|Philip Larkin and John Betjeman|
I have long been an admirer of Philip Larkin’s work and mention him often in this blog.
I’d be hard pressed to choose my favourite Larkin poem, but Mr Bleaney is surely one of them. It’s about a man who rents a shabby room and muses on the life of the previous occupant. It shows Larkin’s excellent use of syntax: the last two stanzas constitute one long sentence, culminating in a simple three-word statement. I rather like the image of the speaker stuffing cotton-wool in his ears to drown out the sound of his landlady’s television set in the living room below.
'This was Mr Bleaney's room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him.’ Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,
Fall to within five inches of the sill,
Whose window shows a strip of building land,
Tussocky, littered. ‘Mr Bleaney took
My bit of garden properly in hand.’
Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook
Behind the door, no room for books or bags —
‘I’ll take it.’ So it happens that I lie
Where Mr Bleaney lay, and stub my fags
On the same saucer-souvenir, and try
Stuffing my ears with cotton-wool, to drown
The jabbering set he egged her on to buy.
I know his habits — what time he came down,
His preference for sauce to gravy, why
He kept on plugging at the four aways —
Likewise their yearly frame: the Frinton folk
Who put him up for summer holidays,
And Christmas at his sister’s house in Stoke.
But if he stood and watched the frigid wind
Tousling the clouds, lay on the fusty bed
Telling himself that this was home, and grinned,
And shivered, without shaking off the dread
That how we live measures our own nature,
And at his age having no more to show
Than one hired box should make him pretty sure
He warranted no better, I don’t know.