Archives for posts with tag: Trees

On December 2, Philip Larkin was finally memorialised in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner. Exactly 31 years to the day since his death.

Larkin was, and remains, a controversial figure, ‘jammed somewhere between celebratory and condemnatory impulses.‘ I have often argued for appreciating the work of poets through their words without dragging their lives into the mix. For me, poetry can stand alone, can be complete in itself as words on a page. Perhaps that is a naive standpoint, but I remain content experiencing great work as a thing in itself.

And for me, Larkin is a great poet. One of the best presents I ever received was the entire collection from my daughter a couple of Christmases ago.

And it being Christmas again, I thought of that gift as I read about Larkin finally arriving in Poets’ Corner. As I put up our Christmas tree, aware of another ending year, Larkin’s wondrous poem The Trees presented itself.

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin

 

I often look to poetry to facilitate a discussion with myself about something…in this case ageing.

Larkin is often dismissed as a pessimist, as the poet not to read if you are feeling remotely low. But I love his frankness, his realness, his putting-out-there, sometimes uncomfortably for the reader, of truths that define our humanness.

Take ageing.

We see Larkin approach this theme, gently perhaps, in Trees (In Collected Poems, London: Faber, 2003, p.124):

‘The trees are coming into leaf

Like something almost being said;

The recent buds relax and spread,

Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again

And we grow old? No, they die too.’

There is a nostalgic, even romantic tone to the similarly themed Age (p.60):

‘My age fallen away like white swaddling

Floats in the middle distance, becomes

An inhabited cloud.’

But The Old Fools (p. 131) is different. It exposes the vulnerability of ageing, ‘the whole hideous inverted childhood’. Nothing appears to be gained from the process of ageing, of being old, and Larkin seems angry and resentful:

‘What do they think has happened, the old fools,

To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose

It’s more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,

And you keep on pissing yourself, and can’t remember

Who called this morning?’

The anger calms as the poem progresses, as ageing and old age appear to equate with loss, but also the possibility of hope:

‘Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms

Inside your head, and people in them, acting.

People you know, yet can’t quite name; each looms

Like a deep loss restored…’

CQ