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Sunday, 10 April 2011

Philip Larkin: At Grass


Horse farm, Lexington, Kentucky
: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 9 September 2009 (Library of Congress)

The eye can hardly pick them out
From the cold shade they shelter in,
Till wind distresses tail and mane;
Then one crops grass, and moves about
-- The other seeming to look on --
And stands anonymous again.

Yet fifteen years ago, perhaps

Two dozen distances sufficed
To fable them: faint afternoons
Of Cups and Stakes and Handicaps,
Whereby their names were artificed
To inlay faded, classic Junes --

Silks at the start: against the sky

Numbers and parasols: outside,
Squadrons of empty cars, and heat,
And littered grass: then the long cry
Hanging unhushed till it subside
To stop-press columns on the street.

Do memories plague their ears like flies?

They shake their heads. Dusk brims the shadows.
Summer by summer all stole away,
The starting-gates, the crowds and cries --
All but the unmolesting meadows.
Almanacked, their names live; they

Have slipped their names, and stand at ease,

Or gallop for what must be joy,
And not a fieldglass sees them home,
Or curious stop-watch prophesies:
Only the groom, and the groom's boy,
With bridles in the evening come.

Horse at Kentucky Horse Park, Blue Grass region, Kentucky: photo by Wes Blevins, 30 July 2005

Philip Larkin (1922-1985): At Grass, 3 January 1950, from XX Poems, 1951




Quite some versions of pastoral -- from Daniel Boone's crossing the Cumberland Gap into "Kentucke" to Carol HIghsmith's "Horse farm, Lexington, Kentucky" . . . .


first grey light in sky above blackness
of ridge, silver of planet next to leaf
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

composition of lines, after
subject that appears

this “it was” being what it
is, forward, is that

sunlight reflected in windblown channel,
whiteness of cloud above green of ridge

Anonymous said...

All but the unmolesting meadows.
Almanacked, their names live; they

Have slipped their names, and stand at ease

This is a really splendid thing for a Sunday. I've sent the link on to an old friend who will, I know, really appreciate it.

TC said...

Our version of the pastoral:

sunlight reflected in windblown channel,
whiteness of cloud above green of ridge

is a beautiful talisman for the day... though 'tis indeed night.

Curtis, I'm so pleased you like this one. It is one of my favourite poems by anybody. The idea of "slipping one's name" is so very pleasant to consider...whenever I m tempted to think "the young know nothing of life", I am reminded that Larkin wrote this poem at the tender age of 27.

In my late teaching days, the most momentous thing my 27-year-old graduate retainers seemed capable of was falling down the front steps, in their haste to depart.

(Happily for the uninsured, they were usually beyond thought and feeling anyway, at such moments, if not all moments. And yet... some of them indeed now have formidable "names" in the grand mondo vacui of the mayfly poetry kingdom...)

So, then, where is that great bluegrass pasture, now that one desires it so?

Anonymous said...

I do wish they would make the Grand National available to those of us who aren't living in Britain. It's a race I hope to compete in one day, you don't have to be jockey size to enter.

TC said...


We thought perhaps you might consider mounting (would that be the proper term I wonder?) an entry in the Falmouth Goat Races.

(Jockey size is evidently not an issue, but it seems that radiation might be. Just saying.)

Anonymous said...

Yes, "Along the beautiful Susquehanna River. Just below Three Mile Island." I'd say why bother with the second sentence, what does it really add to the festivities? I've spent time near Lancaster, PA, but I hadn't heard of the Falmouth Goat Races. The very few pictures of goats on their site confirm that goats don't really do racing. They had some pictures of fast-looking dogs; but I think goats are more like cats, they aren't very interested in sports. They're thinking "what's in this for me?"

TC said...

That second sentence is really a show-stopper; whoever "crafted" it has a great future in goat-racing public relations.

I can't really see Misty, Holly, Vesla et al. being much interested in the finish line, or in fact the whole affair... unless there were some interesting things to nibble along the way.

(Someone puts in that Eastern Wisdom tells us it's the life-journey that counts, not the destination. But what would that mean to your goats, anyway? A fresh wind of Nirvana from... Talinn?)

Anonymous said...

I don't know how they feel about the Baltic and salt water. They'd be happy just on the other side of their fence, where the grass is greener. I think they believe it's the life journey, although little Vesla may be looking forward to a destination. She's a fast runner when she feels like it.