Thursday, February 25, 2021

'Which We See to Be Not Far Distant'

This month in the North we learned to look forward to the mid-winter thaw. Much of the snow would melt and you could smell the earth again, the mineral-rich scent of slow-motion decomposition. Winter’s clampdown, of course, would return in a day or a week. Depending on your temperament, the thaw represented nature’s tease or a happy foretaste of spring. Philip Larkin finished writing “Coming” (The Less Deceived, 1955), originally titled “February,” on this date, February 25, in 1950: 

“On longer evenings,

Light, chill and yellow,

Bathes the serene

Foreheads of houses.

A thrush sings,


In the deep bare garden,

Its fresh-peeled voice

Astonishing the brickwork.


“It will be spring soon,

It will be spring soon

And I, whose childhood

Is a forgotten boredom,

Feel like a child

Who comes on a scene

Of adult reconciling,

And can understand nothing

But the unusual laughter,

And starts to be happy.”


Even those of us who live largely denatured lives, buffered by comfort, remote from the strictures of the natural world, remain tethered to seasonal change. Larkin, no nature poet in the soppy sense, hears the song of the thrush (Hardy’s?) -- “It will be spring soon, / It will be spring soon” – and “starts to be happy.” Happiness is never Larkin’s emotional default mode, of course, but neither is it absent. The fourth line of the second stanza recalls the well-known phrase in “Dockery and Son”: “Life is first boredom, then fear.” And yet, in “Coming,” despite “a forgotten boredom,” he recalls an inchoate sense of happiness from childhood. In The Rambler on this date, February 25, in 1752, Dr. Johnson writes:


"Thus every period of life is obliged to borrow its happiness from the time to come. In youth we have nothing past to entertain us, and in age, we derive little from retrospect but hopeless sorrow. Yet the future likewise has its limits, which the imagination dreads to approach, but which we see to be not far distant.”

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