Here is a Larkin poem dating from 1978, after he had mostly stopped writing poems. He turned fifty-six that year, and had another seven years to live. “The Winter Palace” was first published in Collected Poems (1988):
“Most people know more as they get older:
I give all that the cold shoulder.
“I spent my second quarter-century
Losing what I had learnt at university
“And refusing to take in what had happened since.
Now I know none of the names in the public prints.
“And am starting to give offence by forgetting faces
And swearing I've never been in certain places.
“It will be worth it, if in the end I manage
To blank out whatever it is that is doing the damage.
“Then there will be nothing I know.
My mind will fold into itself, like fields, like snow.”
The first three stanzas are familiar Larkin, contrary and amusing, poking fun at his philistine self. The dawning sense of horror begins with the fourth. The fifth stanza suggests a familiar rationalization – that the loss of memory will cancel our awareness of its loss, and so we’ll hover in pain-free ignorance. Not likely, knowing what I’ve seen of diagnosed Alzheimer’s. I used to sit with the mother of a friend when he and his wife wanted a night out. The old lady sat motionless for hours in a chair. Her eyes shifted and I could see her breathing, but she seemed otherwise inert, an impression that at first was disturbing, as though I were sitting with a corpse, and guilt-inducing. At some point I turned on the television and found reruns of Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music. Something reached the old woman. She patted her knee with her hand in time to the music. “The true art of memory is the art of attention.”