Thursday, March 22, 2012

Re-posting An Arundel Tomb, one of my favorite poems... I just discovered photographs online of the actual  carved-stone medieval tomb described in the poem by Philip Larkin (it's in Chichester Cathedral in England). Now one has an additional point of reference, when reading Larkin's greatest poem about love... No other poem I know has registered its lines so firmly in my head. Of the keen observations Larkin has packed into this poem, the stand-out one is the words about "How soon succeeding eyes begin / To look, not read," capturing in an instant the drift of people away from knowing Latin and being able to read it, and how the lordly ceremony and officiousness of that language has all but died with it. 

An Arundel Tomb
By Philip Larkin

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 plainness 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 a 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His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.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 would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The 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 glass. 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 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.