Quote #1 | love in New York city

Jimmy Herf stood stockstill at the foot of the brownstone steps. His temples throbbed. He wanted to break the door down after her. He dropped on his knees and kissed the step where she had stood. The fog swirled and flickered with colors in confetti about him. Then the trumpet feeling ebbed and he was falling through a black manhole. He stood stockstill. A policeman’s ballbearing eyes searched his face as he passed, a stout blue column waving a nightstick. Then suddenly he clenched his fists and walked off. “O God everything is hellish,” he said aloud. He wiped the grit off his lips with his coatsleeve.

– Manhattan Transfer, John Dos Passos (1925)

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Review: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Faulkner said “in writing, you must kill all your darlings”. On the surface the language used in As I Lay Dying appears to subvert this dogma: it is poetic and beautifully written, but it is not merely decorative infill, it is loaded with meaning. As is the magic of Faulkner, each time I read this novel, I take new things from it and I half expect (and hope) to never fully understand it.

He has a way with words that arrests me. Stops me dead. When I first read Addie Bundren’s section in As I Lay Dying, I read it ten times more. Something just clicked and things started falling into place.

Despite the entire story revolving around her death, for the most part, Addie’s voice is absent. We seek to understand her through the actions and words of others and are granted a single insight in one small section: Addie’s.

She married for the wrong reasons, she committed adultery, she struggled to feel, she could not connect emotionally with others and so to do so, she beat the “dirty, snuffling” children that she taught as a young woman. Only through violence did she feel she could make an impression on another human being:

and I would think with each blow of the switch : Now you are aware of me! Now I am something in you secret and selfish life, who have marked your blood with my own for ever and ever (Addie)

And yet I find it difficult to feel contempt for her. Instead, she saddens me. And while she saddens me, her words inspire me Continue reading

Talking in Bed by Philip Larkin

The Whitsun Weddings - Philip LarkinTalking in Bed is a universal poem that lives up to Larkin’s hope that “people in pubs” would talk about his poems. It is one of my favourite poems simply because of this.

I have come across certain readings of the poem that suggest there is a dark and unnerving meaning to this poem that involves policy and politics between America and Britain at the time of publication in the 1960’s. Everyone is entitled to their own interpretation, but I could not disagree more. In my opinion this is honest, simple poetry at it best.

 

Talking in bed ought to be easiest
Lying together there goes back so far
An emblem of two people being honest.

Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside the wind’s incomplete unrest
builds and disperses clouds about the sky.

And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation

It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind
Or not untrue and not unkind.

His poems are often pessimistic and gloomy – with recurring themes of death and doomed relationships. He is also often labeled a racist and a mysoginist. However, while melancholy permeates Talking in Bed, the poem is simultaneously powerful and beautiful.

The main issues dealt with are loneliness and relationships. These are issues that are personal to Larkin: despite having multiple long-term relationships throughout his life, he never married, and was often depicted as sexually unfulfilled and lonely.

Philip LarkinThe beauty of the poem lies in the vulnerability that it exposes. In the first stanza we are introduced to “an emblem” of two people lying together in bed with nothing seemingly to say to each other. This ’emblem’, it is suggested, is a part of our human nature – it “goes back so far”.

A tension is created in the second stanza with the “complete unrest” of the wind. The silence enforced here amplifies the anxiety that is created by the dispersal of the clouds, which in turn signifies the destructive and invisible force of the silence.

In the third stanza, isolation is added to the building tension in the shape of the “dark towns” that “heap up on the horizon”. Here, the insignificance of the couple is highlighted against the outside world. The dark towns appear infinite on the horizon, creating an image of worldly isolation.

Larkin’s inability to come to terms with his loneliness is exemplified here:

None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation.

Larkin is aware of his own insignificance in the world, but he cannot seem to find reason for it.

The “unique difference” is also key here: physically speaking the lovers could not be closer, but emotionally the distance between them is inconceivable. Simultaneously, a sense of safeness is conveyed in the couples seperateness from the outside world. Is it this sense of safety that keeps this couple together despite the emotional distance between them?

In the fourth and final stanza the couple have nothing to say, neither cruel nor kind. Is this the realisation that they don’t know each other as well as they thought, or does this poem depict the emptiness of promiscuity? Alternatively, does the poem illustrate the idea that you can never really know someone?

Either way, these themes are explored in true Larkin style – plain and simple.

And for me, a sweet aftertaste remains.

Share your experience of this poem below…