Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Commonplace book: Larkin's letters

Faint heart never fucked the pig

Life is its own justification, of course: except in cases where it isn’t, of course.

I am a corpse eaten out with envy, impotence, failure, envy, boredom, sloth, snobbery, envy, incompetence, inefficiency, laziness, lechery, envy, fear, baldness, bad circulation, bitterness, bittiness, envy, sycophancy, deceit, nostalgia, et cetera…

I have my little depressions and fits of spleen, certainly, but nothing like the flu has touched me; boredom, yes, irritation, with all my heart, but nothing requiring tablets.

Looking back on my first 40 years, I think what strikes me most is that hardly any of the things that are supposed to happen or be so in fact happen or are so. What little happens or is so isn’t at all expected or agreeable. And I don’t feel that everything could have been different if only I’d acted differently – to have acted differently I should need to have felt differently, to have been different, which means going back years and years, out of my lifetime. In a way I feel I am still waiting for life to start – for all these things that are supposed to occur as a matter of course.

You can’t dip litmus into poems and say whether they are bad or good; you can say whether or not people like them but even if people don’t, this still doesn’t negate the pleasure one has take in writing them. Still, some poems are by common consent ‘good’, so are these? Well, I should say that they just don’t begin to be poems in the professional sense any more than your dancing or golf or piano playing would be professional unless you really worked at them. A poem is a highly professional artificial thing, a verbal device designed to reproduce a thought or emotion indefinitely; it should have no dead parts, and every word should be completely unchangeable and unmoveable. Your poems are hit or miss, rather verbose affairs, remarkably articulate and at times vivid but essentially conversation, not poems. Someone once defined poems as ‘heightened speech’; does that suggest my meaning? Features such as metre and rhyme help this heightening; they aren’t just put in to make it more difficult to do.

We judge a writer by the resonance of his despair.

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