Long Sight in Age

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March 2013

Nomination: Long Sight in Age [20 June 1955. From The Complete Poems (2012)]

The poem, ‘Long Sight in Age’, features as part of the extensive Larkin display in the Hull and East Riding Eye Hospital, opened in October 2012. It was written by Larkin in June 1955, shortly after his arrival in Hull. It remained unpublished in Larkin’s lifetime. Different editors, faced with unclear handwriting in the manuscript, have proposed different readings of certain lines; ‘wheeling’, for example, appears as ‘wrinkling’ and ‘wincing’ in Collected Poems (edited by Anthony Thwaite) and The Complete Poems (edited by Archie Burnett) respectively. But ‘wheeling’ was judged to make more convincing sense, as well as being justified by the manuscript. Both Thwaite and Burnett conjecture that the poem may be unfinished. I’m inclined to accept it as complete with the closing theme of age and clarity echoing the opening lines and clasping the poem shut; and the same circularity is seen in the repeated acknowledgement (‘they say’) of a hope-giving proverbial truth. It’s a truth that one must assume Larkin wished to believe, given his problems with his eyesight. But the very repetition provokes doubt rather than hope (‘is it really true?’). What appealed to me as the Larkin Society chose the poem for the Eye Hospital was not just its appropriateness but its wistful sense of loss, so Larkinesque at the very moment his career as librarian had taken such a huge step forward.

Graham Chesters

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