Days – Philip Larkin – Analysis

Days

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)

I read this poem some time ago. However, recently I took out a book from the library by Robert Dessaix ‘What Days Are For – A memoir’ and that renewed my interest is this poem.

Robert Dessaix had a heart attack and was rescued off the streets in Sydney. He spent a long time in hospital recovering from what was a near death experience. This poem featured very much in his thinking during his eventual recovery. Some text from his book –

I don’t find this poem disheartening at all. On the contrary, it gives me heart. I don’t know a lot about Philip Larkin, not being much of a one for poetry, having found so little of it transporting, but I do know that he rarely gives anyone heart. He skewers, pricks, amuses, lances, stuns. He was too aware that, while most things might never happen, death certainly would to give anyone heart. And all we can do, from Larkin’s perspective, I gather, is ruefully endure.

And this morning I can do more than that: I can simply enjoy myself. For the time being I need not contemplate anything except the euphoric upswing of convalescence.

A rather cynical response on Larkin and keyed into the stereotype but I must say that contrary to this image of Larkin I think he very much enjoyed life.

There are two questions asked of the reader. Instead of contemplating the meaning of life meaning is brought down to daily existence. Days being the stepping stones in the day to day journey of our existence and as Mr Larkin so well states they just can’t be ignored. Another one will appear tomorrow – hopefully! The question is answered quite emphatically they are to give happiness – they are to be happy in. Life is to be enjoyed; life is rather nice and gives pleasure – not all the time of course. And how happiness manifests itself is another matter.

And it was a certain joy that came to Dessaix that on a day of recovery and despite the woes of his aging body be felt so much better. This is clearly shown in his text below –

I feel undeniably much, much better. Yes, little by little “the million-petalled flower / of being here” another phrase of Larkin’s – may indeed be losing its vibrant hues and shrivelling up, but it can be contemplated with pleasure for what it is today.

A nice thought that as we deteriorate we can be happy in our deterioration. Finding happiness may not be easy but it may be around somewhere.

The second question – where can we live but days – is perhaps one that should not be contemplated too much unless we want to go mad. We cannot go out of this reality into something beyond imagination. Some may attempt this through religious fervour or because of mental breakdown so a doctor and priest are well chosen.

Death of course may be an answer but do we really want to summon last rites from a priest and a doctor for confirmation. In his book Dessaix spends time arguing that too much wasted time is spent considering the after-life, if there is such. And there is a clear distinction between religion and spirituality – religion getting in the way of the truth perhaps.

My comment … ‘God’ can only be touched through the cloud of unknowing – that is if you can actually ‘touch’ God of course.

The poem ends in the macabre but as Dessaix says not despairing or dour.

Enjoy “the million-petalled flower / of being here”! – I do like that. From Philip Larkin’s poem ‘The Old Fools’.

And of course make the most of this day!

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