'Love Songs in Age'
[1 January 1957. From The Whitsun Weddings]
December 2003. Chosen by James L. Orwin.
I've always had a soft spot for 'Love Songs in Age', which was written in the year I was born. Just three sentences, with the first continuing right up to the last line of the second stanza. One of the things I noticed about the poem when I was setting it to music was the high incidence of words containing the 's' sound, which conveys a certain sadness, sympathy or resignation, in as much as it resembles a sigh. Remarkably, in the second stanza of the poem almost 20% – 1 in 5 – words begin with the 's' sound; with nearly as high a percentage in the first stanza. And when you add the number of words containing the 's' sound within them... As usual with a Larkin poem, because of the register, rhythm, rhyme sequence and cadences, this is hardly noticeable when reading or hearing the poem.
As a hoarder myself of scraps of paper containing poems, fragments, lyrics, images – I can understand (as I'm sure we all can) the significance the subject attaches to the sheet music – both the covers and the music they contain.
All our possessions remind us of something or someone; 'One marked in circles by a vase of water', 'And coloured, by her daughter'. It's as if the things themselves are capable of storing memories to confront us with when we least expect it. In typical Larkin style he shows us the joy of life, love and happiness by making us recognise that we missed out – it passed us by; the illusion of 'That certainty of time laid up in store'. We each have our own 'much-mentioned brilliance' of something, which is 'Still promising to solve, and satisfy,/ And set unchangeably in order', whether it's love, money, power...
For me, the most important phrase in the poem is 'looking for something else'. It brings to mind the final lines of 'The Mower', the poem Betty Mackereth chose as her nomination for Poem of The Month in May 2002:
... we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.
James L. Orwin
September 2005. Chosen by Darryl Duerr.
I love this poem because its opening line reminds me so much of the trauma related to assisting the elderly into moving into nursing homes where the space is limited and the residents are urged to give away their large items and trim living down to a few must have items. I see the woman in this poem having kept her songs...they took such little space. In her reopening them she is swept into the emotional flood of highs and lows, not unlike the songs themselves with stops and such. Larkin's economy with the words, a staccato with the word choices like the love in the songs, all stopping and starting and stopping.