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The Winter Palace

January 29, 2012

By Philip Larkin

Looking up “In times when nothing stood” for yesterday’s post about Larkin and Zephaniah (click here), I found this on the facing page of Collected Poems ed. Anthony Thwaite. Dated 1st November 1978, it remained unpublished by Larkin.

It’s bleak of course; Larkin on senility could hardly be anything else. But there’s plenty of the other stuff we love. The colloquial “I give all that the cold shoulder”, the dig at university learning, and the self deprecation of the middle verses. The ending is untypical. Instead of railing against the horrors of extinction he almost welcomes his fate.

Is this why he didn’t publish? Because he’d failed to achieve the starkness of, say, Aubade from a year earlier? Surely not.

No. It wasn’t up to his standards. The final line is weak, a cliché, and he’d already used the “fields” and “snow” images in earlier better poems, Days, First Sight. You can almost hear him muttering “Mystical balls. No good”.

Larkin wrote better, but most poets would be proud of the things he rejected. Here it is.

Most people know more as they get older:
I give all that the cold shoulder.

I spent my second quarter-century
Losing what I had learnt at university

And refusing to take in what had happened since.
Now I know none of the names in the public prints,

And am starting to give offence by forgetting faces
And swearing I’ve never been in certain places.

It will be worth it, if in the end I manage
To blank out whatever it is that is doing the damage.

Then there will be nothing I know
My mind will fold into itself, like fields, like snow.

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