The last lines recall the last words of "The Whitsun Weddings" ("somewhere becoming rain"), with the echo of somewhere and the words that rhyme with rain. There is strength and pain, too, in the arrow-shower that Larkin imagines turning into rain. The real action, or life, takes place elsewhere, of course. He presents his life as a sequence of events that didn't happen, and he seems to regard the non-event almost as a duty.Groping back to bed after a pissI part thick curtains, and am startled byThe rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.Four o’clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lieUnder a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.There’s something laughable about this,The way the moon dashes through clouds that blowLoosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)High and preposterous and separate—Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,One shivers slightly, looking up there.The hardness and the brightness and the plainFar-reaching singleness of that wide stareIs a reminder of the strength and painOf being young; that it can’t come again,But is for others undiminished somewhere.
This comes out in another poem that Wood quotes, "Poetry of Departures":
Two types of perfection are contrasted here, the detested life "in perfect order" (like the sentences of ordinary language (see Investigations 98)!--incidentally, searching for the relevant passage led me to this paper on "Wittgenstein, Ethics and Therapy," which I must read) and the reprehensibly perfect artificial life of someone who runs away from home. Home is full of junk, albeit specially chosen, which is not the same as well chosen. Larkin once said that he disliked or distrusted homes without junk, without tasteless souvenirs on display because of love of the place or person they came from. Staying at home is not audacious (is it cowardly?), impure, not elemental (so is it molecular, synthetic, characterized by aggregation or accumulation?), but always what we have to do. It is a kind of burden, a messy or unclear one. But the bold move is both phony (or is it willful?) and retrograde. At least I think that's what he is saying.Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,As epitaph:He chucked up everythingAnd just cleared off,And always the voice will soundCertain you approveThis audacious, purifying,Elemental move.And they are right, I think.We all hate homeAnd having to be there:I detest my room,It's specially-chosen junk,The good books, the good bed,And my life, in perfect order:So to hear it saidHe walked out on the whole crowdLeaves me flushed and stirred,Like Then she undid her dressOr Take that you bastard;Surely I can, if he did?And that helps me to staySober and industrious.But I'd go today,Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,Crouch in the fo'c'sleStubbly with goodness, ifIt weren't so artificial,Such a deliberate step backwardsTo create an object:Books; china; a lifeReprehensibly perfect.
I can't help but connect all this with religion, which might be one of the laughable immensements of "Sad Steps," and with Samuel Beckett, who seems to have some similar interests in the ordinary and in junk. (I'm going by this article, which reads like a sort of collage of quotations to me, but probably because I don't know Beckett well enough). Not that religious belief is always artificial or retrograde. But I think that for some of us it would be. Our job is to stay in our room, however detested, and to lie in the good bed we have made.
Wood writes that in Larkin's verse:
The ordinary becomes poetry but not “poetic.” “I don’t want to transcend the commonplace,” Larkin said, “I love the commonplace.” He loves it enough to get it into his verse, and also enough to allow it its own unruly life.Which is good, I think. It's too bad that Wood ends with the ending of the poem about an Arundel tomb, which is a little too commonplace now, but it's a useful and refreshing review all the same.