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Out for a Larkin

crucifix-santa-croce-florence-italy

Walk into a Catholic church, and tell me what you see
A dead man, pierced and naked, hanging from a tree
A God you’re told to worship, though he looks like you and me
A dead man, pierced and naked, hanging from a tree
An ad that sells you sorrow, with some pain thrown in for free
A dead man, whipped and bloody, hanging from a tree
And you wonder how, with such a pitch, it ever came to be
A dead man, whipped and bloody, hanging from a tree
Since no one’s seen a dead man rise since AD 33
A dead man, sent to save us, hanging from a tree

One Short Poem about Two Lions of 20th Century English Literature

A Lark
That was a quite a conquest,
the poor author of that aubade
about waking in the dark,
believing he’d go to prison.
And did not. That’s not so bad.

Homage to an Empire*

pax-americana

The budget talks have broken down again.
And bliss is ignorant to show what love
Between a man and wife has got to do
With lasting peace. What nature cannot do
Is rendered pointless. We’re at war again –
So power speaks its mind to truth. And sends its love.

The tyrant’s compass spins democracy
Around the globe – what prior to the fall
Had slithered forth – and scales back our freedom too.
While history plays its part for only two –
I and thou – the circus of democracy
Has swords and thumbs enough for all to rise and fall.

Which is fine. Liberty pays the price
And soldiers stay the course. So goes the game:
Your countries are all ours. Your babies – also ours.
(Too many, though, and they stop being ours.)
So empire asks its men to name a price,
To load the dice, enthrone the orb and throw the game.

*With apologies to Philip Larkin.

The Muse v. The Reading Public
    Richard Wilbur v. Philip Larkin
    (or: A Study in Writing Habits)

Kompare & kontrast:

‘Advice from the Muse’
Richard Wilbur
for T. W. W.

How credible, the room which you evoke:
At the far end, a lamplit writing-desk.
Nearer, the late sun swamps an arabesque
Carpet askew upon a floor of oak,
And makes a cherry table-surface glow,
Upon which lies an open magazine.
Beyond are shelves and pictures, as we know,
Which cannot in the present light be seen.

Bid now a woman enter in a mood
That we, because she brings a bowl of roses
Which, touch by delicate touch, she redisposes,
May think to catch with some exactitude.
And let her, in complacent silence, hear
A squirrel chittering like an unoiled joint
To tell us that a grove of beech lies near.
Have all be plain, but only to a point.

Not that the bearded man who in a rage
Arises ranting from a shadowy chair,
And of whose presence she was unaware,
Should not be fathomed by the final page,
And all his tale, and hers, be measured out
With facts enough, good ground for inference,
No gross unlikelihood of major doubt,
And, at the end, an end to all suspense.

Still, something should escape us, something like
A question one had meant to ask the dead,
The day’s heat come and gone in infra-red,
The deep-down jolting nibble of a pike,
Remembered strangers who in picnic dress
Traverse a field and under mottling trees
Enter a midnight of forgetfulness
Rich as our ignorance of the Celebes.

Of motives for some act, propose a few,
Confessing that you can’t yourself decide;
Or interpose a witness to provide,
Despite his inclination to be true,
Some fadings of the signal, as it were,
A breath which, drawing closer, may obscure
Mirror or window with a token blur—
That slight uncertainty which makes us sure.

Wilbur, Richard. Collected Poems, 1943-2004: 104-105. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2004.

‘Fiction and the Reading Public’
Philip Larkin

Give me a thrill, says the reader,
Give me a kick;
I don’t care how you succeed, or
What subject you pick.
Choose something you know all about
That’ll sound like real life:
Your childhood, Dad pegging out,
How you sleep with your wife.

But that’s not sufficient, unless
You make me feel good —
Whatever you’re ‘trying to express’
Let it be understood
That ‘somehow’ God plaits up the threads,
Makes ‘all for the best’,
That we may lie quiet in our beds
And not be ‘depressed’.

For I call the tune in this racket:
I pay your screw,
Write reviews and the bull on the jacket —
So stop looking blue
And start serving up your sensations
Before it’s too late;
Just please me for two generations —
You’ll be ‘truly great’.

Larkin, Philip. Collected Poems: 170. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.

Lay down all thoughts; surrender to the void.

‘[O]nly in the far east and in modern times have artists valued blank space’, says Daniel Mitsui in his 2002 essay on horror vacui. ‘Only Buddhists and Nihilists are interested in nothingness.’

Ten years later, I still don’t know enough either to endorse or reject those assertions. But seeing these iPad miniTM billboards around town, which push Apple’s minimalist aesthetic to an extreme I find both self-parodic and vaguely unsettling, brought Mitsui’s essay to mind.

See also: The last stanza of Philip Larkin’s ‘High Windows’.