Thursday, July 21, 2011

"I'm Just On The Verge Of Seeing How Life Ought To Be Lived"

I have not forgotten my earlier promise to share Philip Larkin's thoughts on the fifties.  (The years of one's life, not the decade of -- where I hail from -- Eisenhower and Elvis and Ozzie & Harriet.)  What he has to say is pure Larkin:  appalling and hilarious.  And directly and clear-sightedly to the point. 

Larkin turned 50 on August 9, 1972.  On August 11, he wrote to Kingsley Amis:

"Funny being fifty, isn't it.  I keep seeing obits of chaps who've passed over 'suddenly, aged 55', 'after a short illness, 56', 'after a long illness bravely borne, aged 57' -- and add ten years on, what's ten years?  Compared with eternity aaaaaaaaooooooooghghghghghghg ah gets tuft.  No, it doesn't bear thinking about.  Lucky I've got a bottle of Smith's Glenlivet handy.  I begin to think that, give me another ten or twenty years, I'm just on the verge of seeing how life ought to be lived.  I'll be just about ready then."

Anthony Thwaite (editor), Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, 1940-1985 (Faber and Faber 1992), page 462.

As I said, pure Larkin:  the gloom, the humor, and -- in the end -- the heart of the matter stated plainly:  "give me another ten or twenty years, I'm just on the verge of seeing how life ought to be lived."  Some of us might say:  "How true." 

In the same month, Larkin expressed his thoughts more formally:

               The View

The view is fine from fifty,
     Experienced climbers say;
So, overweight and shifty,
     I turn to face the way
     That led me to this day.

Instead of fields and snowcaps
     And flowered lanes that twist,
The track breaks at my toe-caps
     And drops away in mist.
     The view does not exist.

Where has it gone, the lifetime?
     Search me.  What's left is drear.
Unchilded and unwifed, I'm
     Able to view that clear:
     So final.  And so near.

Philip Larkin, Collected Poems (Faber and Faber 1988).  (An unrelated aside:  how about that for a rhyme:  "lifetime" and "unwifed, I'm"?)

                                     George Mackley, "The Ferry" (1951)


Manny said...

Yikes, I turn fifty in a few months. That is possibly the most original rhyme I have ever seen. If you hadn't pointed it out, I would have missed it completely.

Stephen Pentz said...

Manny: thank you for visiting and commenting again. It didn't pop out at me the first time I read the poem either.