Wednesday, September 8, 2010

By The Sea: Stanley Spencer And Philip Larkin At Southwold

In a previous post ("Clothes-Lines": August 12, 2010), I included Stanley Spencer's 1937 painting "Southwold":

Recently, I read an interview with Philip Larkin in which he talked about the origins of his poem "To the Sea":  "My father died when my mother was sixty-one, and she lived to be ninety-one.  We used to take a week's holiday in the summer.  That poem came when we were in Southwold, when I realized that I hadn't had a 'seaside holiday' for years, and remembered all the ones when I was young."  Philip Larkin, "An Interview with John Haffenden", Further Requirements (Faber and Faber 2001).

Here is the first stanza of  "To the Sea":

To step over the low wall that divides
Road from concrete walk above the shore
Brings sharply back something known long before --
The miniature gaiety of seasides.
Everything crowds under the low horizon:
Steep beach, blue water, towels, red bathing caps,
The small hushed waves' repeated fresh collapse
Up the warm yellow sand, and further off
A white steamer stuck in the afternoon.

                                                   Frederick Baldwin
                     "Walberswick and Southwold from Dunwich" (1953)

The poem concludes:

The white steamer has gone.  Like breathed-on glass
The sunlight has turned milky.  If the worst
Of flawless weather is our falling short,
It may be that through habit these do best,
Coming to water clumsily undressed
Yearly; teaching their children by a sort
Of clowning; helping the old, too, as they ought.

Philip Larkin, High Windows (Faber and Faber 1974).

                         Frederick Baldwin, "Southwold Beach" (1950)


Goethe Girl said...

You might be interested in the Times Literary Supplement review of an exhibit of English garden paintings by Spencer as well as a book review on the same subject. It's in the September 9, 2011, issue. I have always been attracted to his garden paintings, but I notice from the review that other subjects may be more typical, like the one you have the top of this post.

Stephen Pentz said...

Goethe Girl: thank you very much for stopping by again. Yes, I had heard about the exhibit from a couple of readers. I didn't know about the TLS piece though. I will track it down.

Spencer was very versatile, wasn't he? I read that he sometimes denigrated his landscape paintings and garden paintings as being done for financial reasons, and that he was most proud of his figure and portrait painting. But, given the beauty of his flowers and landscapes, perhaps he was pulling our leg.

Thank you again.