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Sharp tender shock

December 20, 2021

An Arundel Tomb

Coming across it in Chichester cathedral recently, was a shock. My friends had misled me. “It’s not here” they had said. “It’s in Arundel.”

Afterwards, walking outside, a young couple asked for a photo. I told them about the tomb and poem – they didn’t know either – so I recited the final line. They promised to check it out. I started to explain how people misread it, or maybe don’t, but got “a bit o’ grit in me eye”, so had to turn away instead.

An Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,   
The earl and countess lie in stone,   
Their proper habits vaguely shown   
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,   
And that faint hint of the absurd—   
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque    
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still   
Clasped empty in the other; and   
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,   
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.   
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace   
Thrown off in helping to prolong   
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,   
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths   
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright   
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths   
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.   
Now, helpless in the hollow of   
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins   
Above their scrap of history,   
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into   
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be   
Their final blazon, and to prove   
Our almost-instinct almost true:   
What will survive of us is love.

Philip Larkin

One Comment leave one →
  1. InfoSherpa permalink
    December 20, 2021 8:30 am

    I visited Larkin in 1977 and he talked about Charles Bukowski. R Moore

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