Sunday, May 30, 2010

Poem of the Week: "MCMXIV," by Philip Larkin

It's Memorial Day weekend, so I think a war memorial poem is in order. I love this devastatingly ironic Larkin poem about the beginning of World War I, particularly the final stanza. Also, I'd be lying if I didn't say that part of my desire to post this poem comes from it being referenced in one of my favorite plays, Alan Bennett's The History Boys. If you've never seen or read the play or watched the movie, then you might not understand just how much this poem links into the story. But for those who know Bennett's work, you can see the connections he bridges between literature, history, and ideas of bygone innocence. I highly recommend The History Boys, and I highly recommend this poem.

MCMXIV, by Philip Larkin

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word - the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

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