August 6th, 2015

A poet of the right

[NOTE: An exchange I had with commenter “Cornflour” on the Robert Conquest thread (here and here) reminded me of a previous post from about two years ago, one that I think it appropriate and interesting to revisit with some added words for today.

It features a poem by a friend of Robert Conquest’s, the British poet Philip Larkin.]

British poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985) was a complicated man, like many poets. But unlike most of them these days, he was politically of the right, at least in some respects.

Larkin wrote in forms, which is inherently conservative. But his language, although direct and very accessible, was most assuredly not conservative (liberal use of the f-word, for example). There’s a tension between the traditionalism of his forms and the modernism of what he was saying, and in that conflict lay his uniqueness and a good deal of his appeal. He wrote about things people tend to understand and care about: love, death, time, country, religion, sex. And he wrote in a way that doesn’t need special training to understand, although he’s a good (and many think great) poet.

Here’s a poem of Larkin’s that I recently discovered. Seems that England went through a lot of things before we did, or simultaneously (the poem was written in 1969 and published in 1974, around the time of the wind-down in Vietnam):


Next year we are to bring all the soldiers home
For lack of money, and it is all right.
Places they guarded, or kept orderly,
Must guard themselves, and keep themselves orderly.
We want the money for ourselves at home
Instead of working. And this is all right.

It’s hard to say who wanted it to happen,
But now it’s been decided nobody minds.
The places are a long way off, not here,
Which is all right, and from what we hear
The soldiers there only made trouble happen.
Next year we shall be easier in our minds.

Next year we shall be living in a country
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money.
The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same.
Our children will not know it’s a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money.

In our case, we know who wanted it to happen: Obama and the left.

On reading that, four years after Obama’s complete withdrawal from Iraq and squandering of everything we accomplished there, and one day after his execrable Iran speech, I would add that I’m not at all sure that we’ll be able to leave our children money (Larkin wasn’t sure, either; he wrote of a hope). Nor do I think Obama’s motivation was to save money. The amount of money that would have been used by keeping the requested residual troops in Iraq was not that much in the governmental scheme of things.

And I don’t see money as the motive for the Iran deal, either. It is something much more ideological and destructive.

3 Responses to “A poet of the right”

  1. Cornflour Says:

    Larkin was a great poet, sensitive without being weak, and some of his poems reflect his complicated feelings about Britain’s sense of defeat. After the second world war, western Europe was weak enough for America to hold it together. That’s not true anymore. Now, western Europe is too strong for that. We can’t force them to defend themselves. If we try, they’ll embrace submission to Russia. That’s what they want. Yes, they really hate Americans and Jews that much. It’s a perversity that’s hard to explain, but if you spend some time talking to western Europeans, you’ll see what I mean.

    That’s why I think that we need to withdraw from NATO and clearly redefine our alliances. To start, there are alliances of shared values (e.g. Australia, Israel); alliances of strategic importance (e.g. Mexico, Japan); alliances of tactical necessity (e.g. Morocco, Turkey); and alliances of convenience (e.g. Saudi Arabia). Each alliance is different, but no ally is so weak that we can force an alliance upon them. That’s just can’t be done anymore.

    All this from a poem by Larkin? Yes, it’s not possible to exaggerate the significance of western Europe’s moral collapse. Neither is possible to exaggerate the necessity of America’s responsibility to continue without them.

  2. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Cornflour, I would agree, but would confine the intense version of that European attitude mostly to their journalistic, entertainment, and academic classes (who are the ones most Americans have any familiarity with). It is present in other Europeans, but much less strongly.

    Also, Eastern Europe is now in that picture, and even some of the Western European nations are showing some spine: Norway, Denmark – I have hopes for the Netherlands – and England does somehow find a way to answer the bell for one more round just when we think they are done.

    Pray it is enough. I fear it isn’t.

    (Note as to sources in addition to my reading: I have two Romanian sons and a few Romanian friends. One of the sons has been working in Norway the last four years. So I hear things that others might not. A few, anyway.)

  3. Gary Says:

    …I would add that I’m not at all sure that we’ll be able to leave our children money…

    That’s a bit of an understatement. The only thing “we’ll be able to leave our children” is a gigantic bill for them to pay.

    But they’re partly to blame. I recently heard that Obama won in 2012 by taking 2/3 of the youth vote (18 – 29 years old). Romney won the 30-and-over vote. So they put Obama and his big deficits back in office.

    Obama won 3/4 of the under-30 vote in 2008, but I don’t think that made the difference (that is, McCain also lost the 30-and-over vote, too). In any case, a large majority of the under-30 vote went for Obama and his huge additions to the debt.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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