One of my motivations for writing a blog was because every so often a line or two of poetry (not mine, you’ll be pleased to hear!) comes into my head and I want to share it with people. I’m starting off with a poem by Philip Larkin, who is one of my favourite poets; the poem in question is not one of my favourite Larkin poems, but it came to mind when I peeped at a friend’s Facebook photos (this made me feel a little uneasy, but then again, what are the photos put there for?) To me, being able to suddenly look at a person as they were several decades ago is almost like travelling in time. It is a shock because, as Larkin put it in another poem (Reference Back),
… Truly, though our element is time,
We are not suited to the long perspectives
Open at each instant of our lives.
They link us to our losses: worse,
They show us what we have as it once was,
Blindingly undiminished, just as though
By acting differently we could have kept it so.
(Here he is talking about nostalgia, but it is the same in principle.)
Here’s the poem:
Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album
At last you yielded up the album, which
Once open, sent me distracted. All your ages
Matt and glossy on the thick black pages!
Too much confectionery, too rich:
I choke on such nutritious images.
My swivel eye hungers from pose to pose —
In pigtails, clutching a reluctant cat;
Or furred yourself, a sweet girl-graduate;
Or lifting a heavy-headed rose
Beneath a trellis, or in a trilby-hat
(Faintly disturbing, that, in several ways) —
From every side you strike at my control,
Not least through these disquieting chaps who loll
At ease about your earlier days:
Not quite your class, I’d say, dear, on the whole.
But o, photography! as no art is,
Faithful and disappointing! that records
Dull days as dull, and hold-it smiles as frauds,
And will not censor blemishes
Like washing-lines, and Hall’s-Distemper boards,
But shows a cat as disinclined, and shades
A chin as doubled when it is, what grace
Your candour thus confers upon her face!
How overwhelmingly persuades
That this is a real girl in a real place,
In every sense empirically true!
Or is it just the past? Those flowers, that gate,
These misty parks and motors, lacerate
Simply by being you; you
Contract my heart by looking out of date.
Yes, true; but in the end, surely, we cry
Not only at exclusion, but because
It leaves us free to cry. We know what was
Won’t call on us to justify
Our grief, however hard we yowl across
The gap from eye to page. So I am left
To mourn (without a chance of consequence)
You, balanced on a bike against a fence;
To wonder if you’d spot the theft
Of this one of you bathing; to condense,
In short, a past that no one now can share,
No matter whose your future; calm and dry,
It holds you like a heaven, and you lie
Unvariably lovely there,
Smaller and clearer as the years go by.