Monday, July 24, 2017

`That Improbable Goal'

“The poet was not quite dead.”

Sad words for a man who had another three years to live. Five years had passed since Philip Larkin had written his last indisputably great poem, “Aubade.” James Booth in Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love (2014) tells us Larkin completed this poem, his first in three years, on this date, July 24, in 1982:

“Long lion days
Start with white haze.
By midday you meet
A hammer of heat--
Whatever was sown
Now fully grown,
Whatever conceived
Now fully leaved,
Abounding, ablaze-
O long lion days!”

A modest valediction. Perhaps an oblique, punning acknowledgment that Larkin’s own poetic gift was “Now fully leaved.” Larkin had never been afflicted with Whitman-like prolificity. His poems were perfect but few. Booth notes that of those he wrote in his final years, two were celebrations of poets (Gavin Ewart, Charles Causley) on the occasion of their sixty-fifth birthdays. “Was he,” Booth asks, “on some level, attempting to persuade himself that he might himself reach that improbable goal?” Larkin would die on Dec. 2, 1985, age sixty-three.

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