Tag Archives: Philip Larkin

Sleeping must be won without pride.

How to Sleep

Child in the womb,
Or saint on a tomb –
Which way shall I lie
To fall asleep?
The keen moon stares
From the back of the sky,
The clouds are all home
Like driven sheep.

Bright drops of time,
One and two chime,
I turn and lie straight
With folded hands;
Convent-child, Pope,
They chose this state,
And their minds are wiped calm
As sea-levelled sands.

So my thoughts are:
But sleep stays as far,
Till I crouch on one side
Like a foetus again –
For sleeping, like death,
Must be won without pride,
With a nod from nature,
With a lack of strain,
And a loss of stature.

-Philip Larkin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Painting by César Gemayel

He should make use of water.

Could Philip Larkin have intuited something that he did not personally encounter, about faith and life? The images he presents in the poem below evoke the reality of the ancient and present sacramental church I know, which doesn’t need to be constructed, because it was born at Pentecost by a sousing of the Holy Spirit Himself.

I’ve kept Larkin’s poem in my drafts for months, hoping to collect a few thoughts and sentences that would properly introduce it on the occasion of Theophany, that wonderful commemoration of water and light and the Incarnation. Here we are at the feast, so let’s just go to the poem:

WATER

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

-Philip Larkin

We have tried all courages.

Philip Larkin’s poetry is often bleak in various ways, but his uniquely beautiful voice draws me.  So I borrowed a fat collection of his work from the library to peruse; it was fascinating. In a few poems, even though I don’t claim to see halfway to their depths, I catch glimmers of our common humanity and perspective, and am prompted to pray for him.

This one was unpublished in his lifetime.

Come then to prayers
And kneel upon the stone,
For we have tried
All courages on these despairs,
And are required lastly to give up pride,
And the last difficult pride in being humble.

Draw down the window-frame
That we may be unparted from the darkness,
Inviting to this house
Air from a field,
air from a salt grave,
That questions if we have
Concealed no flaw in this confessional,
And, being satisfied,
Lingers, and troubles, and is lightless,
And so grows darker, as if clapped on a flame,
Whose great extinguishing still makes it tremble.

Only our hearts go beating towards the east.
Out of this darkness, let the unmeasured sword
Rising from sleep to execute or crown
Rest on our shoulders, as we then can rest
On the outdistancing, all-capable flood
Whose brim touches the morning. Down
The long shadows where undriven the dawn
Hunts light into nobility, arouse us noble.

-Philip Larkin

They come, they wake us.

pineapple guava buds

This afternoon was a healing balm, flowing from the mild-weather waking to breezes coming in at open windows, and Divine Liturgy on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women. I was celebrating and extra-blessed along with all of the Marys and Susannas and Salomes, plus Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Our Sisterhood at church also counts this as our Name Day.

So after all the spiritual food and agape meal, when we finally arrived home, all three of us (my two housemates and I) spent some time out in the corner of the back garden enjoying the sun while working or reading.

The photo below was taken two weeks ago after a rain, but it gives the rare wide view. The table where we like to sit is off the picture to the right.

Kit talked to us as she added some emitters to the irrigation lines that serve the pineapple guava. Last summer many of its leaves got sunburned, probably because it wasn’t getting enough to drink.

At dusk I went around taking pictures as I seem to do most days. The abutilon is a somewhat gangly adolescent right now, and it was near impossible to take its picture with a nice scene in the background, but each bloom is exquisite, hanging down bell-like so that one has to point a face or camera skyward to see inside. This view is also toward the street, and the lightpole near the corner of my property.

If I stand near that light pole and point my camera back toward the house,
this is what I see:

Do you see the abutilon at the far left? I have yet to finish filling in the asparagus beds on either side of the walk, though I spent a few hours on the job last week. When that job is finally completed I plan to dedicate a blog post to the topic, but by then I might be too done with it all.

Here is one of the showy milkweeds I planted a week ago – I still have narrow-leaf milkweed to put in the ground, plus tomatoes, basil, succulents, pipevine…  Tomorrow is May 1st. When I took a look at the weather forecast for the next ten days, to see how hot it might get, I was quite surprised to read that we are expected to get more rain showers. This spring I have several times been mistakenly comforted in “knowing” that we have seen the end of rain. I guess it’s too soon to start leaving my tools and toys out of doors at night.

And now, a poem, which I posted at least once before — but it does seem like one that bears repeating, with its simple and obvious truth about days such as the splendid one that for me is coming to a close. For many of you, it is already the merry month of May.

Days

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

– Philip Larkin