Larkin’s “first good poem”
On 20 Nov 1950 Larkin sent Monica Jones six poems, Wedding Wind, Spring, Wires, Coming, Modesties, and The Dedicated: “Herewith the six anticlimaxes”. (LM p 20)
She replied 21 Nov: “I like best Wedding-wind & Spring […] Wedding-wind I like extremely, it’s a lovely title, breathing Hardy and Houseman; and, marvellously, breathing a genuine rusticity – that’s a horrid word for it – a real countrified air, like you was bred & born in it. Stables, horses and chicken pail anyone could do; but candlelight, floods, the girl’s apron – these are the real close intimate touches […]. (LM p 21 note)
Larkin replied on 26 Nov: “Wind is about the oldest – 1947 or so. […] On the whole I think Wind is the best: I wish I could write more like that, fuller, richer in reference: I am quite pleased with the to-me successful use of the floods & the wind as fulfilment & joy. Shouldn’t write like that now!” (LM p 25)
In 1975, in an interview in Radio Times, Larkin said “I wrote my first good poem when I was 26”. Archie Burnett (CP p 358) thinks Wedding Wind was probably that poem, on the basis that a completed draft appears in Workbook 1 dated 26 Sept 1946. Others have suggested At Grass completed in 1950. Since Larkin was born in 1922, neither was completed at exactly the right age, but in the letter to Monica, Larkin himself got the date of composition off by a year, so by 1975 he could easily have been wrong again.
Wedding Wind is his only poem written from a female perspective. Somehow the simple images of wind and water bring out both the innocence and sexuality of the wedding night. There’s all the perfectionism of the mature Larkin –
“Cloths is right. I think it sounds more impressive than clothes. Anyway it is unlikely that there would have been a heavy wash on that particular day.” (26 April 1955 to DJ Enright. SL p 240).
But no trace of the cynicism. This tender, religious poem is his first really great one. And Larkin knew it was good.
The wind blew all my wedding-day,
And my wedding-night was the night of the high wind;
And a stable door was banging, again and again,
That he must go and shut it, leaving me
Stupid in candlelight, hearing rain,
Seeing my face in the twisted candlestick,
Yet seeing nothing. When he came back
He said the horses were restless, and I was sad
That any man or beast that night should lack
The happiness I had.
Now in the day
All’s ravelled under the sun by the wind’s blowing.
He has gone to look at the floods, and I
Carry a chipped pail to the chicken-run,
Set it down, and stare. All is the wind
Hunting through clouds and forests, thrashing
My apron and the hanging cloths on the line.
Can it be borne, this bodying-forth by wind
Of joy my actions turn on, like a thread
Carrying beads? Shall I be let to sleep
Now this perpetual morning shares my bed?
Can even death dry up
These new delighted lakes, conclude
Our kneeling as cattle by all-generous waters?
LM – Philp Larkin; Letters to Monica. Ed. Anthony Thwaite. Faber & Faber. London (2010)
CP – Philip Larkin; The Complete Poems. Ed. Archie Burnett. Faber &Faber . London (2012)
SL – Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 1940-85. Ed. Anthony Thwaite. Faber & Faber London (1992)