How Did He Do It?

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I came to them, the second time, quite late,
It was the day
The letters, full of snobbery and race hate
That caused the chattering classes such dismay
Came out, and Terry Eagleton had pounced:
‘Larkin is now beyond the pale,’ he’d said,
‘All decent folk should chuck him off the shelf.’
As soon as this stiff sentence was pronounced,
Feeling perverse, I picked him up instead
Although (because?) I was a ‘wog’ myself.

At once I found it didn’t matter that
The letters stank:
The skill that, first time round, I’d wondered at,
There it still was, like money in the bank;
The voice did not sound any less humane
As, standing for all human solitude,
He mused on Mr Bleaney in his room;
Nor did I feel less poignantly his pain
When, in the end, he couldn’t quite be rude
To wretched Warlock-Williams, by whom

All social torment was personified –
So sad, and funny;
Or ‘Toads’ console me less about how I’d
Quite failed to get the ‘fame and girl and money’
Even at sixty sittings, much less one.
And when I wake in an angst-ridden state
At four a.m., and lie there till the birds
Start singing, and the early, sickening sun
Seeps in, if I should then articulate
My fears, ‘Aubade’ may well supply the words.

Reading ‘The Whitsun Weddings’, one’s first thought
Is: how’s it done?
The prosody’s so uniformly taut,
Such deftness is deployed while showing none.
A gentle sadness permeates each line:
Against the couples’ happiness we feel
Larkin’s own loneliness at having taken
The bachelor path (a life less anodyne,
More painful), hear the humane voice that he’ll
Adopt to save his misanthropic bacon.

In ‘Dockery and Son’ he seems to wear
His solitude
More proudly, though of course the gloom’s still there
In fact he’s in his blackest ever mood.
Learning that one of his contemporaries
At Oxford is now married with a son
Larkin considers how this came about:
He’s single, sonless

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About the contributor

Ranjit Bolt was born in Manchester
In 1959. He spent ten years
In London, working as a stockbroker
Being bored, at first at times, and then to tears
Until he happened upon Le Menteur,
A Corneille comedy of some renown
Which hauled him out of limbo, as it were,
Made him the toast (for two ticks) of the town,
Since when he’s done enough verse comedies
To drive him, and the public, off their trees.

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