Monday 30 April 2012

Arundel Stresses

I was in Chichester Cathedral yesterday and I saw the Arundel Tomb, the one Philip Larkin wrote a poem about. It was rather a shock to see the actual thing that I had read about so many years before, and it is as beautiful as you might expect. Here's a photo.

The poem (in case you don't know it) is about the fact that the couple depicted in stone effigy are holding hands, and have been holding hands for hundreds of years, quite oblivious to all the passers by. The last line of the poem is:

What will survive of us is love.

And the odd, and brilliant, thing about the line is that you can stress it three ways. By that I'm not talking about the scansion, which is just an iambic tetrameter. I'm talking about... well:

What will survive of us is love.

Would mean that Larkin was talking to one particular woman about his and her mortality.

What will survive of us is love.

Would mean that love was, as it were, the immortal soul of all humans.

What will survive of us is love.

Is far gloomier as it implies the body falling to pieces or becoming the breakfast of worms, whilst only love manages, just, to remain.

Or maybe I'm pushing this too far. Anyway, it's an interesting counterpoint to the much less quoted last stanza of They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

Man hands on misery to man.
   It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
   And don't have any kids yourself. 

I remember my tutor at university saying that that was the bleakest quatrain ever written, as it talked not of private or individual grief, but of the ending of the human race.

File:Philip Larkin in a library.gif
Not that jolly

P.S. According to the cathedral the hand-holding is not a later addition.


  1. I much prefer the Adrian Mitchell version:

    They tuck you up, your Mum and Dad

    They read you Peter Rabbit, too.

    They give you all the treats they had

    And add some extra, just for you.

    They were tucked up when they were small,

    (Pink perfume, blue tobacco-smoke),

    By those whose kiss healed any fall,

    Whose laughter doubled any joke.

    Man hands on happiness to man.

    It deepens like a coastal shelf.

    So love your parents all you can

    And have some cheerful kids yourself.

  2. Did you know there has been much debate whether the statues on the tomb really should be holding hands? Some argue it is a sentimental Victorian 'restoration'.

  3. Rather than assuming that the last lines means the ending of the human race, which IS very bleak, perhaps look at it that the philosophers will be throw onto the genetic dustbin and a more pragmatic race will thrive.

    Hmmmm, not sure that's not just as bleak either, actually.

  4. Surely it's good news for the human race. Presumably it will consist of people who thought 'Oh for God's sake, get over it', only partially sullied by those people who can't use contraception properly.

  5. I'm not convinced of the difference between your second and third interpretations, they seem like different reactions to the same interpretation to me.

    As a third interpretation I would suggest:

    What _will_ survive of us is love.

    Meaning that although survival of a soul is uncertain, the efforts of love will definitely outlast our lives.

    This reminds me of another verse that could be personal or something larger, by Robert Heinlein:

    We pray for one last landing
    On the globe that gave us birth
    Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
    And the cool, green hills of Earth.

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  7. Yeah, what tools said. But also this:

  8. The theory that sentimental Victorians changed the Arundel tomb so they held hands is rather undermined by the Camoys brass at Trotton of a similar date that shows the couple similarly holding hands - see