Friday, 16 October 2009



Summer is fading:
The leaves fall in ones and twos
From trees bordering
The new recreation ground.
In the hollows of afternoons
Young mothers assemble
At swing and sandpit
Setting free their children.

Behind them, at intervals,
Stand husbands in skilled trades,
An estateful of washing,
And the albums, lettered
Our Wedding, lying
Near the television:
Before them, the wind
Is ruining their courting-places

That are still courting-places
(But the lovers are all in school),
And their children, so intent on
Finding more unripe acorns,
Expect to be taken home.
Their beauty has thickened.
Something is pushing them
To the side of their own lives.

Philip Larkin, from The Whitsun Weddings

So the other night Mr Coffee and I watched Robert Webb on BBC Four talking about poetry, and when I wasn't thinking moronic thoughts like 'Doesn't he have a bouncy walk?' and bemoaning the fact that neither Limecat nor I would probably get the chance now to marry his mate, I was remembering how when I was a student I really didn't like TS Eliot, who was the main focus of the programme, and how much I did so very, very much love Philip Larkin.

Webb read out Afternoons at one point, which had me dutifully digging out Whitsun Weddings and taking it with me to read for the afternoon. Tragically, ironically, I reacquainted myself with this poem on an Autumn afternoon, in a playground.

I don't know, if I'm honest, what a 19 year old feminist was doing falling in love with Larkin anyway. Pessimistic, misogynist, constantly bleating on about his lack of success with women whilst carrying on several affairs.

But beautiful. The technical brilliance. The -ing, -ing, -ing, forcing us on through time. And it didn't occur to me at 19 quite how patronising he was. Estates, Philip? What did you know of those, exactly?

Whether I wish now to address the issue of my own thickened beauty, I am deeply unsure.

If you are ever in need of a poem to get you through the afternoon, you won't be able to do much better than Nina Cassian's Post Meridian, to be found in Life Sentence. It's unbelievably good, and it doesn't suggest that your life is consumed with laundry, which is always a plus.

About ten years ago I drove Nina Cassian around for the day in my car to see the Lakes, before hearing her read this poem at a poetry reading. I remembered thinking at the time that I didn't need to faff about climbing any mountains or seeing the Grand Canyon or anything now, because that was about as good a life experience as I could ever get.

(Anyway, if this is all too much for you, watch this instead. I know Limecat will be doing.)


  1. I adore David Mitchell; it's been a lovely evening of the new Armstrong and Miller followed by Peep Show and some gentle patchworking so I didn't feel like a complete waste of space.

    And from that you should gather that I haven't read much, if any Larkin - sorry!

  2. I loved his novel -- a Girl in Winter -- but I haven't read it in years. I loved him, too, even though you did hear stories about what an awful person he was. He's just so much more straight forward than Eliot, who kind of tends to be a little fussy, I think. More and better details, maybe.

  3. I am that poem, apart from the fact that I am a very old and decrepid mother!!

  4. David Mitchell and his lovely cow eyes is mine! Mine I tell you! Along with Ben Miller, Kris Marshall, Eddie Izzard, Ed Byrne, sometimes even Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. Mr P says I'm a tv hussy. I think he may be right. Is there a pharmaceutical to help my problem? Seriously though, hands off Mr M.

  5. All of this poetry and reminiscing is nice and all, but what about those dress-up photos you practically promised us? Deliver the goods, chickie-babe.

  6. Don't let Lynn boss you around. Wait. Where ARE those photos you promised??

    PS-Note to self: must read Larkin/Cassian.

    PPS-I once drove around all evening, in a tiny jalopy, with a 300lb driving instructor, who smelled like Boston baked beans. His many grunts and burps were inspiring and uplifting.

    So. No Grand Canyon for me, either.

  7. Oh, wonderful. all I can say is, High Windows.
    I am fairly new to blogging and yours is the first blog i have come across with a literary content. Have signed up as a follower and look forward to reading more of your thoughts. Thank you!
    Country Mouse

  8. That clip is so funny, had me laughing out loud here.
    Not sure if know much about Philip Larkin, I must start reading poetry again, I loved it at school, every Spring I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins poems and I loved a lot of his stuff, he felt so accessible for me. And a few years ago Daisy Goodwin had a column in you and I loved the poems she picked.
    Anyway, I am here as I saw you had been on my blog, and then I got reading yours. Thank-you for visiting and I think your comment is so right, I would have my old antique dress that doesn't suit me, sitting out for the photoshoot. The mad thing is I would do all the things, I just don't know how people get to the point where everything is sorted, finished, and ready for a photoshoot!


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