'THE MOVEMENT' LYRIC

analyzing light verseIntroduction

Though the lyric is traditionally a 'singing piece', and strongly personal, it takes very different forms in modern poetry, where a prose sense is an important ingredient in its shaping. Philip Larkin, an important member of 'The Movement' group, {1} interpolated prose reading and metrical pointing to make poetry out of wry scraps of contemporary life.

Philip Larkin: Money

Money is not among his best work, but does lead us into Larkin's art. First and last stanzas of the poem: {2}

Money

Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
'Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.'

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.

From Money by Philip Larkin

We have to admit the obvious: the earlier stanzas are doggerel. The aabb rhyme scheme is not a helpful one for quatrains, but handles easily enough. And Larkin's lumpiness is easily removed:

Quarterly, the money looks at me.
'Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I'm all you never had of goods or sex
Why don't you get them? Write some cheques.'

That's what they do, the others, using theirs.
I mean they certainly don't leave it stashed upstairs:
The cottage in the country, second wife:
Yes, money has a lot to do with life.

In fact it's not difficult to enquire
How the poor old codgers will retire
To settle in stages to the 'Plan D' grave:
Straggle of mourners, the last, brisk shave.

Money is sometimes like our looking down
From long French windows on some provincial town,
On slums, canal, the churches, ornate and mad:
Sun bright at evening, but immensely sad.

But for the better? Compare the two renderings:

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.

Money is sometimes like our looking down
From long French windows on some provincial town,
On slums, canal, the churches, ornate and mad:
Sun bright at evening, but immensely sad.

The I listen and It is of Larkin's poke through the metre, and bring us up short. Ours is smoother, but it's missed something.

Larkin used a hybrid style between verse and prose, sometimes putting commonplace thoughts in commonplace language, and then slipping into an iambic verse for more serious reflections. Here are the first and last stanzas of one his best-known poems: {3}

Church Going

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

From Church Going by Philip Larkin

The opening lines can be read:

Once I am sure | there's nothing going on
I step inside || letting the door thud shut.

But the stresses are not clearly marked, the speech rhythms imposing something more like:

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside | letting the door thud shut.

Making its very ordinariness seem sincerity:

Once I am sure there's nothing going on, I step inside, letting the door thud shut.

Another church: matting, seats, and stone and little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut for Sunday, brownish now. Some brass and stuff up at the holy end; the small neat organ; and a tense, musty, unignorable silence, brewed God knows how long.

Hatless, I take off my cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Ordinary prose, or almost so, since awkward reverence is preparing us for the third stanza, which starts:

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,

And by the final stanza the language is much more elevated — blent, robed in destinies, hunger in himself, gravitating. . . ground, . wise in, dead lie round — and the assiduous student of rhetoric could identify: {4}

Parenthesis: he once heard
Parallelism: In whose blent air all our compulsions meet
Anaphora : A serious house on serious earth
Anadiplosis: to be more serious
Procatalepsis: Are recognized
Litotes: proper to grow wise in
Metabasis: And that much never can be obsolete
Amplification: Since someone will forever . .
Metanoia: If only that so many dead lie round
Metaphor: robed as destinies.
Personification: A hunger in himself to be more serious
Hyperbaton: earth it is
Pleonasm: gravitating with it to this ground
Alliteration: And gravitating with it to this ground
Parataxis: If only that so many dead lie round.
Climax: If only that so many dead lie round

From an everyday beginning — though with some rhetoric {5} — the poem moves to studied exactness, the more striking because of the 'artless' flatlands from which it rises. Only they're not artless, but a conscious strategy.

The concluding stanza of the first poem mentions money singing, adds some bald observations, and ends with It is intensely sad. Nothing has really prepared us for I listen to money singing: it hasn't in the speaker's life, and doesn't in the decaying landscape around, unless heartlessly so on the lack of investment. Where Church Going rose to the memorable, this poem bites the matter off with It is intensely sad, which echoes the singing, and relates back to a repressed life. A climax in reverse, deepened by the banality of the language and metrical expression.

So, if we want to write like Larkin — and Larkinland is heavily protected — we should remember that, as Christopher Ricks notes, {6} Larkin was adept at producing lines that could be read variously. In this last section of An Arundel Tomb {7}

Time has transfigures them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

we can make a Classical interpretation by stressing survive as What will survive of us is love, or Romantic as What will survive of us is love. Both the general and the personal operate throughout the poem, and are fused in this last ambivalence, the couple on the tomb speaking in a way that is still relevant. So:

You are smiling. Or you will be soon.
The clock goes forward; the longed-for boon
Of life, which is love, shows a daytime face
Waiting for something in the amount space.

Which you will jot down later, still better off
Despite clothes in the shower, nighttime cough.
First it's abstinence, then demands gets worse,
Miss November changing to a stockinged nurse.

Still, whatever you may think of sex,
Payback will arrive, in he who checks
She's taking her medicine, is not gardening mad,
With an ambulance laid on if things look bad

From an existence which, as everyone says,
Is served to the full in unstinting 'yes',
Except, coddled or caring, you may not know
Which one had the other poor sod in tow.

We have used some of Larkin's techniques in our rendering. The submerged explosion of ambivalence in had the other poor sod in tow. The self-deprecating he who checks. The puns: changing into, laid on. The rueful humour: Miss November. The colloquial Or you will be soon that passes by degree into the serious: Except, coddled or caring. It is still a world of small hopes, deceptions and perplexities, but without Larkin's glum tone.

And also too glib, the verse not engaging with the content. We need a bolshier voice, more 'ordinariness' at the beginning, and an injection of that "tenderly nursed sense of defeat". {8}

Special. The ordinary sex-bitch won't do.
You have to like her. She must like you.
And when you get it wrong you pay. A big drop,
Like falling off a high building: you never stop.

So you weigh it up: that mutt from Staines,
With her comical singing, farts, varicose veins,
Floods in the bathroom, great piles of shoes,
And being together, always, the two by twos.

And know in the end it's not love or sex
But the hope of it, the undrawn cheques
On the blonde who smiled that time at hockey,
An endlessly remembered day spent lucky.

Enough for a lifetime of keeping mum, or face
What is always differing or another place —
Which you don't get used to, though kept in tow
Are still lives perfectly failing, for all you know.

For what it's worth, I would think the second is the better poem, though still not close to Larkin. Writing with another's techniques will not reproduce the original if we use them according to our own outlook and personality, but that itself may be an answer to charges of plagiarism.

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References

1. Philip Arthur Larkin (1922-1985) http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/larkin.htm NNA
2. Money. Philip Larkin. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178057
3. Church Going. Philip Larkin. http://www.artofeurope.com/larkin/lar5.htm.
4. Handbook of Rhetoric. Robert Harris. 2002. http://www.virtualsalt.com/rhetoric.htm.
5. Katie Wales, Teach yourself 'rhetoric': an analysis of Philip Larkin's 'Church Going', in Peter Verdonl, (Ed.) Twentieth-Century Poetry: From Text to Context, (Routledge, 1993), 87-99, which has a short but useful bibliography.
6. The Force of Poetry, Christopher Ricks (O.U.P., 1984), 274-284.
7. An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin http://blue.carisenda.com/archives/cat_philip_larkin.html NNA
8. Charles Tomlinson, quoted in Chapter 7 of English Poetry Since 1940, Neil Corcoran, (Longman, 1993), 87.
9. Prynne and The Movement. Steve Clark. Nov. 2003. http://jacketmagazine.com/24/clark-s.html Detailed article on aspirations and merits of poetry deriving from The Movement.
10. Philip Larkin (1922 - 1985). http://www.literaryhistory.com/20thC/Larkin.htm. Good set of links.

 

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