“What Will Survive Of Us Is Love”

800px-Arundel_Tomb_at_Chichester_Cathedral_(2)

That’s how usually-more-dour Philip Larkin famously ended his poem “An Arundel Tomb.” John G. Messerly ponders what he might have meant:

Larkin may be implying that the lovers are joined in death as they were in life, at least until the ravages of time finally erase their stone figures. Maybe the joined hands were the sculptor’s idea and do not reflect a real love at all–perhaps that is the meaning of the line “transfigured them into untruth.” Larkin himself said the tomb deeply affected him, but he also scribbled at the bottom of one draft: “love isn’t stronger than death just because two statues hold hands for six hundred years.” Yet the poem doesn’t say that “love is stronger than death.” It says love survives us, and to survive something doesn’t make you stronger than it.

Still survival is a partial victory. But what might survive? Perhaps it is the enduring belief that love is remarkable, that its appearance in a world of anger and cruelty is so astonishing. Or perhaps it is that traces of our love reverberate through time, in ripples and waves that may one day reach peaceful shores now unbeknownst to us.

Previous Dish on Larkin and love here. Listen to my reading of Larkin’s “The Whitsun Weddings” here.

(Image: Detail of Arundel Tomb in Chichester Cathedral, which inspired the poem, via Wikimedia Commons)