m e n o f l e t t e r s
Beaux Arts’), the couple have ‘Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths/ Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light/Each summer thronged the glass’, and now
Time has transfigured them into Untruth. The stone fidelity 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.
surdly, did not). Larkin took ‘great care’ over the ordering of his poems (‘the last one is chosen for its uplift quality, to leave the impression that you’re more serious than the reader had thought’). To encounter ‘An Arundel Tomb’ in its proper place, as the final poem in The Whitsun Weddings, is to encounter a work that now seems more emphatic in its affiliation to the idea of enduring love.
The unintended legacy captured in these lines has prompted readers to wonder whether the almost-instinct was something Larkin felt himself. The conclusion to the poem is, of course, deliberately qualified, and the idea that what will survive of us is love looks like a chimera (in the sense of something that we long to be true but that is illusory). Yet one of the virtues of Archie Burnett’s fine new edition of these poems is that it arranges Larkin’s work as it was published in its individual collections (as Anthony Thwaite’s original edition of 1988, ab-
This view is supported by Larkin’s own remarks, which Burnett includes in this edition’s wonderful commentary (together with the relevant revisions, dates of composition, and allusions for all of the poems). It is true that, underneath a workbook draft of the poem, Larkin wrote that ‘Love isn’t stronger than death just because two statues hold hands for six hundred years’. However, when asked whether he felt sceptical about the image of love preserved in stone that had occasioned his poem, he replied: ‘No. I was very moved by it. Of course it was years ago. I think what survives of us is love,
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whether in the simple biological sense or just in terms of responding to life, making it happier, even if it ’s only making a joke.’
There is a tenderness here that is too often overlooked, and The Complete Poems is full of material, some of it previously unpublished, that reminds us of that quality. For the obsessive and the scholar, it is a wonderful resource. But this is an edition to consult rather than curl up with (the decision to print more than one poem per page is misguided: poetry, especially poetry as technically proficient as this, needs space), and Larkin’s work is still probably best approached in its original collections.
To make such an approach is to confront a figure who might have seen in the ‘greenness’ of fresh trees ‘a kind of grief ’, and who spent his life much possessed by failure, by deprivation, by ‘unresting death’. But one also finds a figure who knew that ‘courage’ meant ‘not scaring others’. To order this book for £32, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 39
Strindberg A Life Sue Prideaux Novelist, satirist, poet, photographer, painter, alchemist, and hellraiser – August Strindberg is principally known for leading playwriting out of the polite drawing room into the snakepit of psychological warfare. This mesmerising biography, supported by extensive new research, uncovers the full story of his chaotic life and his revolutionary writings. 20 colour + 50 b/w illus. £25.00
Interviews with Artists 1966–2012 Michael Peppiatt An informal, behind-the-scenes account of art and artists over the past half-century, consisting of fortyfive interviews with eminent and lesser-known artists by the renowned curator and writer Michael Peppiatt. These entertaining and informative interviews combine to give a unique perspective on art from the Second World War to the present day. 50 b/w illus. £20.00
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