Friday, November 10, 2006

I work all day, and get half drunk at night...

The last poem Philip Larkin wrote was Aubade. An aubade is a special kind of poem, about two lovers separating at dawn. Larkin wrote his aubade to life. There is an audio recording online of him reading the poem. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.

For the visually inclined, here's a video of Alan Bennett reading Aubade, set to New Order's 'Your Silent Face'. But be warned, Alan Bennett is an excellent actor, but there ain't nothing like Aubade in the old man's voice himself :) .

And simply because I love it so much, I'll copy the poem below.

I work all day, and get half drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not used, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never:
But at the total emptiness forever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says no rational being
Can fear a thing it cannot feel, not seeing
that this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no-one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

The poem's sense of depression is almost numbing, and not for everyday, but when Keats said that truth is beauty, few poets took him seriously, but Larkin did. His poems always saw life 'plain as a wardrobe', and when he faces death, he cannot see it any differently.

What is strange is, what is Larkin doing in a Crowded House video?

1 comment:

Bob said...

Aubade was written in 1977.
Poams written after that include:
The Winter Palace
The Mower
New eyes each year...
Love Again
Long lion days...
In times when nothing stood...
Good for you, Gavin...
Dear Charles, My Muse, asleep or dead...
By day, a lifted study-storehouse...
Party Politics, his last poem written in 1984.