Philip Larkin: Bridge For The Living

16 November 2018

Isolate city spread alongside water,
Posted with white towers, she keeps her face
Half turned to Europe, lonely northern daughter,
Holding through centuries her separate place.

Behind her domes and cranes enormous skies
Of gold and shadows build; a filigree
Of wharves and wires, ricks and refineries,
Her working skyline wanders to the sea.

In her remote three cornered hinterland
Long white flowered lanes follow the riverside.
The hills bend slowly seaward, plain gulls stand,
Sharp fox and brilliant pheasant walk, and wide

Wind muscled wheatfields wash round villages,
Their churches half submerged in leaf. They lie
Drowned in high summer, cartways and cottages,
The soft huge haze of ash-blue sea close by.

Snow thickened winter days are yet more still:
Farms fold in fields, their single lamps come on,
Tall church twoers parley, airily audible,
Howden and Beverley, hedon and Patrington,

While scattered on steep seas, ice crusted ships
Like errant birds carry her loneliness,
A lighted memory no miles eclipse,
A harbour for the heart against distress.

And now this stride into our solitude,
A swallow-fall and rise of one plain line,
A giant step for ever to include
All our dear landscape in a new design.

The winds play on it like a harp; the song,
Sharp from the east, sun-throated from the west,
Will never to one separate shire belong,
But north and south make union manifest.

Lost centuries of local lives that rose
And flowered to fall short where they began
Seem now to reassemble and unclose,
All resurrected in this single span,

Reaching for the world, as our lives do,
As all lives do, reaching that we may give
The best of what we are and hold as true:
Always it is by bridges that we live.

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