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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Philip Larkin: High Windows

Waiting Room for the Beyond

Waiting Room for the Beyond: John Register, 1988 (Modernism Gallery, San Francisco)

When I see a couple of kids
And guess he’s fucking her and she’s   
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,   
I know this is paradise

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives --  
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if   
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,   
And thought, That’ll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark

About hell and that, or having to hide   
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide 
Like free bloody birds. And immediately
Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:   
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.
Philip Larkin (1922-1985): High Windows, 12 February 1967, from High Windows, 1974

The Fear of Ghosts: Balthus (Baltusz Klossowski de Rola) (1908–2001),1933, oil on canvas (Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington)
Lady Abdy: Balthus (Baltusz Klossowski de Rola) (1908–2001), 1935, oil on canvas


TC said...

Philip Larkin reads High Windows

Unknown said...

"It is the intention of the organism to survive"



Like to the larkin at break of day arising . . . only here the upstairs window
And beyond it, the deep [grey fog], that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless."


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, crows calling from pine branches
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

repetition, stretching away
toward the surface of

it, question in light of it
possible, means that

grey white of fog against top of ridge,
wingspan of gull flapping toward point

Hazen said...

For a time there is
the constant down and up of things,
and the sometimes slide to happiness—
if that’s what it turns out to be—
where gravity for once is in your favor.
You must ask the right questions.

Much later, at the precarious windowsill,
as though fleeing something,
there’s the deep backward gaze at life’s ghosts.
So you turn to invoke the ancient sun,
and find in the clear blue air,
another question.

Mose23 said...

The thinking here, sharp and direct, clear. The colloquial pulse carrying you to the endless nowhere.

A poet afraid of lying.

TC said...

Larkin seems to have had a rare failure as a person, the inability to deceive himself.

"The weight of depression he carried endures as a severe purity in his poems," commented John Updike. "It would seem that at some point early in his development he retracted any large hopes for human interaction."

In an early novel, A Girl in Winter (1947), Larkin's heroine, Katherine Lind, sees for herself a future which in its bleakness looks forward to that major weight of depression that is the burden of the poems to come.

"Life would be happy insofar as she was happy, sad insofar as she was sad. The happiness would depend on her youth and health, and would help no-one. When she was ill, it would drop away, like the flame of a wick being turned down; when she grew old, it would be thin and infrequent. And in these times no other thing or person would be able to help her, though they might try sincerely, and she might try equally sincerely to be helped. But they would not be able to touch any more than people standing ten yards apart can take each other’s hands."

Larkin was extremely conscious of the awkwardness of his physical appearance, and as in other areas, resisted the self-deception that makes so many ordinary-looking public people fall in love with their own image. He famously shied from being photographed.

Many of the publicity photos that survive were done by Fay Godwin.

Godwin first snapped him 1969. A reluctant Larkin was not optimistic about the outcome. "I should think it was a thankless task: I have as much expression as a lump of sugar."

Over the years she dutifully provided occasional book jacket portraits.

"Faber's judged some of them too dark for satisfactory reproduction ... 'CS Lewis on a Drugs Charge' seemed to be used most frequently.'... It is not your fault I look like a cross between an egg and a bloodhound on some of them."

In 1983 Faber put about a Godwin image Larkin particularly disliked -- the "Boston Strangler" picture, as he termed it.

Still there was to be another book, and he posed once more for Godwin... needs must.

As in past shoots, she again captured him in his customary lair, the library, "where I am peering out from among dark shelves with a somewhat furtive, whimsical appearance".

Philip Larkin by Fay Godwin

On this photo, her favourite, his verdict: " sagging face, an egg sculpted in lard, with goggles on -- depressing, depressing, depressing".

Perish the thought of Larkin ever having to do an American tour -- or worse yet, being caught making love to himself after the contemporary fashion, with a selfie.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

A poet one never tires of reading.

Nin Andrews said...

"Larkin seems to have had a rare failure as a person, the inability to deceive himself."
You could not have said it better. Wow, to have such a gift and such a curse.
Such a great poem and post.

Zambrano said...

There's a deep love in the space between his chattering mind and the natural world.

Zambrano said...

I've loved this poem for a long time. But I'd never really looked at an old combine harvester until last year at the Haggin Museum in Stockton. The old horse-drawn harvesters have a long wooden slide into the guts of the machine that threshes and separates the wheat from the chaff. "To happiness, endlessly." Takes on a whole new meaning in this light. As well as the whole machine-like/automata aspects of the poem and the society he's describing. Then he pulls a doozy with that "Rather than words..." dammit it's all words! Yet it gets me every time, I'm forced into "comes the thought of high windows" like some cosmic shell game. Oh well, hope you're doing fine. Julio

TC said...


Lovely to hear from you, especially here and now... 'mid that other long slide, down the back end...

Beautifully said about the poem and the combine harvester.

" some cosmic shell game."


The only game in town.

Be well, and many thanks, my friend.