Saturday, August 18, 2018

I'm terrified of the thought of time passing.../Philip Larkin, letters to Monica

12 March 1957
Thursday Windy & rainy today. No news. I overslept & started the day badly in consequence. I seem to walk on a transparent surface and see beneath me all the bones and wrecks and tentacles that will eventually claim me: in other words, old age, incapacity, loneliness, death of others & myself... Wasn’t there a George Robey* song with a refrain In other words? I’ve opened Hopkins** to find fine simplicities to draw your attention to: but I admit they’re few and far between. Still, that makes them more effective.

1. Lovely the woods, waters, meadows, combes, vales,
All the air things wear that build this world of Wales:
2. Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes
3. Some candle clear burns somewhere I come by.
4. All life death does end and each day dies with sleep.
5. To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life among strangers.

*Sir George Edward Wade (1869 – 1954), known professionally as George Robey, was an English comedian, singer and actor in musical theatre, who became known as one of the greatest music hall performers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

**Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889), an English poet and Jesuit priest

9 April 1957
[...] Tonight I heard a few yowling settings of Hardy by some guy called Finzi*, wch made me look at the poems again. I shan’t believe I am insensitive to poetry as long as Hardy can make me tingle all over like a man menaced by a revenant. But they sadden me as much as anything, sadden & frighten. I'm terrified of the thought of time passing (or whatever is meant by that phrase) whether I ‘do’ anything or not. In a way I may believe, deep down, that doing nothing acts as a brake on ‘time’ - it doesn’t of course. It merely adds the torment of having done nothing, when the time comes when it really doesn’t matter if you've done anything or not. Do you understand this? Perhaps you take more naturally to doing nothing than I do. [...]

*Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), English composer

24 May 1957
[...] The ‘achievement’ I speak of is to set a solid set of works against it all, and it irks me that I can do nothing, & have done so little. I wanted to write such a lot - novels particularly - about ‘the way things turn out & the beauty of the natural world’; but it doesn’t look as if I shall: and I wanted to do it not for my sake but for its sake - responsibility is always to the thing & not to yourself or the filthy reader. I feel the only thing you can do about life is to preserve it, by art if you’re an artist, by children if you’re not. Otherwise it flies forgotten, as a dream Dies at the opening day*. When I think of everything I’ve seen & felt, & how little of it I’ve managed to pin - about 3 days of my whole life - then I grind my teeth. Consider people like Trollope & how much they did. Of course all this is an idealistic & probably unreal conception of writing, but some people seem to have carried it out, or acted as if it were a fair statement of the facts. [...]

*Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
- Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748)

6 July 1957
32 Pearson Park, Hull
My dear,
Saturday night, and a storm brewing — I’ve been round shutting the windows, and drawn my sitting room curtains so that I can't see the sheet lightning blinking over the near-at-hand trees. Nearly 10. I’ve been in since shopping, listening to the endless cricket commentary, reading another wretched book, eating supper, snoozing. I went out & bought 2 bottles of wine & some sherry, for no very good reason except that since cutting down my smoking to 1 per day I feel a stronger craving for drink. I wish there were some really nice drink. After gin & Italian and gin & orange I’m trying sherry, but it’s not specially agreeable.

[…] Oh dear! Storm much nearer, crashing about overhead. — Some time later: I think it’s all quietened down now: it was really frightening for a time, like someone flicking a vast electric light on outside the house, and grinding pieces of coal together before chucking them down a 6o-ft shaft on to the head of a tympanum. Anyway, now I’m settled down with a fresh glass of sherry & a stack of LPs on the player. Wouldn’t it be rather romantic to turn into an alcoholic? ‘About half way through 1957 he began to drink much more heavily...’

...When I said in a previous letter that monsterism arose from an inability to face life, I meant of course a sustained and unprejudiced contemplation of the passage of time, the inevitability of DEATH, the onset of incapacity and impotence. I think that as soon as - no, I mean that how one regards these facts settles one’s whole life: if they seem distant & almost irrelevant then you are O.K.: if they seem closer to you than the name stitched on yr underwear then you have had it, nothing else can possibly win yr concentration.

Philip Larkin – Letters to Monica

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