I fell in love yesterday, and I can’t wait until September to tell you about him. OK, so he’s been dead since 1985, but little things like that don’t stand in the way of true love. Never. You might know him already, of course—and if you do, goddammit, how could you let me live this long without introducing me to him? I may never, ever forgive you…
If you don’t know him, please, allow me to introduce you RIGHT NOW. Ladies and gentlemen, parents and children of all ages, meet Philip Larkin, via “This Be The Verse”:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
Philip Larkin, “This Be The Verse”
First published in the August 1971 issue of New Humanist,
Most easily found in his 1974 poetry collection High Windows
Now, most of us, most of you reading me, of course, didn’t listen and we all have kids of our own… and we’re sure, four out of five days, 10 out of 12 hours, that we’re fucking up. Big time. Right? Here’s a nugget of wisdom, loves, that I got from my brilliant friend and the closest thing my arrogant self will admit to a mentor, L.: our kids will need therapy. For something. The definition of parenting success is that they need therapy for something OTHER than what we need therapy for. In other words—let’s give them new neuroses, not the ones our parents gave us. 😉 Isn’t that a goal most of us can meet? I think so…
If you would like to learn more about my new beloved—apparently, Britain’s best-loved poet of the last 50 years, and, according to The Times, Britain’s greatest post-war writer (I plead being Canadian, rather than utterly ignorant, for not meeting him until yesterday)—there’s a detailed Wikipedia entry on him and there’s a bit of his verse in quotable chunks on GoodReads. And here’s an Observer article, In Search of the Real Philip Larkin. To really drown yourself, of course, you need The Collected Poems (the 2004 edition, I have learned, is considered superior) or the like, but here’s another wonderful taste, via the Poetry Foundation.
Philip and I have plans for the rest of the day—forgive me, editors, clients, children. They involve words. But he’s whispering in my ear that I should leave you with one more verse:
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.
“Aubade” (1977), Collected Poems
And an excerpt from a private love letter:
Morning, noon & bloody night,
Seven sodding days a week,
I slave at filthy WORK, that might
Be done by any book-drunk freak.
This goes on until I kick the bucket.
FUCK IT FUCK IT FUCK IT FUCK IT”
– Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica
P.S. I’m not here. Really. You didn’t see me. Don’t tell anyone. Nothing By The Book is taking a page from old school un-social media and doing a rerun summer, while I spend the hot days getting a tan, running through sprinkles, selling one book, writing another, reading two dozen more, neglecting my garden, falling in love, jumping off cliffs—you know. Everything but blogging. But, you get reruns of my favourite stuff, so everyone wins. Likely keeping up with Instagram—NothingByTheBook—connect there, if you like? Or Twitter—Follow @nothingbtbook or/and Follow @paddleink.
I would have led you to him had I know you hadn’t met. I have a thing for British poets, always have. I thought he wrote “This Be the Verse” especially for me, and I set out determined to heed his words and not have children. And then, I met a man . . .
Enjoy your new love.
I will endeavour to forgive you. Endeavour. I promise nothing. Because, it is only today that I have read this:
When I was a child, I thought,
Casually, that solitude
Never needed to be sought.
Something everybody had,
Like nakedness, it lay at hand,
Not specially right or specially wrong,
A plentiful and obvious thing
Not at all hard to understand.
Bloody hell, I knew I was fucked up by my parents (de rigeur) but now I am seriously fucked up by Mr Larkin …
“Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.”
Here, an anti-dote:
“Life is slow-dying.”
Wait, that’s no good…
Ah, here, you’ll like this one:
“When I see a couple of kids
And guess he’s fucking her and she’s
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
I know this is paradise
Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives—
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide”
So what you are saying Ms Nothingbythebooks is that we old people are into some serious schadenfreude regarding the young and their misguided foolish ideas about immortality? (I am going back to shove the dog out from under the bed…I need room for a case of wine to go with me…)
I’m heartless. 😉
I saw you!!
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