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Dockery and Son

Posted by Simon Parke, 28 March 2017, 5.21am

My poem of the week, thanks to my dear friend Paul Carter, is Dockery and Son by 20th century English poet Philip Larkin.

He returns to his old college for a funeral but struggles to access the past that has so shaped his life.

He finds it locked.

He ponders decisions made since… and decisions not made, ‘what something hidden from us chose’, different lives lived by his friends, like parting railway lines.

Dockery and Son

‘Dockery was junior to you,
Wasn’t he?’ said the Dean. ‘His son’s here now.’   
Death-suited, visitant, I nod. ‘And do
You keep in touch with—’ Or remember how   
Black-gowned, unbreakfasted, and still half-tight   
We used to stand before that desk, to give   
‘Our version’ of ‘these incidents last night’?   
I try the door of where I used to live:

Locked. The lawn spreads dazzlingly wide.
A known bell chimes. I catch my train, ignored.   
Canal and clouds and colleges subside
Slowly from view. But Dockery, good Lord,   
Anyone up today must have been born
In ’43, when I was twenty-one.
If he was younger, did he get this son
At nineteen, twenty? Was he that withdrawn

High-collared public-schoolboy, sharing rooms
With Cartwright who was killed? Well, it just shows   
How much ... How little ... Yawning, I suppose
I fell asleep, waking at the fumes
And furnace-glares of Sheffield, where I changed,   
And ate an awful pie, and walked along   
The platform to its end to see the ranged   
Joining and parting lines reflect a strong

Unhindered moon. To have no son, no wife,   
No house or land still seemed quite natural.   
Only a numbness registered the shock   
Of finding out how much had gone of life,   
How widely from the others. Dockery, now:   
Only nineteen, he must have taken stock
Of what he wanted, and been capable
Of ... No, that’s not the difference: rather, how

Convinced he was he should be added to!
Why did he think adding meant increase?
To me it was dilution. Where do these
Innate assumptions come from? Not from what   
We think truest, or most want to do:
Those warp tight-shut, like doors. They’re more a style   
Our lives bring with them: habit for a while,
Suddenly they harden into all we’ve got

And how we got it; looked back on, they rear   
Like sand-clouds, thick and close, embodying   
For Dockery a son, for me nothing,
Nothing with all a son’s harsh patronage.   
Life is first boredom, then fear.
Whether or not we use it, it goes,
And leaves what something hidden from us chose,   
And age, and then the only end of age.

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