I Remember, I Remember
Coming up England by a different line
For once, early in the cold new year,
We stopped, and, watching men with number-plates
Sprint down the platform to familiar gates,
‘Why, Coventry!’ I exclaimed. ‘I was born here.’
I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign
That this was still the town that had been ‘mine’
So long, but found I wasn’t even clear
Which side was which. From where those cycle-crates
Were standing, had we annually departed
For all those family hols?… A whistle went:
Things moved. I sat back, staring at my boots.
‘Was that,’ my friend smiled, ‘where you ‘‘have your roots’’?’
No, only where my childhood was unspent,
I wanted to retort, just where I started:
By now I’ve got the whole place clearly charted.
Our garden, first: where I did not invent
Blinding theologies of flowers and fruits,
And wasn’t spoken to by an old hat.
And here we have that splendid family
I never ran to when I got depressed,
The boys all biceps and the girls all chest,
Their comic Ford, their farm where I could be
‘Really myself’. I’ll show you, come to that,
The bracken where I never trembling sat,
Who didn’t call and tell my father
There Before us, had we the gift to see ahead –
‘You look as if you wished the place in Hell,’
My friend said, ‘judging from your face.’
‘Oh well, I suppose it’s not the place’s fault,’ I said.
‘Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.’
- Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)
Thing I like about Philip Larkin in his poetry is his brutal honesty. He stayed honest with his brief and ironic self-deprecations and remembrances of life in England. In the poem above instead of nostalgia you get this sense we all have of an unspent life, of a life we never lived, one that for whatever reason was stripped from us early on. Plus, he tells little stories that allow him to comment on the meaningless of our modern lives shaped as they are by both economic and other forces that we have little control over but brutalize us everyday through their modification of our minds through vast Information and Communications’s Systems and architectures that have become so ubiquitous and invisible to be almost natural. That’s one of the think I hope to attain is to break free of these ubiquitous systems that enslave us through shocking people to become aware of how powerful they are and how they rob us of what little humanity that remains. With so much talk of posthuman and transhuman philosophies, technologies in private and governmental business and practice one wonders where its all leading us. Poetry like Larkin’s helps us remember the common heritage of our species, to remain in touch with our base line notions of who and what we are. With so much modern, postmodern, and speculative thought eliding the human from its discourse and practices and creating inhuman systems, discourses, moral and normative practices etc. one wonders why we want to become other than we are, why we want to become either enhanced biotech systems, or some kind of cyborgian or robotic uploaded memetech copy of our selves lost in the cosmos of machines. Larkin folds us back into that core humanity where we still have a chance to question all of this and remain true to our own species.
1. Larkin, Philip (2012-10-09). Collected Poems. Kindle Edition.