Saturday, 24 January 2009

Poetry week: Whitsun Weddings

In the Guardian, recently [10.1.09], Jonathan Miller had this to say about Larkin's 'Whitsun Weddings:
I'm more interested in the way that someone like Larkin can write verse in which you are aware of the puzzlement that he expresses about the oddness of being alive. On that 'Whitsun Weddings' train: 'An Odeon went past, a cooling tower, / And someone running up to bowl'. It makes me cry. I'm welling up now. Noticing, as your train slows down, something that you didn't see before it happened and you won't see the result, but a salient event for the man who was coming up to bowl. That is huge and that is what it is all about. I'm not interested in anything else.
Maybe you need to be a cricket fan to start welling up at that particular image. Or maybe not. But this reminded me of reading that poem in an American anthology (I can't remember which one) as an undergraduate: they printed those two lines as:
An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,
And someone running up to a bowl.
Clearly that was set in type, or at the very least proofread by, somebody with no idea about cricket. It's bizarre. It replaces Miller's poignantly observed detail of actual life with a moment of surrealism: in what context are they running up to a bowl. Indoors (ie, seen through a window) or outdoors? What kind of bowl? Big, small, full, empty? Are they running up to, I don't know, kick it to smithereens? Or to pick it up and run away with it. And, as I think about it now, I find myself pleased by the Pythonesque note this misprint adds to an otherwise too restrained piece of poetic pathos.

No comments: