After Wendy Cope’s On Finding an Old Photograph, set in 1912, I thought I should follow up with this one, especially with all the interest currently being shown in that era as a result of the television drama Parade’s End. Not that the two poems have much in common other than chronology; Cope’s is a very personal memoir about the happiness of her father before she was born, while Larkin’s is a catalogue of early 20th century stereotypes. But both evoke nostalgia for that sunny, sepia golden age before war destroyed all. Whether the stereotype bears any resemblance to reality is another question. However I cannot help thinking that the phrase “never such innocence again” is more aptly applied to the plight of the minorities of central Europe – the Hungarians ejected from that country’s lost territories; the Czechs and Slovaks uprooted in retaliation; and Jews everywhere, who were to bear the brunt of the losers’ need for scapegoats.

 

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

Philip Larkin.

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