Wednesday, April 11

'Where can we live but days?' - 'Days', by Larkin

Days

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin

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The first stanza seems stronger: I don't like the 'Ah,' which niggles at the rest of that stanza for me. But, arguably the images of the second stanza are needed to ground the poem, give the reader some tether?

I cannot read this poem without thinking of 'The Hours': try reading it if you've not yet, you'll see what I mean.

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Whenever I lend a friend a book (even if it's something I've only recently reread, and hence am likely not to want to reread straight away), I find there's a certain possessiveness associated with my books. I will think I want to check them, just to ensure, that they are there. Ridiculous, especially when I'm palming them off on a certain person so I can hear their 'gah's & wonders about the book... but it exists, still, it punches my lending books out freely.

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'truth. Gobble it, think
of that dribbling silk
tight over eyes;
listen, diligently,
for the crack – of the
upturn of my gob.'

Too close? I like the relationship between the two people by the use of 'Gobble' and 'gob', though, it's integral to this poem. Whether the association would be there enough should I use 'upturn of my mouth', I'm undecided. 'Gob' jarrs, resists a bit more.

1 comment:

Tom Chivers said...

I like the "Ah." By simplistically raising the notion of 'happy days', the first stanza is a whimsical, abstract, pleasant line of thought about the nature of life. So it's a question, a puzzle. The "Ah" is a more concrete moment from that life, a more real expression, a sort little moment of little realisation that we all experience each day: but here a falsely comforting one, because it ushers in the realisation of impending death, destroying the previous stanza's daydream, by actually being a concrete part of the life the first stanza supposes to summarize. This change of tone and focus is also reflected rhythmically: it's the first line with a pause after the first syllable. Btw, Larkin often wedges incidental words - typically passing, incidental descriptions - in amongst his poems to make them scan. A very simple but effective technique.

To put it another way: try reading the poem with the "Ah" omitted: you'll find it much colder I think. The emphasis then rests more on "Solving that question" - an abstracted thing to do - rather than on the answer to the question itself.

Do you know which poem it was opposite on the page in The Whistun Weddings? This often tells you something of Larkin's mood, as the ordering was highly deliberate, especially with this volume I think. Unfortunately the (older) Collected I have orders them chronologically. But giving how protracted his writing process was, this tells you very little unfortunately.

It's not Larkin's best poem by a mile - fortunately, of course. I think it only is worth reading as a part of the rest of his work.