Tuesday, 2 July 2013

‘Aubade,’ by Philip Larkin

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 done, 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 for ever,
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 will not 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 anasthetic 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.


  1. Two things you will notice if you're inspired to take up the habit of getting on the turps after work.
    One, you will eventually be waking up alone as the missus will have shot through.
    Two, it will be about 4 a.m. - the drunkard's dawn.

    Don't ask how I know.

    'Being brave
    Lets no one off the grave.
    Death is no different whined at than withstood.'...just as well he didn't mention embracing it in suicide. With prose like this I might have been encouraged to have a crack at it. This poem defines hopelessness with such wonderfully bleak clarity.

    It would have helped me believe in Christ even sooner had I read it back when.


  2. It might change your mind, perhaps a little, perhaps a lot, to know that Larkin did most of his writing after his day job, after dinner, after drink, long after everyone else had gone to bed.

  3. Larkin was brilliant!

    "They tuck you up your mum and dad,
    And read you Peter Rabbit too,
    They give you all the treats they had,
    And add some extras just for you!"

    Larkin was a university librarian who wore cycle clips and old overcoats but wrote intimately of a world far beyond provincial UK.
    Chris R.

  4. Quoting the bowdlerised version was provocative. The original is an anthem for all adolescents given it is not without its truths.

    For vitriol there have been few better, for beauty there have been few better.

    I have favourites..
    The Whitsun Weddings
    In an Arundel Tomb
    Love Again
    When First We Faced
    We met at the End of the Party

    He died a drunk but died well (as an ardent atheist and performed pessimist.)

    Chris R.

  5. Liked this. Good for the soul.


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