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Cut Grass

June 2005

Nomination: Cut Grass [3 June 1971. From High Windows]

This is sometimes thought as in some ways a companion piece to ‘The Trees’, Poem of the Month for May 2005 and another tying Larkin elegiacally to an England somewhere in the middle of the last century. But ‘The Trees’ is a discussion and a reflection on mortality, the possibility for change, the impermananence of life, and the possibility of renewal, another use of the image of a tree as a life force (as in ‘Love Songs in Age’). A bundle of tightly compressed metaphors.

‘Cut Grass’, on the other hand is almost pure imagery. The poet is completely invisible. There is no sense of an ‘I’ – there is a sense of an eye – the image falling as instant, like the image on a camera (with which Larkin was expert) preserving one moment, then and in England, now and in England. The observational detail is total, unmodulated, unrefracted by any thought of the writer. Queen Anne’s Lace (cow parsley) could hardly be more English (Queen Anne 1665-1714), and the smell and the sight of the first cut of wayside verge is still familiar to anyone travelling byroads anywhere in the UK right now. Of ‘Cut Grass’ ‘Its trouble is’, said Larkin, ‘that it’s music – i.e. pointless crap.’– which is hard on the poem. On music it is hard to engage as any other level than a momentary refusal to deal with the stuff that makes life worth living at all, including this timeless, simple, twelve-line landscape, which has been characterised (by one English scholar, in a recent TLS) as ‘the perfect poem’.

David Rees

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