Philip Larkin: Almost

“Time has transfigured them into/ Untruth. The stone fidelity/ They hardly meant has come to be/ Their final blazon. And to prove/ Our almost-instinct almost true:/ What will survive of us is love.” (An Arundel Tomb)

“The trees are coming into leaf/ Like something almost being said…” (The Trees)

Larkin almost loved and almost wrote love poetry. He wrote almost-love poetry. In An Arundel Tomb love is something said about the dead. The living on the other hand only almost love(d). Larkin’s poems articulate instances of not quite loving, of almost loving (The Trees).

Secondly, Larkin is a poet for whom the universe does not point to transcendent glory, to Dante’s love: life/nature/the universe does not point to anything other than mortality. But it almost does! He looks in the traditional places – human love (An Arudel Tomb); religion (Church Going: “Which he once heard was proper to grow wise in,/ If only that so many dead lay around.”); nature (The Trees: “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 love is an “untruth”; religion, “compulsions robed as destinies”; Spring, a trick.

Yet he does see and feel something like love, but is always somehow mournful, as if Larkin is a poet grieving the death of God, his own ability quite to love.

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