Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"I Listen To Money Singing": Philip Larkin And Arthur Schopenhauer

Philip Larkin's "Money" begins with a sardonic (surprise!) reflection by Larkin about how money could allegedly make him happy, if only he could bring himself to spend it on the things that allegedly make us happy.  But the poem ends -- and this is why I love Larkin -- with a breathtaking final stanza:

I listen to money singing.  It's like looking down
   From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
   In the evening sun.  It is intensely sad.

High Windows (1974).  (An aside that has nothing to do with money: when it comes to final stanzas (or final lines), I humbly suggest that Larkin cannot be surpassed.  Consider, for example, "Mr Bleaney," "Continuing to Live," "High Windows," "Dockery and Son," "An Arundel Tomb," "Afternoons," "The Whitsun Weddings," "The Building" -- after reading the closing lines of those poems a few times, you may find that you have memorized them without intending to do so.  "On that green evening when our death begins . . .")

But, back to the topic at hand.  For some reason, I have the urge to pair Larkin's "Money" with a bit of wisdom  from Arthur Schopenhauer: 

"Money is human happiness in the abstract; he, then, who is no longer capable of enjoying human happiness in the concrete, devotes his heart entirely to money."
                         William Hogarth, "The Rake in Bedlam" (1735)


Anonymous said...

"I humbly suggest that Larkin cannot be surpassed"

Couldn't agree more. He also has the disconcerting effect of suddenly inducing a desire to blubber when unexpectedly coming across his ever simple, ever blindingly beautiful words.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: Thank you very much for visiting and for commenting. Your description of the impact that Larkin can have is perfect. Thanks again.