Never such innocence, Never before or since.

Tuesday, 11 November, 2014

At the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”, an armistice was signed by the Allies and Germany for the ending of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I. Hence, today, 11 November, is known to many as Armistice Day or Veterans Day in commemoration of what took place on 11 November 1918 at Compiègne in France.

Fifty years after the start of that terrible conflict, Philip Larkin looked back more in anguish than in anger at the optimism of the young men queuing up to enlist in 1914. Written in 1964, MCMXIV reflects on the heart-breaking idea that the war would be like “an August Bank Holiday lark” for those heading towards the front.


Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word — the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

Phillip Larkin (1922 — 1985)

Filed in: History, Poetry • Tags: , ,

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