheap said...

I read this as a young college student and was radically moved by it- 'changed utterly' in the words of W.B. Yeats.

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greg_s_s said...

And wooosh, Larkin's poetry goes over the heads of more morons.

Larkin's point is that it's a lie, and a deception. The love was never real, it's foolish hope. We may want to believe but it's wrong and a lie. Love never remains because it never existed, we just remember the image of it, the concept.

Read the rest of the damn poem people! It literally calls it an untruth, it's a detail only friends can see (ie everyone sees the loving hand, the friends know it's nonsense).

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