Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sad Steps - Philip Larkin

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon's cleanliness.

Four o'clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
There's something laughable about this,

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

High and preposterous and separate -
Lozenge of love!  Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory!  Immensements!  No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can't come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.

Listen to an audio recording

The moon somehow manages to be both mundane and exceptional, all depending on one's mood.  Larkin, here portraying an older man stumbling back to bed after taking a piss (mundane, vulgar) sees a perfectly poetic scene, the moon presiding over a sky strewn with clouds, and finds comedy in the romance so many others see.  Giving the moon a number of ridiculous epithets, Larkin mocks the poetic conceit with which the moon is regarded by the young.  Even given that, he does give us the funny turn of phrase "lozenge of love" for the moon, as if it is something young lovers swallow at night to ease their heartbreak.

Rather than the somewhat ridiculous love images, Larkin instead thinks of the great cold stare of the moon as it looks over the night world.  Reminding him of youth, and its passions and pains, Larkin seems to ultimately take solace in the fact that somewhere out there, someone else, someone young, is looking at the moon with un-jaded eyes.  I cherish the "strength and pain" that I am so fortunate to have as a young man.  Maybe someday in the future, as I groggily stumble back to bed after taking a leak, I'll see the same moon Larkin saw here, and join in his laughter.


  1. Or else he's wanly envious of those others whose youth is undiminished. That's how I read it. I could be wrong.

  2. There seems a sense of bitterness in the acknowledgement that he now finds himself an ageing man - a mocking of youth, a resentment of his own predicament. At 59, I find the poem a little unnerving, not least because it forces me to consider my own thoughts about the ageing process!

  3. Please explain the meaning of "wolves of memory", since nobody does! Why the plural?