The possessions of the Arundel family came into the hands of the Duke of Norfolk by marriage in 1580. Chichester Cathedral holds the tomb of a member of the Arundel family. In the poem “The Arundel Tomb,” the last poem in Larkin’s collection The Whitsun Weddings, Larkin visualizes the monument (in stone) of an earl and a countess in a tomb. Through the description of the same, he elaborates on how hollow human existence is with all its inherent imperfections.

The faces side to side, their faces are blurred to as they are in oblivion to each other. They are also blurred owing to the passage of time due to decay. The term ‘proper habit’ is a technical term in heraldry ascertaining that their dress was in natural hues and not conventional ones.  Their jointed armour and stiffened pleat seem to define them at the moment, when at one point in their lives they defined the same.

Baroque is an artistic style prevalent from the late 16th century to the early 18th century. It is most often defined as “the dominant style of art in Europe between the Mannerist and Rococo eras, a style characterized by dynamic movement, overt emotion and self-confident rhetoric.” Though the form of art is eloquent in itself, it fails, according to the poet in engaging the eye. Nevertheless it does catch our attention as some do behold with pathos, the earl and the countess holding hands. This gesture, is eternal and enduring, by way of art.

Their association would be not a long one according the poet Philip Larkin, a misogynist and misogamist. Therefore, to apprehend such a durable relation in effigies would be equally preposterous. The intention behind the gesture was not to exemplify or showcase their love. It was to rather prolong the fame of the names inscribed below in Latin. Therefore it is limited to being a “sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace. The term ‘commissioned’ proves that the artist is paid for the emotion embodied in the monument. The speaker thus relegates the significance of the gesture.

They would not guess that in that static journey they undertook, the air would witness “soundless damage. Time preserved them,”but also soundlessly damaged them.The changes in the air refer to the changes wrought by the Civil War, and the onset of religion. Agricultural revolution turned the attitude of the hitherto tenants of the Arundel family. The poet marks the dererioration of the Latin language as the people could no longer read, but only look at the inscriptions on the tomb.

They existed ‘linked’, holding hands through the dimensions of time. Yet, they remained oblivious to the seasons as snow fell ‘undated. They were bound by a universal season. The bird-calls appear to be strewn over the Cathedral burial ground as arbitrarily as the enigmatic bones. The path was open to new and newer visitors. The term ’altered people’ may also refer to the same people revisiting the place, but who had changed with the passage of time or with experience.

“Washing at their identity” signifies that their identities have been so deeply entangled over the passage of time that it tries to individually assert itself .The armour was an insignia of one’s identity in the old times. Now only an attitude remains as transient as smoke. The term ‘skeins’ refers to how time had rendered them into factual information.

As they are reduced to mathematical units, nobody believes their eternal love. Human existence had hitherto believed that constructs are ephemeral, and emotions universal. Here the speaker mocks at the traditional belief(‘our almost-instinct’) as he sets out to nullify the same. The ‘stone fidelty’ that the people hardly mean has turned out to be true, and the idea of abiding love has negated itself.

In heraldry and heraldic vexillology, a blazon is a formal description of, most often, a coat of arms or flag, which enables a person to construct or reconstruct the appropriate image, claims Larkin.”Their final blazon” therefore refers to their final attempt to reconstruct the aspect of love.

©Rukhaya MK 2010

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