Friday, May 29, 2009

Larkin, Williams, et al

Haha, so my idea about making this a more regular thing clearly didn't pan out. I have made a number of private posts, but the last public one was on May 9th, so I'm not doing so great thus far. I have a rant coming on Rip: A Remix Manifesto, but I want to watch that again before I finish and post it. I discuss an anarchist Tintin book pretty extensively in the piece, so maybe I'll read that again too...

Anyways, I'm just posting now because I was struck by something I discovered while trying to read a Philip Larkin poem online. I remember liking him when I studied his works in grade 12, and just now I was reading a Guardian article on Carol Ann Duffy and how her poem, "Prayer" (which I thought was alright upon my first read of it, but not particularly moving), was voted the second most well liked poem among Brits. The first was Larkin's "The Whitsun Weddings," which I haven't read yet, but seeing his name made me want to look for a poem I remembered reading and instantly falling in love with years ago. After a little bit of searching for vaguely remembered quotes online, I found it was called "Morning At Last: There in the Snow," and that it is not available online (presumably because Larkin only died in 1985).

What I was surprised to find out was that the poem never published during Larkin's life, but only made known by the Collected Works that I worked from in high school. An article I read on compared it to a poem that was salvaged in 2002 from a discovered notebook that contained the last works Larkin ever wrote. The poem reads as follows:

We met at the end of the party
When all the drinks were dead
And all the glasses dirty:
'Have this that's left', you said.
We walked through the last of summer,
When shadows reached long and blue
Across days that were growing shorter:
You said: 'There's autumn too'.
Always for you what's finished
Is nothing, and what survives
Cancels the failed, the famished,
As if we had fresh lives
From that night on, and just living
Could make me unaware
Of June, and the guests arriving,
And I not there.

The article describes some biographical reasons for why the poems were likely left unpublished (interesting stuff, read the article at, but what got me more was the description of Larkin's style:

The poem is Larkin's handiwork, unquestionably. The rhyme scheme—alternating off-rhymes and pure rhymes—is a brilliantly conceived formal expression of the poem's conflict: Each stanza plays disappointment ("finished"/"famished") against reassurance ("survives"/"lives"). This tension culminates in the final line, which, by delivering a full rhyme but coming up one metrical stress short, seems to give both failure and fulfillment the last word. Members of the Society declared the poem "moving" and "fascinating." A Guardian reporter ate his colleague's words, calling it a "poem of high quality ... imbued with Larkinesque sadness."

I haven't even gotten to William Carlos Williams' Spring & All, which I posted about months ago, and its assertions about traditional writing having plagiarism as a primary motivation behind it, but reading Larkin again made me recall my musing on the subject from the day I read about it on Silliman's blog. Admittedly I haven't been through Williams' actual piece on the subject, but I still side more in the favour of traditional writing. I just like more traditionally organized writers like Larkin (or Koyczan, to use my earlier example) more than more experimental ones like Atwood (to use my high school point of comparison), though I definitely do value the more experimental for different reasons. I suppose it's the aesthetic appeal of the more traditionally constructed, more musical, more obviously technically proficient works that gets me...

Or maybe I'm misunderstanding what Williams' means by "traditional"...

Only one way to find out

No comments:

Post a Comment