Resources for Loss

“Aubade” and “The Trees” by Philip Larkin, contributed by Fiker Girma (2023)

Below are two poems by the British poet Philip Larkin (1922–1985). On the left is “Aubade,” and on the right is “The Trees.” Although they are distinct works, I have arranged them  side by side and further rearranged the lines from “The Trees.” (See here for the original.) By 
doing so, each line can hopefully be read from left to right, almost (but not quite) seamlessly  across the poems as well as from top to bottom within each poem. My intention was to juxtapose the somber and detached tone with which the speaker in the left poem addresses death with the quiet hope and acceptance conveyed in the poem on the right.

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.                                         The trees are coming into leaf
In time the curtain-edges will grow light
Till then I  see what’s really always there:                                         Like something almost being said;
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,                                        The recent buds relax and spread,
Making all thought impossible                                                            Their greenness is a kind of grief.
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,                                       Is it that they are born again
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels.Religion used to try,                                                  Their yearly trick of looking new
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade                                              Is written down in rings of grain.
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel
, not seeing                                         Yet still the unresting castles thresh
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,                                           In fullgrown thickness every May.
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,                                    Last year is dead, they seem to say,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave                                            And we grow old? No, they die too,
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.                                    Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

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