This first-name-only business beggars history,
As if the young mistook Ben Jonson’s need
To keep a certain name immaculate
Till darkness tugged his wrist in the graveyard road.
Nearsighted and too far off” to wax familiar,
I would indulge the old formality
Of last names, since the man sank to his last hour
An ocean from my windows, low or high.
Larkin it is, then, with an added Philip
For those who would distinguish “English poet”
From, say, “Hero of the Dublin shipyards.”
His road was a hero’s byway, but he knew it.
Larkin I have been reading now since sunrise,
Or rather, with the day thus clouded over,
Morning. His trains on sidings, his racehorses
Nuzzling the dusk, his taking the measure
Of rainfall while we still look for a cloud,
His chosen solitude, a singular light
Dispensed by water in a lifted tumbler,
A real day’s shouldered and delivered freight.
“This is not the full portion of whiskey,”
I muttered, young and tanked on Dylan Thomas,
But now his angle’s undeniable.
Somebody, somewhere, is breaking a promise.
Surefooting through the rain of rice and horn-blare
Flattering some lovely daughter’s wedding ride,
His tune is brassy, muted, grave, and just—
Jelly Roll’s “Dead Man Blues” as the slow hearse glides.
Or think of it this way, as L for Larkin
Enters its cold-water flat in England’s
Alphabet: Just now I was leaning forward,
His closed High Windows thin between my hands,
Palm to bare palm were it not for the poetry.
Knock in a nail and hang that image somewhere
Out of the way. Call it, should you think of it,
A man contemplating applause or prayer.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 5 Number 5, on page 47
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