Carola’s story: ‘An Arundel Tomb’ Monday, 18 January 2010Posted by carryapoem in Stories.
Tags: Philip Larkin
Philip Larkin’s ‘An Arundel Tomb’ is a poem of conflicts – of those emotions which exist in the heart over those that originate in our minds. The poem’s ambiguity gives it a sense of mystery that only adds to its beauty. Can we be sure that the poet himself was clear about precisely what emotions he wanted to evoke in the reader? All his life he laboured under opposing needs and beliefs and this comes through in much of his work.
The poem has been variously described as a meditation on death, a celebration of love, an evocation of simplicity, tradition and history. Larkin himself, in an interview with John Haffenden (Professor of English Literature at the University of Sheffield) in 1981, called it “…. a rather romantic poem” and said of it “I don’t like it much.”
Many scholars have attempted to explain what they perceive as hidden meanings within its lines. Larkin is very precise and cautious in the words he uses – it is this skill which gives ‘An Arundel Tomb’ and several other of his poems their deceptive sense of simplicity and translucence. But it is the very manner in which he expresses himself that has led some of his audience to question what he is really saying and to look deeper underneath the surface.
Call me naive if you like, but the pleasure I personally take from this poem lies in the sense I gained on my very first reading — that of a couple’s love for each other in life preserved in stone after their deaths, frozen in time for ever and eternity. Even the wearing away of the stone over hundreds of years will never completely erode their feelings for each other. Poetry, in my opinion, is the most emotive and personal form of all writing. By its very nature it lays itself open to misinterpretation and can mean different things to both writer and reader. This is not because the poet isn’t skilled at his craft, but because his words may touch the reader in ways which are unique to his particular experiences.
I came to ‘An Arundel Tomb’ in a round about way. I hadn’t written any poetry for quite a while – life had simply been too busy for me to be able to pause, take stock and let inspiration in – but in the summer of 2007 as my best friend lay dying of cancer and I sat with him through the nights, sleep evading me, the words suddenly came again, first only a phrase or two, then a short poem of just a few lines, followed by a longer one and then several more in quick succession. I barely knew what I was doing when, the day after T. passed away, I picked the volume of Larkin’s Collected Poems from the back of my bookshelf. I had been given the book some time before, but had put it away without so much as flicking through the pages. Now, as though it was meant to be the book fell open at the poem which seemed so apt for the situation I found myself in. As though it had been written for us, it describes how T. and I had spoken about wanting our ends to be. We always hoped we’d ‘go’ together – probably in an accident of some kind. We didn’t want the other to have suffer grief or to feel alone. We were best friends; we didn’t think we were in love – at least not in the conventional sense of the term. We couldn’t put what we had together into words. It seemed deeper, more intangible somehow, than what is usually understood to be love. Had our wish come true perhaps we would have died as Philip Larkin wrote of the Earl and Countess of Arundel:-
Side by side, their faces blurred …
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
ending with two of the most debated lines in English poetry:-
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
I carry a copy of ‘An Arundel Tomb’ in my A4 filofax which has in it also my diary, a number of job-related papers and various pieces of my own creative writing that I happen to be working on at any given time. Alongside Larkin’s poem are filed the poems I wrote for my best friend. I think of him every waking moment and most of the writing I do now is my way of thanking him for giving me the best years of my life. He was, and still is, my inspiration.
Carola Huttmann is a writer, poet and independent spirit in constant battle with the time thief.