We have previously heard Christina Rossetti ask of Life: "Does the road wind up-hill all the way?" Ian Hamilton takes a similar view of things in the following poem.
Where do we find ourselves? What is this tale
With no beginning and no end?
We know not the extremes. Perhaps
There are none.
We are on a kind of stair. The world below
Will never be regained; was never there
Perhaps. And yet it seems
We've climbed to where we are
With diligence, as if told long ago
How high the highest rung.
Alas: this lethargy at noon,
This interfered-with air.
Ian Hamilton, Sixty Poems (Faber and Faber 1998).
In an interview, Hamilton noted that the poem "starts off with a line from Emerson." The London Review of Books (January 24, 2002). In fact, much of the poem echoes the opening sentences of Emerson's essay "Experience":
"Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight. But the Genius which, according to the old belief, stands at the door by which we enter, and gives us the lethe to drink, that we may tell no tales, mixed the cup too strongly, and we cannot shake off the lethargy now at noonday."
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: Second Series (1844).
Hamilton wrote a poem titled "Larkinesque" about a couple's divorce proceedings (and their annoying solicitors). I hear a Larkinian note as well in the final two lines of "Steps," particularly in the phrase "interfered-with air." (With a nod to Emerson for "lethargy at noon," which has its source in his "the lethargy now at noonday.")