The poem ‘An Arundel Tomb’ written by Phillip Larkin illustrates the relationship between two forms found on a tomb. This poem shows the ‘lies’ love can tell, and the falseness of how their relationship is portrayed. The fact that their hands are clasped in one another’s grip is seen to be symbolic of their undying and everlasting love for each other. Larkin uses humour, along with sarcasm and irony to demonstrate that this is in fact symbolic of nothing and merely by ‘a sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace’. How can we believe this evident lie, for it is not them who have chosen to be placed like this? Therefore it cannot be a true show of emotions. Furthermore, not just one life but two, and how their personalities were adjoined together cannot merely be judged by the way their hands have been similarly adjoined together on their tombstone.
Archaic language is used within this poem to emphasise the age of the tombs. In the first line of the first stanza it says ‘their faces blurred’ this also illustrates the age of the tombs and how long it has been since they had lived and felt this ‘love’, as it shows the stone has begun to corrode. This is perhaps also a metaphor for their feelings towards one another; they have also corroded like the stone. The truth of their love is ‘blurred’. This demonstrates another key theme in this poem, time and how it can ‘transfigure’ the truth. As time erodes their identity leaving only an ‘attitude’, time also preserves this ‘untruth’ in ‘effigy’. Perhaps Larkin is trying to portray also that we should not take all things at face value. Another obviously evident theme in this poem expressed even in the title, is the inevitability of death, and how the passage of time leads to death.
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‘Tomb’ connotes death and throughout the stanzas there is a semantic field of words relating to death, repeating ‘lie’ and also the use of ‘rigidly’. As well as this ‘Bone-riddled ground’ has connotations of death or some sort of a graveyard, this also adds emphasis to death and how it is inescapable. The hands are described with the adverb, ’empty’, this connotes the opposite of love, loneliness. It also implies to the reader that although this symbol of their love remains, they are both dead at the end of the day so can actually feel no emotion, no love, just nothing. The word ‘hollow’ in the sixth stanza also implies this. The enjambment between stanzas four and five emphasises how they ‘persisted’ even after their deaths, their legacy although untrue still lives on.
The first three stanzas show observation more than anything, with a slight indication of the realisation of the ‘untruth’, with the phrase ‘habits vaguely shown’. This suggests that little of the lives of this couple can be remembered merely by their tomb. The lesser and more insignificant things of them, the little things which they did every day that collectively made them who they were have been forgotten. Larkin’s observation is shown more clearly in stanza four, ‘To look, not read’. This describes the hordes of people who come to view this effigy, they look and do not literally read the ‘Latin’ inscriptions, this also emphasises the passing of time as this is an ancient language no longer common in our society. However they also do not ‘read’ into the characters of the Earl and Countess and are ignorant to the imperative point that it was not them that chose this posture to be cast in to express their undying love for one another, but it was in fact the ‘sculptors.
Larkin is showing the ignorance of the ‘endless altered people’ that viewed the sculpture, none seeing the truth of it, but creating an ‘untruth’ and thus destroying any real identity this Earl and Countess ever had and forming a mere ‘attitude’ and romantic idea which s unrealistic. With each person who has assumed the love of this couple and forgotten the other aspects of their lives, a part of their true identity has been forever lost. Perhaps Larkin is trying to also portray that once we are deceased it is our memories and our effect on the people around us that allows us to live on, our legacy. However many things are forgotten over time and the truth is hard to judge. Each person has their own ‘scrap of history’; however in this case time has left ‘only an attitude’. Is Larkin showing here that all history is manipulated, and in a sense untrue as it is taken out of context on the most part?
The poetic intention of the poem is made blatantly clear using sarcasm in the final three lines of the poem. That the love has died with them and the ‘attitude’ that remains is an ‘untruth’. The rhyme scheme also mirrors this, ‘prove’ rhymes with ‘love’, showing poetic irony as the love has been disproved. The final three lines of the poem show Larkin’s affective use of sarcasm and wit; the quantifier ‘almost’ is repeated, suggesting in subtle tones to the reader this is in fact sarcasm. The poem ends with no enjambment but a full stop adding the bluntness of the last line, ‘What will survive of us is love.’ This also emphasises that as the poem has ended as has the love between this Earl and Countess. This poem is observational and thought-provoking and leaves questions in the reader’s mind on the subject of love and namely time and the changes that occur over time.