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Larkin’s animal poems – 4

April 5, 2013

First Sight

Larkin would have grumbled at my titling these “animal poems”.  As he explained to Monica, 12 May 1958, about this one:

“In the end I called it At first. I didn’t want to mention lambs in the title, since they aren’t the real point, and if you call a thing Lambs people say O yes! about lambs – and off goes their attention, skating away, missing the whole point. Maybe At first isn’t very good, though”.

Earlier, 2 March 1956, he had written to her:

“the point is that here they are, being interested & patient and accepting it all, not knowing how temporary all the misery is & how, in a week or so, everything will suddenly ‘melt & change’ like a miracle”.

One of Larkin’s small corpus of unqualified life-affirming poems. He wrote it just as he finished An Arundel Tomb, with its famous but ambiguous final line What will survive of us is love”. There is no ambiguity about First Sight, but I can’t quite get the thought of the lambs’ ultimate fate out of my mind. Perhaps I’ve read too much Larkin.

First sight

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

Philip Larkin

See also Take One Home for the Kiddies hereAt Grass hereMyxomatosis here, Pigeons here and Laboratory Monkeys here.

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