Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd -
The little dogs under their feet.
Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor's sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.
They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they
Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-littered ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,
Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:
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.
~Philip Larkin, February 1956
This was one of the very first Larkin poems that I studied at 14, and has been a special favourite of mine ever since.
~ Arundel Tomb
Interestingly, the first paragraph of one of my lecturer's books on the novelist Julian Barnes reads:
'As a Ph.D. student, I wrote to Julian Barnes asking for help with my thesis. He replied promptly. He sent me a postcard of Arundel tomb, two figures side by side, carved out of stone and emphatically not alive. On the other side he had written 'While I am glad you are reading my books, being studied and researched makes me feel like this', at which point an arrow indicated the lifelessness of the picture. I suspect that this polite rebuke was based partly on a suspicion that Barnes may have thought that I was going to be more interested in the writer than the writing.'
~Matthew Patemen, Julian Barnes