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‘High on arched field I stand
Alone: the night is full of stars:
Enormous over tree and farm.
The night extends,
And looks down equally to all on earth.
‘So I return their look; and laugh
To see as them my living stars
Flung from east to west across
A windless gulf?
– So much to say that I have never said,
Or ever could.’
Philip Larkin was never a particularly cheerful man. Nor was he much of a Christian. But as in so much else (love with “The Arundel Tomb” and tenderness with “The Mower”, for starters), Larkin manages to penetrate beautifully the heart of the matter even without completely understanding, or celebrating, it himself. In only 11 lines he captures the magic of Christmas; the gift of life, which we can never fully explain the meaning or beauty of in words.
Pretty good, for a self-declared grumpy cynic.
(I’ll leave you with a bit of music, performed by a contemporary that Larkin admired very much, Benjamin Britten. A performance of “Die Winterreise” from 1968. A Schubert composition using poems by Wilhelm Müller about a winter journey. Perfect for the Christmas season).