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Double trouble

July 9, 2013

Broadcast and The Dance

Larkin_and monica     larkin and maeve

Throughout the sixties, Philip Larkin’s two lovers, Monica Jones, his long-standing lecturer friend from Leicester, and Maeve Brennan, his library colleague, each knew about the other and were not best pleased.  The Maeve relationship produced the poem Broadcast, but in the effort to pacify Monica, he deprived us of a second potentially even better Maeve poem – The Dance.

Here is Maeve on the composition of Broadcast.

“[…] On my copy Philip wrote: ‘To Maeve who wd. sooner listen to music than listen to me’ and drew this sketch of himself enveloped in gloom beside his wireless, and of me, rapt in the more formal atmosphere of the concert hall.

One Sunday afternoon the previous November, the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave a concert in the City Hall, Hull which was simultaneously broadcast on the radio. Knowing I was at the live performance, Philip listened to it at home. The following day he handed me a typescript of the poem, initially called ‘Broadcast Concert’, but later shortened to ‘Broadcast’.

Elated and deeply moved, I was amused by the description of my shoes which had been the object of a shared, private joke that autumn. Elegant, with stiletto heels and pointed toes, popularly known as winkle pickers, they had been in vogue several months. Philip loved them. Never one to be ahead of fashion, rather just lagging behind it, I said in mock exasperation one day: ‘I don’t know why you make such a fuss of these shoes. They’ve been in fashion for the last six months otherwise I wouldn’t be wearing them.’ He laughed and said: ‘Well, I still adore them even if they are slightly-outmoded’ which is how they came to be described in the poem. I have attended countless concerts at the City Hall since 5 November 1961 and on each occasion I recite ‘Broadcast’ in my mind’s eye with mingled pride and delight.”

Hardly surprising that Monica had been upset when the poem first appeared in The Listener. When she saw it again, without warning, in her advance copy of The Whitsun Weddings she blew her top (7 Feb 1964);

“Well I have sat and stared, absolutely incredulous that you have published Broadcast after all your crocodile tears expressions of regret at its appearance before … I suppose it’s not so much the poem itself that I mind so much now, I had shed all the tears I’m going to shed about that, and I had with difficulty forgiven it, I mean its appearance and the way you never warned me of its appearance.”

Larkin (10 Feb 1964) had no answer:

“And now I am distressed about your reaction to Broadcast. My excuse – or if it isn’t an excuse, my answer – is as you might expect, a complete forgetfulness: I didn’t hesitate a moment about including it, because I didn’t think it wd bother you, and it seemed good enough. My regrets and promises that you remember I had – have, even now – forgotten. About the only defence in this is that I didn’t do it deliberately, but that doesn’t go very far, I know. I just didn’t think it still held any power to disturb you.”

We can imagine Larkin’s thoughts as he worked on his other Maeve poem. Begun it in June 1963 soon after she’d persuaded him, against his better judgement, to attend a university dance, it’s even more self-deprecating than usual – some liken it to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  It would have fitted in High Windows beautifullyImagine the opening lines, “Drink, sex and jazz — all sweet things, brother: […]”, alongside “They fuck you up your mum and dad.” It’s over long but could have been shortened.

But Larkin never even finished it. I think he knew that Monica would give him hell.  He fiddled with it right up to 1967, but baulked from another row.

Here is the finished version of Broadcast from TWW. 


Giant whispering and coughing from
Vast Sunday-full and organ-frowned-on spaces
Precede a sudden scuttle on the drum,
‘The Queen’, and huge resettling. Then begins
A snivelling of the violins:
I think of your face among all those faces,

Beautiful and devout before
Cascades of monumental slithering,
One of your gloves unnoticed on the floor
Beside those new, slightly-outmoded shoes.
Here it goes quickly dark. I lose
All but the outline of the still and withering

Leaves on half-emptied trees. Behind
The glowing wavebands, rabid storms of chording
By being distant overpower my mind
All the more shamelessly, their cut-off shout
Leaving me desperate to pick out
Your hands, tiny in all that air, applauding.

And here is The Dance. This is the allegedly most complete version taken from Archie Burnett’s The Complete Poems. Following Sean O’Brien (click here) I’ve removed the obviously wrong “able” from line 95, […] How right/I should have been [able] to keep away, […], and inserted a break before the incomplete final verse.

The Dance

‘Drink, sex and jazz — all sweet things, brother: far
Too sweet to be diluted to “a dance”,
That muddled middle-class pretence at each
No one who really…’ But contemptuous speech
Fades at my equally-contemptuous glance,
That in the darkening mirror sees
The shame of evening trousers, evening tie.
White candles stir within the chestnut trees.
The sun is low. The pavements are half-dry.
Cigarettes, matches, keys —
All this, simply to be where you are.

Half willing, half abandoning the will,
I let myself by specious steps be haled
Across the wide circumference of my scorn.
No escape now. Large cars parked round the lawn
Scan my approach. The light has almost failed,
And the faint thudding stridency
Some band we have been ‘fortunate to secure’
Proclaims from lit-up windows comes to me
More as a final warning than a lure:
Alien territory
And once I gain the upstairs hall, that’s still

Our same familiar barn ballooned and chained,
The floor reverberates as with alarm:
Not you, not here. I edge along the noise
Towards a trestled bar, lacking the poise
To look around me; served, maturer calm
Permits a leaning-back, to view
The whole harmoniously-shifting crowd,
And with some people at some table, you.
Why gulp? The scene is normal and allowed:
Professional colleagues do
Assemble socially, are entertained

By sitting dressed like this, in rooms like these,
Saying I can’t guess what — just fancy, when
They could be really drinking, or in bed,
Or listening to records — so, instead
Of waiting till you look my way, and then
Grinning my hopes, I stalk your chair
Beside the deafening band, where raised faces
Sag into silence at my standing there,
And your eyes greet me over commonplaces,
And your arms are bare,
And I wish desperately for qualities

Moments like this demand, and which I lack.
I face you on the floor, clumsily, as
Something starts up. Your look is challenging
And not especially friendly: everything
I look to for protection — the mock jazz,
The gilt-edged Founder, through the door
The ‘running buffet supper’ — grows less real.
Suddenly it strikes me you are acting more
Than ever you would put in words; I feel
The impact, open, raw,
Of a tremendous answer banging back

As if I’d asked a question. In the slug
And snarl of music, under cover of
A few permitted movements, you suggest
A whole consenting language, that my chest
Quickens and tightens at, descrying love —
Something acutely local, me
As I am now, and you as you are now,
And now; something acutely transitory
The slightest impulse could deflect to how
We act eternally.
Why not snatch it? Your fingers tighten, tug,

Then slacken altogether. I am caught
By some shoptalking shit who leads me off
To supper and his bearded wife, to stand
Bemused and coffee-holding while the band
Restarts off-stage, and they in tempo scoff
Small things I couldn’t look at, rent
By wondering who has got you now, and whether
That serious restlessness was what you meant,
Or was it all those things mixed up together?
(Drink, sex and jazz.) Content
To let it seem I’ve just been taken short,

I eel back to the bar, where they’re surprised
That anyone still wants to drink, and find
You and a weed from Plant Psychology
Loose to the music. So you looked at me,
As if about to whistle; so outlined
Sharp sensual truisms, so yearned —
I breathe in, deeply. It’s pathetic how
So much most people half my age have learned
Consumes me only as I watch you now,
The tense elation turned
To something snapped off short, and localised

Half-way between the gullet and the tongue.
The evening falters. Couples in their coats
Are leaving gaps already, and the rest
Move tables closer. I lean forward, lest
I go on seeing you, and souse my throat’s
Imminent block with gin. How right
I should have been to keep away, and let
You have your innocent-guilty-innocent night
Of switching partners in your own sad set:
How useless to invite
The sickened breathlessness of being young

Into my life again! I ought to go,
If going would do any good; instead,
I let the barman tell me how it was
Before the war, when there were sheep and grass
In place of Social Pathics; then I tread
Heavily to the Gents, and see
My coat patiently hanging, and the chains
And taps and basins that would also be
There when the sheep were. Chuckles from the drains
Decide me suddenly:
Ring for a car right now. But doing so

Needs pennies, and in making for the bar
For change I see your lot are waving, till
I have to cross and smile and stay and share
Instead of walking out, and so from there
The evening starts again; its first dark chill
And omen-laden music seem
No more than rain round a conservatory
Oafishly warm inside. I sit and beam
At everyone, even the weed, and he
Unfolds some crazy scheme
He’s got for making wine from beetroot, far

Too incoherent to survive the band;
Then there’s a Which-fed argument — but why
Enumerate? For now we take the floor
Quite unremarked-on, and I feel once more
That silent beckoning from you verify
All I remember — weaker, but
Something in me starts toppling. I can sense
By staring at your eyes (hazel, half-shut)
Endless receding Saturdays, their dense
And spot-light-fingered glut
Of never-resting hair-dos; understand

How the flash palaces fill up like caves
With tidal hush of dresses, and the sharp
And secretive excitement running through
Their open ritual, that can alter to
Anguish so easily against the carp of
of an explicit music; then

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