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An Arundel Tomb

May 2001

Nomination: An Arundel Tomb [20 February 1956]

One of the lasting bequests left perhaps unwittingly by Philip Larkin can be described as a ‘paper chase.’ Not the usual kind: but scattered all over the country are places where Larkin trod, objects which moved him and people whose lives he enriched. The Larkin reader can go to these places and experience for himself what inspired the poet.

Some seven years ago I was intrigued by ‘An Arundel Tomb.’ I had, alongside the poem, the Longman Critical Essays in which John Saunders takes a look at beauty and truth in three poems from The Whitsun Weddings. There was a footnote referring the reader to an Otter Memorial Paper entitled ‘An Arundel Tomb’, by Dr. Paul Foster of West Sussex Institute of Higher Education.

Thus began an interesting (for me) correspondence with Dr. Foster. I asked whether the final line of the poem, ‘What will survive of us is love’, was quite so straightforward as it seemed. I questioned the other meaning of the word ‘love’, i.e. (in games) no score: nothing; nil. Could it be, I asked, that Larkin might have meant: ‘What will survive of us is nothing’?

Dr. Foster wrote back to me: “John (Saunders) takes me to task – doesn’t he! – for adopting an over-optimistic view of Larkin’s poem; I think he is probably right and your own comment on ‘love’ would please John S. immensely.”

He enclosed a copy of the Otter paper, co-written by him, Trevor Brighton and Patrick Garland, with photographs of the tomb (in Chichester Cathedral) that had inspired Larkin.

I hit Chichester Cathedral during the two weeks when the Archbishop’s representatives were ‘clocking up’ the number of people visiting the cathedrals all over the country. An eyebrow was raised when I confessed that I had come in search of Philip Larkin, and not God; but I was directed to the tomb. Beside it was a large handwritten copy of the poem, attached to one of Chichester’s mighty pillars.

For twenty minutes I studied the tomb, the poem and Dr. Foster’s handbook. There are marked differences between the tomb and the poem, as Larkin later admitted. The pamphlet quotes an acquaintance of Larkin’s who, while visiting Chichester Cathedral, overheard a guide inform a group of tourists that the monument to the FitzAlan family inspired a poem from the modern poet, Philip Spender!

I recommend a visit to Chichester Cathedral clutching, if you can, Dr. Foster’s pamphlet.

Wendy Cole

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