Monday, 23 August 2010

The bit that got away

Some things just can't be squeezed into a book. However much you want to fit them in,they just fall out in the editing process.
Almost True is about to be published - September 2 is the official launch date,although some bookshops and online booksellers have it already,so I thought I'd introduce it with a few posts - and in this first one,tell you about the bit that got away.
It came from my brother Alun(he's very clever and exceptionally well-read) who, after I'd told him the title of the book, said 'Of course! I didn't realise you were quoting Philip Larkin.'
Of course I didn't realise either. But once I'd read the poem,I was determined to fit the last two verses in somehow. Unfortunately I never found a convincing way to do it. Ty and poetry didn't seem to mix. So,reluctantly,I left them out.
The poem is about two stone effigies of medieval figures,found at Chichester Cathedral, lying hand in hand. Larkin found them 'extremely affecting' and wrote An Arundel Tomb about mortality and love - asking what is left behind when we die. Typically, Larkin's 'almost instinct' that love survives us is only 'almost true'. Strangely,it turns out that the stone statues he admired were replaced in the nineteenth century,and the grasped hands were a Victorian addition. So the poem gained another layer of 'almost truth'.
I'm just going to quote the last two verses in isolation,because they work so well with When I was Joe and Almost True. So many words - identity, helpless, hollow, unarmorial,smoke, untruth, attitude, fidelity - resonate with my books. Even 'scrap of history' is not a bad way of summing up fiction which borrows from fact. I get a lump in my throat every time I read these lines.

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

You can read An Arundel Grave here


  1. This made me think of my Great-Grandparents, Abraham and Aggie Schwalbe. They brought up nine children, ran a small business and help found a synagogue in the East End of London which still exists today. Nobody alive today remembers being with them or loving them. However, there are about thrity parents in the world - their great-grandchildren, who know how to love their children. This is their legacy.

    Interstingly, we look to them as the great matriarch and patriarch of the family only because they were the last generation to have an enormous family followed by two generations of two/three children families. I have friends from large families and their own parents are the exalted ones.

    whichever way it goes, it only lasts for a few generations tops and then you're history. I find this quite liberating rather than sad. Or you can write books... Also plant lots of trees.

  2. I wonder why we feel the need to be remembered after we pass away? We build statues and buildings, donate money to have hospital wards named after us, but why? It has no reason that I can see except to pander to our vanities.
    Are Homo Sapiens really so complex or are we just the most insecure and shallowest of the Great Apes?
    Probably a bit of both, I'd say.

  3. It definitely fits the theme of both books, especially to Ty. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Philip Larkin is my favourite poet and it's great to see this poem here. Hope the publication went well.