Places, Loved Ones – Philip Larkin – Analysis

Places, Loved Ones

No, I have never found
The place where I could say
This is my proper ground,
Here I shall stay;
Nor met that special one
Who has an instant claim
On everything I own
Down to my name;

To find such seems to prove
You want no choice in where
To build, or whom to love;
You ask them to bear
You off irrevocably,
So that it’s not your fault
Should the town turn dreary,
The girl a dolt.

Yet, having missed them, you’re
Bound, none the less, to act
As if what you settled for
Mashed you, in fact;
And wiser to keep away
From thinking you still might trace
Uncalled-for to this day
Your person, your place.

Philip Larkin 1922 – 1985

This poem, written in 1954, consists of three stanzas each a sentence broken in two parts by a semicolon. The second part a reflective extension to the first. Each stanza has rhyming scheme ‘ababcdcd’.

A typical Larkin ignoble poetic reportage on institutional life and the establishment, in this case the poem centres on the construct of marriage and how it restricts individuals by tying them down to one person. Larkin regarded himself as a poet of dullness and deprivation. And there is certainly a dull veil covering his thoughts on marriage in this poem.

In his day it was difficult to divorce it being an irrevocable affair. So it may happen that a dolt (stupid person) is your lot and the place where you live turns dreary. He suggests perhaps that marriage may cause such tendencies due to lack of freedom.

PL was never quite content with place or partner, and he wanted to keep relationships open. He was engaged at one time but he never married. He had several relationships. He lived in Hull for thirty years while Librarian at Hull University. He regarded Hull as a fringe city and he too was on the fringe of the poetic establishment of his time. When the Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, died in 1984 he was offered that position but declined. It has been said that he was the defacto Poet Laureate.

The poem ends stating that while not being satisfied with the status quo it is best to make the most of it anyway. Making the most of being mashed, marriage mashes the individual – and the potato is no longer a potato. On the positive side he could have been stronger in his wording and used ‘Smash’! And the last part of the concluding sentence gives advise – it is wise not to think of looking for something better.

So make the most of your day whatever the circumstances.

Philip Larkin on Wikipedia

And here is a link to a positive ending from Philip Larkin in his poem Arundel Tomb.

In Memory of Basil, Marquess of Dufferin and Ava – John Betjeman

In Memory of Basil, Marquess of Dufferin and Ava

On such a morning as this
with the birds ricocheting their music
Out of the whelming elms
to a copper beech’s embrace
And a sifting sound of leaves
from multitudinous branches
Running across the park
to a chequer of light on the lake,
On such a morning as this
with ‘The Times’ for June the eleventh
Left with coffee and toast
you opened the breakfast-room window
And, sprawled on the southward terrace,
said: “That means war in September.”

Friend of my youth, you are dead!
and the long peel pours from the steeple
Over this sunlit quad
in our University city
And soaks in Headington stone.
Motionless stand the pinnacles.
Under a flying sky
as though they too listened and waited
Like me for your dear return
with a Bullingdon nose of an evening
In a Sports-Bugatti from Thame
that belonged to a man in Magdelen.
Friend of my youth you are dead!
and the quads are empty without you.

Then there were people about.
Each hour, like and Oxford archway,
Opened on long green lawns
and distant unvisited buildings
And you my friend were explorer
and so you remained to me always
Humorous, reckless, loyal –
my kind heavy-lidded companion.
Stop, oh many bells, stop
pouring on roses, and creeper
Your unremembering peal
this hollow, unhallowed V. E. Day, –
I am deaf to your notes and dead
by a soldier’s body in Burma.

John Betjeman (1906 – 1984)

From 1945 Poems ‘New Bats, And old Belfries’

Marquess – a nobleman ranking between a duke and an earl.
Headington stone is a limestone from the Headington Quarry area of Oxford
V.E. Day – 8 May 1945 – Victory in Europe
The Bullingdon Club – the notorious all-male Oxford University dining club.
Sports-Bugatti – a rather nice sports-car

Basil Sheridan Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 4th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava died on 25 March 1945 at age 35 at Burma, killed in action. He was educated at Eton College, Windsor, Berkshire, England and at Balliol College, Oxford University. He was an intimate contemporary friend of John Betjeman. He was exceptionally talented and led an extrodinary life.

If, in the first stanza, the poem relates to an image of life on 11 June 1939 then Basil would have been 29 years old and John Betjeman a little older. Clearly they were staying together perhaps near Oxford. The opening of a breakfast window to a beautiful June summer morning reminds me of the opening words of Mrs Dalloway. These words portray a lazy carefree picture of upper-class life. The last line is important in making the contrast link to the pending war which is about to complete destroy this somewhat idealistic picture of England.

JB’s Oxford life is the backdrop of his memory to times with his friend. And he awaits the return of his friend as a he once did when waiting for him to turn up at the Bullingdon Club in a dashing sport car. The bells are ringing out from the steeple and we find out in the last stanza that it is V. E. Day a day of celebration but it is a hollow unhallowed day because JB lost his close friend in the war in March. And the cry goes out to Stop, oh many bells, stop.

JB did not make friends easily but he did he lavish affection upon old friends. In this personal elegy we see him share his deep feelings in the words of this poem.

John Betjeman was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1972 until his death.

JB on Wikipedia

Lady Lazarus – Sylvia Plath – Analysis

Lay Lazarus

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it——

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?——

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot——
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

The title Lady Lazarus rolls off the tongue with alliteration and assonance. She uses interior rhyme. Colloquial expression gives emphasis to the passion of her delivery –
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
She mentions her age of 30 years … I am only thirty … she turned 30 on the 27th October 1962 … so this dates the poem … her most productive time as a poet.

There are 28 three line stanzas involving reference to –
SP’s previous suicide attempts – with personal details … like her scars
The Holocaust … she identifies her ‘death and resurrection’ in terms of those that died in the gas chambers. In her final attempt she dies with her head in an oven.
Religion – Lazarus – resurrection – She details what her ‘resurrection’ signifies.
Her life … she sees herself as an artist …
Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

It is a very strong stand-up ‘I’ poem declared in strong passionate terms. And rallying against those guilty of inhumanity. A confrontation with Herr God, Herr Doktor, Herr Lucifer.

SP was only nine years old when her father died and this caused an anger against death in taking him away, he had a German heritage … she became aware of the holocaust and the terrors of death in the camps when a child being born in 1932 … again angry with such death … caused by man … and at the time of writing this poem, in October 1962, Ted Hughes had left her and perhaps an ’emotional death’ and distrust created similar anger against man. This poem is often seen as a statement for female emancipation.

SP identifies with those who died in the Holocaust … she herself as of lampshade skin … and the picture of body decay presents distastful morbid imagery to the reader as …
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me
(note the internal structure to the middle line)

SP sees herself as an expert at attempted suicide and returning … and she considers her skill as a theatrical performance … before the peanut-crunchers … performing a miracle for all to see. She did get much recognition in regard to her suicide attempts and there is always a certain context shadow when reading some of her poetry.

But she will survive like Lazarus … the great miracle … and when she is ‘unwrapped’ it will be the big strip tease … regarding her revival as exciting entertainment … to see what’s underneath … to see her new born again body (peel off my napkin)

Her second attempt nearly took her life … she was discovered just ‘as the worms were setting in’
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

And there she is in the Holocaust as just ash … the Holocaust being defined by …
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

And there is nothing there … but there is a charge for the rebirth … a restitution for the unjust dead? … and she will rise out of this …out of the ashes … representing all those that died … she will arise and give rebirth … new life … a little far-fetched but perhaps she imagined herself as some sort of warped female Christ
Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

And SP states that this is for you … for humanity … with a hatred for man
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby
(opus – creative piece of work … pure gold)

In summary … this is clearly a personal poem of anger … defining herself in strong Ok terms … about death (and unjust death) … about her challenge of defying death … and beating death and those that have caused terrible death … laughing back at them … returning to life with fire and energy as a female … and devouring terrible MAN … clearly seen by the last stanza …
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

Sylvia Plath on Wikipedia

RIP – SP

Love – George Herbert – Analysis

Love

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert (1593 – 1633)

The poem consists of three six line stanzas with rhyming scheme ‘ababcc’. The poem is more than just the personification of ‘love’. For ‘love’ is representative of God. This is defined in poetic terms as metonymy. This can be clearly seen by replacing ‘love’ by God in the text and rereading the poem. And in (L13) ‘love’ is explicitly stated as ‘Lord’.

Metonymy = a figure of speech in which an attribute of something is used to stand for the thing itself, e.g. ‘laurels’ when it stands for ‘glory’ or ‘brass’ when it stands for ‘military officers’

The ‘guest’ can be regarded as being equivalent to humanity (unkind and ungrateful) and not worthy of the welcome but with a humble ring to the words of the guest.  An interesting concept that we are a guest in this world. Included is the religious notion of mankind being guilty of sin (L2).

The whole poem is a conversation between God and humanity. God counteracting the unworthy nature of man by stating – who made you. And then the taking of the blameand know you not who bore the blame’ – implying ‘love’ or God bore the blame (the blame for his creation). The creator taking responsiblity for the nature of creation.

Then the crucial line in the conversation, an acceptance of this fact by the guest. Acceptance of the faulty nature of humanity and that there is a God-given correction, and in response – then I will serve (L16)

And finally ‘love’ or God says you must sit down at my table and taste my meat (Jesus). Love is seen as a compensating force for the weakness of humanity epitomised by the sacrifice in the death of Christ.

This poetic portrait of Christianity shows God as Love as being central in the support of all in coming to terms with indiscretions. A case of working together for a better world on the basis of love. And George Herbert certainly lived accordingly to this doctrine –

From Wikipedia – He was noted for unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill and providing food and clothing for those in need.

George Herbert on Wikipedia

The Span of Life – Robert Frost – Analysis

The Span of Life

The old dog barks backward without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.

Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

Anapaestic tetrameter

Scansion –

^ – / – – – / ^ ^ – / ^ ^ –
The old / dog parks back / ward without / getting up.

– / ^ ^ – / ^ ^ – / ^ ^ –
I / can remem / ber when he / was a pup.

Line 1 …
Four accented syllables are bunched together –‘old dog barks back’ making it difficult to read with each syllable having a strong consonant ending. The difficult construction of this line mirrors the difficulty when getting old and responding to life … the end of the span of life … in this case metaphorically stated in terms of a dog who can no longer get up to confront the reason for the bark (bark and back being onomatopoetic). And of course when we get old we look backwards in reflecting on the past. Perhaps the poor dog lamented the fact that he did not sniff out the track less travelled.

Line 2 …
This line is in complete contrast in construction. It is a very fluid easy flow of words. This correspons to the easy mobility of youth. No elaboration is given on the nature of the dog when young. The reader must create imagery based on his or her life experience, and perhaps reflect beyond the literal to his or her own early days.

And of course the span of life is a brief affair.

There is much more behind this two line poem after an initial reading. And like Haiku and Tanka several readings and more thought is necessary.

Robert Frost on Wikipedia

We Are Seven – William Wordsworth

We Are Seven

–A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
–Her beauty made me glad.

“Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

“Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the churchyard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”

“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet maid, how this may be.”

Then did the little maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”

“You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five.”

“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.

“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.

“And often after sunset, sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

“The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

“So in the churchyard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.

“And when the ground was white with snow
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”

“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little maid’s reply,
“O master! we are seven.”

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
‘Twas throwing words away; for still
The little maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

This is a conversation ballad between and adult and an eight year old child on the response of the living after close family members die.

Out of interest the adult asks the little girl how many are in her family and then a difference on the understanding of death is clearly seen. The eight year old has lost a sister and a brother but she has four other siblings still alive two living at home (Conway) and two away. Clearly it is a very close family and when asked the number of family members she is adamant to include her departed members. They are still very much alive to her to the extent she goes to the graveyard and sits with them singing to them and having her supper with them.

The adult has a different perspective taking the traditional view of the dead going to heaven in spirit form. And distancing them from daily life for they are dead and should not now be counted as family. This is not a very comforting view of the departed and the dear little child is adamant that they are still very much alive in her daily life and cannot comprehend the strange view taken by the adult. We are seven is the title of the poem and the last line ends with that emphatic statement from the child – we are seven!

This poem poses thoughts on the extent to which the dead continue to live-on in those still alive.

This poem was written in 1798 at a time when there were many children in a family and many deaths of young children, and of course, the child-birth death of a mother was a common cause of death. Children frequently experienced the death of their mother and the death of siblings. How they coped with this is a very personal affair.

This poem highlights the impact of the departed on the living and to what extent the dead live-on. As people age they reflect more and more on those that have been important to them in their lives. Sometimes to the extend that they might be labelled as ‘living in the past’. But on the other hand you could say past lives live-on anew in the lives of the living. Whether such living is healthy and an aid to living or unhealthy and detrimental is another matter.

And a related question, to what extent do we remove ‘death’ from children and from daily life. In many Asian countries the dead are remembered within the community by having shrines and memorials within close contact to family life.

A Wikipedia link to Wordsworth – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wordsworth

At the end of two months’ … – Stephen Spender – Analysis

At the end of two months’ holiday there came a night
When I lay awake and the sea’s distant fretless scansion
By imagination scourged rose to a fight
Like the town’s roar, pouring out apprehension.
I was in a train. Like the quick spool of a film
I watched hasten away the simple green which can heal
All sadness. Abruptly the sign Ferry to Wilm
And the cottage by the lake, were vivid, but unreal.
Real where iron lines, and, smashing the grass
The cars in which we ride, and real our compelled time:
Painted on enamel beneath the moving glass
Unreal were cows, the wave-winged storks, the lime:
These burned in a clear world from which we pass
Like rose and love in a forgotten rhyme.

Stephen Spender (1909 -1995)

Scansion = the way a poem scans according to the rules of metre
Scourge = agent of punishment

A sonnet with rhyming scheme ‘abab’.

Lines 1-4 … It seems to be the end of a holiday and lying in bed SS listens to the sea which … if the sea is a poem the sea has a fretless rhythm … the natural unthinking motion of the sea … in his imagination SS is perhaps reminded that he has to do likewise in his poetry now that his holiday is over. It looks as though he has escaped from poetry work to go to the country and he is now going back to town life … and another sound occurs a roar is in an apprehensive ear … for he doesn’t know how he will deal with getting back to work … presumably in an urban environment in contrast to the country.

Lines 5-8 … he is in a train reflecting on the holiday … the simple green that can heal all sadness … he has been in the country away from his normal life at a time when he has needed healing … but now that time has gone … it is real in his mind – the cottage, the Ferry to Wilmington?, the lake … but it is also unreal because of the removal by the passage of the train – like the quick spool of a film … history

Lines 9-12 … what is real is compelled time – what he is forced to do … what is real is the movement of the train compared to the outside scene … the painted enamel beneath the window is a metaphor for the change … a great contrast to the countryside

Lines 13-14 … the countryside burned (destroyed) in the clear world seen through the glass of the window … and to connect with poetry again like losing rose and love in a forgotten rhyme … the unclear world of poetry?

This is quite a brilliant poem about being a poet and having to perform.

Stephen Spender on Wikipedia

Goodnight – Shelley

Poets play with words and Shelley was no exception … clearly evident in the following poem …

Goodnight

Goodnight? ah no, the night is ill
Which severs those it should unite;
Let us remain together still,
Then it will be good night.

How can I call the lone night good,
Though thy sweet wishes wing its flight?
Be it not said, thought, understood;
Then it will be good night.

To hearts which near each other move
From evening close to morning light
The night is good; because my love,
They never say goodnight.

P. B. Shelley (1792 – 1822)

It is essential to have the words before you to understand this poem. There is a difference between good night and goodnight!

In stanza one the night will not be good if ‘you’ are not by my side, implying a close relationship with someone.

In stanza two the night will not be good if there is thought or an understanding of a separation; even though the person has sweet wishes.

And in stanza three, for those that are in total commune with their soulmates, there is no need to say goodnight – no break in the spiritual connection that Shelley associates with the word goodnight. The night will always be good.

The philosophy and poetry of P. B. Shelley

Shelley on Wikipedia.