If my darling were once to decide, c. 1950
Philip Larkin, 1922-1985, British
The poet of the English way of being – but not only – admits that he has exerted his skill and put his worldly goods on display to gain access to the body of a woman. Out of physical need and nothing else.
She is not and will not be anywhere in his interior landscape.
The poet noted in correspondence that he did not consider this poem self-derogatory but comical.
We all think like this about the ‘girls’, he wrote.
Not wildly much progress here in 70 years despite going to the moon and Mars and despite the advent of Amazon.com, the rise of China and the development of triple espresso mocha 0% fat ice cream with bacon.
Seriously slow progress. Despite the fact that this is known to make the grief of women inconsolable.
The Lie, oil on artist’s board, 1897.
Felix Valotton, 1865-1925, French born Switzerland. Baltimore Museum of Art.
Originally one of 10 woodcuts on the vagaries of the married life, this one scene later produced in this painting.
If my darling were once to decide
Not to stop at my eyes,
But to jump, like Alice, with floating skirt into my head,
The caterpillar addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice, 2017, and detail, watercolour on paper.
Collection of the illustrator, Charles Santore, from his own ‘Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland’.
On display at the Woodmere Museum, Philadelphia in 2018.
Charles Santore, 1935-2019, American.
She would find no table and chairs,
No mahogany claw-footed sideboards,
No undisturbed embers;
The tantalus* would not be filled, nor the fender-seat cosy,
Nor the shelves stuffed with small-printed books for the Sabbath,
Nor the butler bibulous, the housemaids lazy:
She would find herself looped with the creep of varying light,
Monkey-brown, fish-grey, a string of infected circles
Loitering like bullies, about to coagulate;
Delusions that shrink to the size of a woman’s glove,
Then sicken inclusively outwards. She would also remark
The unwholesome floor, as it might be the skin of a grave,
From which ascends an adhesive sense of betrayal,
A Grecian statue kicked in the privates, money,
A swill-tub of finer feelings. But most of all
She’d be stopping her ears against the incessant recital
Intoned by reality, larded with technical terms,
Each one double-yolked with meaning and meaning’s rebuttal:
For the skirl of that bulletin unpicks the world like a knot,
And to hear how the past is past and the future neuter
Might knock my darling off her unpriceable pivot.
*Tantalus was a lockable container for liqueur made of enough glass so that you could see the bottles. A feature of some middle class households.