An Arundel Tomb By Philip Larkin
Side by sideSide by side To see a recent photograph of this tomb of the Earl and Countess of Arundel that Larkin is describing, click here. , their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habitshabits Clothes 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 pre-baroque In Larkin’s pronunciation, the phrase rhymes with 'shock.' The Baroque period, exemplified by ornamentation, followed the Renaissance. This tomb was sculpted in the Middle Ages.
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntletgauntlet An armored glove, worn in the Middle Ages, 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His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.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 effigyeffigy A sculptured likeness
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 supinesupine On their backs 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 glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled 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 skeinsskeins Used figuratively, a skein is a quantity of thread
Above their scrap of history,
Only anOnly an When first published in June 1956 in the London Magazine, the line began: Only their attitude remains:
Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazonblazon Both a coat of arms, and a public proclamation, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1988)