Sunday, June 03, 2018

'Moving at Summer's Pace'

“Its trouble is that it’s ‘music,’ i.e. pointless crap.”

More poets should be so lucky and more poems should be so crappy. Philip Larkin is writing on Aug. 1, 1971 to Monica Jones. He encloses a copy of “Cut Grass”:

“Cut grass lies frail:
Brief is the breath
Mown stalks exhale.
Long, long the death

“It dies in the white hours
Of young-leafed June
With chestnut flowers,
With hedges snowlike strewn,

“White lilac bowed,
Lost lanes of Queen Anne’s lace,
And that high-builded cloud
Moving at summer’s pace.”

The music is Mozartian – light, graceful, almost without content. He rhymes “June” not with “moon” but “strewn.” Odd to think of Larkin as a nature poet, a category that today suggests gushy pantheism. Surely he echoes Isaiah. And what is so rare as a day in June? June merely rubs it in: death in the midst of so much blooming life. In the final stanza, Keats provides the echo. “Cut Grass” may be as close as Larkin ever came to writing (or wanting to write) that Mallarméan ideal, the “perfect” poem. He completed it on this date, June 3, in 1971, and included it in High Windows (1974). He wrote to Jones that “it continues only as a succession of images.”

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