#20 “An Arundel Tomb” (Philip Larkin)

“An Arundel Tomb” is the third poem about love on today’s segment of the Countdown. But it is not a love poem. It’s about our attitudes toward love; about how marriage, as an institution, presents love to the world; about social class, and the history of class in England; and about how to “read” the past. Just as we may not understand contemporaries from another culture, we may not understand the culture of a distant century.

Choose your tombstone wisely, the poem seems to say. The aristocrats buried beneath this slowly-eroding sculpture were probably married by arrangement, with an eye to the succession of various properties and titles. We cannot know how they related to each other. We can infer that they did not have a modern “companionate” marriage, where Mom scrapes the dishes, Dad loads the dishwasher, and the couple settles down on the couch to watch Law and Order. The “Arundel” couple’s marriage was heavily regulated by ceremony. Both of them, after their heirs were born, may have gone separate ways in all but the most public of marital duties.

But the ideal of marriage, then as now, is literally engraved in stone: “His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.” A gesture of affection that they might never have enacted except on their wedding day and a few subsequent grand occasions “has come to be / Their final blazon.”

As in all of Philip Larkin’s great contemplations of other people’s lives, the tone is a remarkable blend of cynicism and sympathy. The Arundel couple are hypocrites. Or are they? If we keep acting out appearances, when do the appearances become reality – particularly if we arrange to keep enacting them forever?

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9 responses to “#20 “An Arundel Tomb” (Philip Larkin)

  1. firewaterboi321

    Larkin pokes fun at the eventual erosion and damage done to the Arundel Tomb over time. The effigy itself was, in its inception, a physical representation of what is really a lie. The lord and lady holding hands for all eternity in their rest is not really an accurate representation of their time. Marriage, as a social institution, was not about love, at least up until the early 20th century. It was more based function. The joining of two households during 15th century England was about wealth and ownership. Their holding hands in death is at first glance sweet and endearing, in that it could symbolize true affection between them. The reality is they very well could have absolutely despised each other. Larkin’s humor is obvious throughout this piece. Granted, of course his humor is based in deep cynicism. The final stanza of the poem does have a kind of slight turn of his tone. He doesn’t seem to be too cynical when he says “…what will survive of us is love.” However, like the two stone figures holding hands, at first glance that is deceptive. Love between human beings is an emotional construct. No physical representation will ever last that will depict the precise feelings and emotions between two people. Life the stone effigy, it fades away and is forgotten. It is a rather morose way of looking at it. When the innocence of our ideals of “eternal love” are ignored (or purposefully ignored), the reality of the world sets in solidly. If that is cynicism, then I’m guilty.

  2. The underlying cynicism in this poem is absolutely true, not only of death but life as well. Everywhere you look, most people are fake. It’s just how life is. People, no matter how they feel on the inside, naturally crave the attention and approval of others. Those who are unhappy are the least approachable and, in turn, the least likely to gain the approval of their peers. The couple in the tomb is no exception. Perhaps they believed that if they pretended they loved each other, maybe one day it would really be true. Back in those days, people were highly religious and soundly believed in an afterlife. These tombs, like those of the ancient Egyptians, are a representation of their hopes for the afterlife. It is possible that the Lord and Lady hoped that love between them could finally take place in heaven. Although we will never know if the two are really telling the truth of their lives, it is most likely a lie. Considering the tradition at the time, they were probably arranged to be married and men were usually seen as the superior sex. The fact that they are immortalized as equals is practically a lie in itself. Most would probably see the honesty of this poem as harsh but that is what I like about it. The author isn’t afraid to tell it like they see it.

  3. I think that it is difficult to continue to “act” like you love someone, and for it to not become reality. Maybe that is just me, but after acting for so long maybe you actually start to love the person; or perhaps maybe in the arrangement of marriage love is a learned emotion, the two persons involved do not have any other choice after time but to love one another. As mentioned in class, it is strange that in the poem it says, “The earl and countess lie in stone/they would not think to lie so long,” as if to say they were lying. I like how the symbol of affection in the poem and the tomb is something that is as simple as holding hands, probably because at that time in history that is how affection was shown. I enjoy the simplicity of holding hands; PDA when taken too far can be gross, but holding hands seems to be sentimental and cute.

    As far as how marriage presents love to the world, I think it depends on the marriage. Divorce nowadays is happening more often than ever; obviously a marriage that doesn’t last doesn’t present love very positively to the world. Little girls grow up thinking that marriage is all happiness and flowers, but that does depend on the person you marry. I could not handle an arranged marriage; the person I marry I want to know, and be completely head over heels for. I could never marry a complete stranger or someone I did not love with my whole heart.

  4. Wow I love the question was they’re love real or are they hypocrites. There are a lot of married couples that are not happy but they pretend to be happy. Maybe because they have to for kids sake or just simply they want to uphold a certain image. I couldn’t possibly be in a marriage and not have feelings for that person anymore. I think some of us are privilege because we don’t have arranged marriages. I couldn’t be forced to be with someone I didn’t love. I feel that society has lost the true meaning of LOVE, or did we ever know it? Its sad to know that this couple may have not been happy in their marriage and then they had to be buried together lol how sad.

  5. I particularly like that this poem had a visual aid. The thought of everlasting love is endearing even if the two people in the poem didn’t even like each other. The fact that they made an effort says something about their character. I think its small acts such as that that have lead the progress that we have come to enjoy today. Back then people were set up in arranged marriages and had to put up with their partners for the sake of honor and duty but they must have felt that love was important. If not then why bother with the charade? As a parent I know that I want my child to have a much better life than I did. I want her to be successful and happy and I want her to find love. These people must have felt the same way. They were stuck in a marriage and it seems they tried to make the best of it. That’s what I get out of it. Of course, I could be totally off base and they probably despised one another and just had the tomb commissioned because they were “keeping up with the Kardashians.”

  6. In Phillip Larkin’s poem “An Arundel Tomb” a powerful message is presented to the reader. It is extremely ironic that this poem was published in 1964 during a decade when many would just begin to challenge popular thought and go against the status quo. The institution of marriage has been a sacred thing for centuries in this world. In all reality whether it’s pleasant and nice or not; the institution of marriage is not thought of as it once was. Who knows it might not have ever been the way it was portrayed in a fairy tale like imagery to us since the day we were born. Are the Arundel couple hypocrites? I would have to say no, they are doing what they have been told and what everyone around them has done for centuries. I found what the Professor said in regards to acting a certain way over time to be very interesting. If someone is fake and not real but they act that way constantly, then what is fake about it? Is their marriage real based on their acting or is it genuine? Does it matter?

  7. I liked this poem because i have seen this happen to many people and it describes so many peoples marriages perfectly. People go through life everyday not happy with their marriage and faking their love. I would not marry somebody that i do not love or care about. I think people trick themselves into believing they will eventually fall for that person or the love will grow. I love this poem because it is true and happens everyday in life.

  8. This poem is great example of the truth of marriage for many people. A lot of times, you can tell if a person is happy in a relationship or not. At the same time, you can tell that the unhappy ones that stay put on a front to make others believe they are happy. A lot of people don’t think they can find any better or they lie to themselves and say they are happy because people only see what’s on the surface of their relationship. A lot of people today marry for the wrong reasons or at a very young age, when you don’t know what you really want in life. A lot of times, our youth is so caught up in the moment; they fail to think about the possibilities of the future. They don’t know what its like to live with that person and be with them everyday. After the fact, a lot of times, things just go down hill. I have seen this happen to a few friends that married right after high school. I like the idea of acting becoming reality but for a lot of people when that feeling isn’t there, its hard to even pretend you love someone. We are very lucky to be able to choose the person we marry, this gives us the opportunity to find that perfect person, but why do so many marriages fail even with this great privilege?

  9. It was very helpful that the poem had visiual aid. It is still like this in many cultures in which arranged marriges is the way to marry. Love is not the main characteristic in these marriges. The couple wanted to bee seen as equals and or together. Even on their tombs they are not fully together. The male isn’t holding her hand like a true lover would. I guess this was red hot love back then and they wanted the world to remember them in that way. Hundreds of years from now it will be us who will be judged. Especially with all this confusion of genders.

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