Take Courage

On Thursday evening I met up with my friend Dave in the Stars for a long anticipated poetry reading session. We prioritised Louis MacNeice and Robin Robertson and Philip Larkin. Dave is the scholar and I am the student and buy the pints. The Stars has stopped stocking Timothy Taylor’s Landlord because they kept getting sent bad kegs and the substitutes don’t quicken the pulse: Courage, Doombar, Wadworths. I should drink more Wadworths because it is the brewery closest to us (other than Three Castles, which brews Vale Ale and Saxon Archer on an industrial estate just outside Pewsey); I think Doombar mean and over-rated. Courage Best is not bad and this is what I drank five pints of while Dave led us towards some sort of illumination. No cigarettes. Three bags of crisps.

At midnight I cycled home. A three quarter moon glowed overhead. At the top of the hill I took off my helmet and turned off my lights and swooped away. Freezing mist gathered in the fields; I could not see their boundaries and at speed there was a fleeting sense of strangeness, infinity even. The odd high oak reared and passed. Just over the bridge a gliding barn owl crossed the road at head height just a few feet in front.

Here is Larkin on trees in May, which is the month of my birthday (and Dave’s). Try reading this out-loud:

The trees are coming into bud
Like something being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castes thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Note from Dave: this is the closest Larkin ever came to being happy in one of his poems.

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