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Fourth Former Loquitor

September 19, 2014

By Philip Larkin

Larkin writing from a woman’s point of view, like Wedding Wind (here).

Although ostensibly by “Brunette Coleman”, the pseudonym he used for his mildly pornographic girls school stories, this poem is serious and convincing. “Grass between clear-cut lips, that never yet/Thrilled to the rouge” just erotic enough for the pre-teen girl. The ending is pure Larkin.

He never published it.

Fourth Former Loquitor

A group of us have flattened the long grass
Where through the day we watched the wickets fall
Far from the pav. Wenda has left her hat,
And only I remain, now they are gone,
To notice how the evening sun can show
The unsuspected hollows in the field,
When it is all deserted.
wwwwwwwwwwwwwHere they lay,
Wenda and Brenda, Kathleen, and Elaine,
And Jill, shock-headed and the pockets of
Her blazer full of crumbs, while over all
The sunlight lay like amber wine, matured
By every minute. Here we sprawled, barelegged,
And talked of mistresses and poetry,
Shelley and Miss LeQuesne, and heard the tale
Once more of Gwyneth and the garden rake,
Grass between clear-cut lips, that never yet
Thrilled to the rouge: a schoolbag full of books,
(Todhunter’s Algebra – for end of term
Does not mean you can slack) and dusty feet
Bare-toed in sandals – thus we lay, and thus
The filmy clouds drew out like marble veins,
The sun burned on, the great, old whispering trees
Lengthened their shadows over half the pitch:
Deckchairs that the governors had filled
Grew empty, and the final score was hung,
To show for once the Old Girls had been licked.
Ah what remains but night-time and the bats,
This flattened grass, and all the scores to be
Put in the magazine?
wwwwwwwwwwwwwBe not afraid,
Brenda and Wenda, Kathleen and Elaine
And brown-legged Jill – three years lie at your back
And at your feet, three more: in just a week
The end of term will part us, to the pale
And stuccoed houses we loved so much.

Wenda. Brenda, Kathleen and Elaine
Have flattened down the long grass where they’ve lain,
And brown-legged Jill has left her hat,
For they’ve gone to laugh and talk with those
Who’ve played the Old Girls’ match out to its close.

Philip Larkin

James Booth, in his new biography (click here), suggests Fourth Former Loquitor owes something to this poem by Dorita Fairlie Bruce (click here), author of the Dimsie girls school stories in the 1920s.

To the Old Girls of Clarence House, Roehampton 

O Schoolmates of the long-ago!
Though scattered now, and far away
From that white-pillared portico,
And flower-fringed terrace, and the wide
Green playing-field, and all beside
That made our world – come back, I pray!

Forget, for just a little space,
The broadened lives of later years-
Come back again and take your place
At scribbled desk of easel-stool,
In those old days which were so full
Of such tremendous hopes and fears.

I wove you rhymes and stories then,
So here’s one more if you will deign
To turn your footsteps back again,
And tread the class-rooms and the stairs,
Join in the morning hymn at prayers,
Or tread the wood’s leaf-shaded lane.

And if from words of mine you catch
One breath of the old cedars’ scent-
Hear blithe young voices cheer the match,
Across the sunny field, or see
Forgotten faces flushed with glee-
I shall be well-content.

Dorita F. Bruce

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