Despite reading several critics that argue otherwise, I can’t help but feel that Larkin’s is too pessimistic, but many of his poems still resonate deeply , perhaps a reminder we all share darker moments in life.

I originally thought my favorite poems from 1964-1974 were the “love,? or, more precisely, the anti-love poems like “Talking in Bed? that challenged stereotypes of love and marriage.

Then I turned a page and discovered:


I thought it would last my time —
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down:
I knew there’d be false alarms

In the papers about old streets
And split-level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far;
And when the old part retreats
As the bleak high-risers come
We can always escape in the car.

Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
— But what do I feel now? Doubt?

Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 café;
Their kids are screaming for more—
More houses, more parking allowed,
More caravan sites, more pay.
On the Business Page, a score

Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)! And when

You try to get near the sea
In summer …
It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn’t going to last,

That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts —
First slum of Europe: a role
It won’t be so hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.

Most things are never meant.
This won’t be, most likely: but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs
I just think it will happen, soon.

and thought, “Damn, wish I had written this poem.? It expresses my own views so clearly I could almost imagine I had written it, without the rhyme, of course, because I could never say what I wanted to say in rhyme. Perhaps that’s what it makes it better than my own rantings on this subject.

The subject of the poem is an old one, of course, a Romantic complaint about man’s destruction of the natural world, brought up to date. The narrator is no Romantic, indeed he’s a realist who always seems to have assumed that “progress? would in the end have little effect on the environment, because it has never threatened the existence of the natural world in the past, despite the protests of poets. All the years that mankind has diverted sewage to the seas, the seas have absorbed it and continued to thrive. This is the same assumption most people still seem to operate under, worrying little, if at all, about the environment.

Larkin describes recent trends to move out of the city and to the country to escape all that’s wrong with big cities, generally bringing all the sprawl that’s part of the problem with them. And since it’s primarily the richest people who are escaping to the wilderness and the seashore, they have to build huge houses. Even those who consider themselves environmentalists and build “green? houses, destroy the wilderness by the very act of building there.

And when they find themselves threatened by “cougars? or “bears? whose homes they’ve invaded, the raise a great outcry officials are forced to trap or kill these predators.

Despite my attempts to change the way we mistreat the environment, at moment I find myself worrying that Larkin is right, that “greeds/ And garbage are too thick-strewn/ To be swept up now.? People need so many things, or at least think they do, that they are willing to destroy the very things that they claim to love to live to the fullest here and now.

Mothers drive huge gas-guzzling cars, rationalizing that they are protecting their kids, all the time polluting the air their children breathe and wasting precious oil their children will need if their future is to be assured. People seem to assume that the science that has brought them all these wonderful things will somehow magically resolve problems as they arise. I do not share that faith.

3 thoughts on “Gone”

  1. Just came across a reference to your friend Sebald, from a British reviewer commenting on a book by Antony Beevor called ‘Berlin – The Downfall 1945’. I found Beevor’s book while looking for the village of Wriezen along the Oder in the Uckermark. A potential ancestor may have been orphaned there three centuries ago. Wriezen no longer exists because that’s where the Red Army crossed the Oder on their way to Berlin. One of the German reviewers conceded that Berlin’s tragedy in World War II may have been almost as bad as the Thirty Years War.

  2. Good poem and post. I think part of the difficulty is that the inculturation of materialism is so complete, that even environmentalists fall prey to it. The urge to buy the newest and greatest is almost subconscious now. The only way to reconcile the conscious desire to protect the environment and the subconscious desire for more stuff, is to make the “more stuff” more green. Though the rationalization may ease our conflicted minds, it doesn’t negate the problems that materialism causes.

  3. Ruth Rendell quotes a few lines of this poem in her very good mystery, “Road Rage.” (NY: Crown Publishers, 1997), 39.

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