was of course P. Larkin. Almost the high point of my journalistic career came last year when Bob Conquest handed me his copy of High Windows, inscribed by Larkin with a joke about limericks.
Those bits of Larkin that eveyone quotes and knows really aren’t his best. Even the characteristically gloomy ones aren’t his best either. What is wonderful are the moments when a coarse joy mounts from the darkness: something not just vulgar, but full of jazzy relish. Livings, in High Windows is one of my favourites. Here’s another:
Jan van Hogspeuw staggers to the door
And pisses at the dark. Outside, the rain
Courses in cart-ruts down the deep mud lane.
Inside, Dirk Dogstoerd pours himself some more,
And holds a cinder to his clay with tongs,
Belching out smoke. Old Prijck snores with the gale,
His skull face firelit; someone behind drinks ale,
And opens mussels, and croaks scraps of songs
Towards the ham-hung rafters about love.
Dirk deals the cards. Wet century-wide trees
Clash in surrounding starlessness above
This lamplit cave, where Jan turns back and farts,
Gobs at the grate, and hits the queen of hearts.
Rain, wind and fire! The secret, bestial peace!