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At Grass

October 2002

Nomination: At Grass [3 January 1950. From XX Poems and The Less Deceived]

‘At Grass’ (1950) has been used (for example by Alvarez) to exemplify poetic timidity or even sentimentality, but the third stanza is an imaginative triumph. Larkin evokes the race-meeting from the outside, as an event unwitnessed but overheard, so that transience and absence are made manifest in the language: ‘outside, / Squadrons of empty cars, and heat, / And littered grass: then the long cry / Hanging unhushed till it subside / To stop-press columns on the street.’ No human figure appears in these lines and there’s an elegiac undertow, a dying fall built into the plain facts in lines two and three. The enjambment in lines four and five is also quietly dramatic, balanced by the characteristic negative ‘unhushed’. A marvellous piece of work, with instinct and craft exactly combined.

Sean O’Brien

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