I owe this blog two poems – poems I have referred to, and quoted, in previous posts but not given in full. It’s now time to rectify that omission, starting with this one, which I have referred to here and here.
For quickness, I copied and pasted the words from an internet site; but as always, I checked them against the book. There is only one change; it is very small, but very significant, and I don’t think Larkin would have made this change (unlike say Spender, whose legendary revisionism of his own works I mentioned here). In the last stanza, the line “We are not suited …” had become “We’re not suited …”, destroying the metre and thus the whole feel of the poem. As previously indicated, I believe the first three lines of that stanza to be the most important in the whole poem, so it baffles me why anyone should tinker with it in such a way.
Hopefully this and other Larkin poems will be more widely read in the next few years, following the decision, announced today, to make Hull the new City of Culture.
That was a pretty one, I heard you call
From the unsatisfactory hall
To the unsatisfactory room where I
Played record after record, idly,
Wasting my time at home, that you
Looked so much forward to.
Oliver’s Riverside Blues, it was. And now
I shall, I suppose, always remember how
The flock of notes those antique Negroes blew
Our of Chicago air into
A huge remembering pre-electric horn
The year after I was born
Three decades later made this sudden bridge
From your unsatisfactory age
To my unsatisfactory prime.
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.
Philip Larkin, 1955