An Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,   
The earl and countess lie in stone,   
Their proper habits vaguely shown   
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,   
And that faint hint of the absurd—   
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque    
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still   
Clasped empty in the other; and   
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,   
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.   
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace   
Thrown off in helping to prolong   
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,   
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths   
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright   
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths   
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.   
Now, helpless in the hollow of   
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins   
Above their scrap of history,   
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into   
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be   
Their final blazon, and to prove   
Our almost-instinct almost true:   
What will survive of us is love.
Philip Larkin, "An Arundel Tomb" from Collected Poems. Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin.  Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber, Ltd.
Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1988)

Writing Ideas

1.Visit a local cemetery or church and describe the figures represented a tomb or gravestone. Try to draw your own conclusions about what they might mean in a larger context, such as love, faith, fidelity, or eternity.

 

2. Write a poem in which you take the perspective of one of the Arundel figures. Imagine what it must be like to lay silently in eternity. Try also to imagine what it must be like to be tied forever to someone in stone.

 

3. Write a poem in which you take the perspective of the monument’s sculptor—or the sculptor of any monument you’ve seen and know. What must it be like to create something that lives on and is remembered well past your own death? What thoughts might a sculptor creating a work for posterity have? What concerns?

Discussion Questions

1. How does Larkin’s physical description of the monument underscore the poem’s conclusion that “What will survive of us is love”?
 

2. The figures in the monument lie “side by side,” just as images of stillness and death, evolution and change, exist side by side in the poem. What are some of these images and how do they play off one another? In what way does their juxtaposition create tension and movement in the poem—and help us progress toward its final conclusion?
 

3. The passage of time is a crucial element to Larkin’s understanding of the tomb’s lesson. Where and how does he point to the passage of time? Why is time passing so significant here?
 

4. In what ways is a poem a kind of monument? What does Larkin’s poem memorialize that the tomb cannot?
 

5. Larkin’s poem now appears at the base of the Arundel Tomb in Chichester Cathedral. How might the experience of reading the poem while seeing the figures alter viewers’ perceptions of the monument?

Teaching Tips

1. Have students explore images of the Arundel tomb. Have them generate ideas about the relationship between the Earl and the Countess, based on the tomb’s depiction. Share the recording of the poem and ask students to mark the text as they listen, posing questions directly to the speaker of the poem.


2. Have students explore the rhyme scheme and rhythm of the poem. To explore rhyme, have them note the pattern of each stanza by assigning the letter a to the first line and any line that rhymes with it, b to the second rhyme, c to the third and so on. By clapping to choral readings of the poem, they will soon discover regularity in the line lengths and metrical pattern. After they discover the regular patterns, have them look for variations and note the changes in idea, image, or tone that accompany these variations. Finally, have each group mark major divisions in the text, composing a sentence or two about each section’s purpose or meaning.
 

3. In a large group debrief, discuss how the story carved in stone leads the speaker to contemplate larger questions about life and death, love, art, etc? Have students propose 1-2 belief statements related to these larger questions—belief statements that might be attributed to the speaker of this poem—and select textual evidence that supports his position. Have students agree or disagree with the speaker’s propositions.

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