PhilipLarkin wrote An Arundel Tomb in 1956 and published it only eight years later in1964 along with his collection The Whitsun Weddings. Through various poetic techniques, Larkin engages the reader and makesclear that time might affect material objects but does not necessarily affect loveitself, which might even last forever. Firstof all, the following visible aspect of the poem is quite clear. An ArundelTomb consists of seven stanzas, each are six lines long. Not once does Larkinstray away from this form which indicates its importance. (what importance) From start to end, the poem displaysa certain passage of time with eachstanza representing a progress in this time period.
At its technical level the passing oftime is made clear by the rhyme scheme pattern of ABBCAC. (This rhyme schemeapplies to every stanza, again with no exception.) A rather slow pace is detected,which would be symbolic for the relentless, slow passing of time. The repeateduse of full stops is another striking element that reinforces the idea of thisslow time passing. The enjambment of the word ‘time’ itself in line 26 isanother clarifying example. At the level of the poem’s contentthe passing of time is described by some rather obvious lines, being “Each summer thronged thegrass.” (l. 27) and some less obvious ones such as “soundless damage” (l.
21).More about the latter later on this essay.The storytelling in thispoem also marks multiple displays of time. The ‘their’ in the first line refersto FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel, and his second wife Eleanor ofLancaster who are the two protagonists of the poem. In the first stanza thespeaker simply informs the reader about the death of the earl and the countessand how they are already buried in a tomb to lay there forever. He mentions howtheir habits, their clothes are stiffened in stone.
The transitory element ofmaterials and life itself takes it form in the fourth stanza when the speakermentions how years after their death, future passengers would not be able toread the scripture on their tomb because it had been written in Latin and thelanguage would die eventually. (l. 23-24). The enjambment of ‘To look’ createsa distance between the organ ‘eye’ and its main purpose (to look and read)which highlights this impossibility.Other imagery elementssimilar to the above could be found in the same stanza. To return to the ‘soundless damage’, this isthe speaker’s vivid attempt to represent the erosion that has taken place. Inthe one but last stanza the speaker speaks of the image of a smoke making itsway out of the tomb, the smoke representing a slowly, but surely fading awaypersonification of the couple (l. 34).
This imagery of death also takes placein the previous stanza, the image of the birds singing a song on a graveyardfilled with bones (l. 28-29). The portrayal of love takes shape in the veryfirst line of the poem: “Side to side” . This juxtaposition is almost theepitome of a strong relationship. Once again ‘time’ gets a role in this sectionof the poem. The ‘voyage’ (l. 20) makes the reader think that the coupleexperienced a journey, travelling through the centuries and are still somewhatpresent in the current time the reader is reading the poem. This all leads to the following: that love,time and death seem to be the three main components in this poem and somehowthey are all three connected to one another.
The idea that love lastsforever might be something the speaker holds onto, knowing this is theimpression that will have the biggest impact on readers. 20thcentury readers but also potential future, let us say, 25th centuryreaders. They, human beings, all hold on to the belief love lasts forever, evenafter death. Even if time passes and changes certain things. The earl and hiscountess would not recognize the world as it is today; Yet their love for eachother would not have changed. The speaker makes sure the notion of death doesnot escape the reader using words such as “still”, “bone” and “stone”.
Thosewords suggest that the tomb and the skeletons of the couple have been there forquite some time. Following examples show that the speaker carefully chose hiswords. “History”, “transfigured”, “voyage” and “altered” display the connectionbetween death and the effect that the passing of time might have.As for love, the speaker does a great effort in making sure that thereader understand that love also has a central role in this poem. In thetwelfth line one can find the words “His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
” Thealliteration of the letter ‘H’ is quite obvious and prominent in this line. Thesound of this ‘H’ gives the reader a soft and calm feeling, which might be arepresentation of the couple’s love, a softness. Important to notice is that ‘withdrawn’is the sole word in this line that does not start with the letter ‘H’. Thiscreates the immediate response from the reader to (unconsciously) be drawn by thisword.
Taking a look at the actual tomb, one would see the hand of the Earlbeing stretched out to the countess, holding her hand. This formal and visualelement (the actual tomb) creates an admiring feeling towards the love betweenthe two of them. More formal elements similar to the above can be found throughout thispoem, highlighting the triumvirate of love, death and time. Another form of alliteration can be found in the same stanza.
The ‘S’ sounds (oreven the combination of the ‘sh’ sound) in line eleven sound rather harsh. Thisharshness gets amplified by the word ‘shock’ which gives the reader a rather unpleasantfeeling. The assonance in line thirty-two, highlighting the ‘O’ sound in thewords ‘Now’ ‘Hollow’ and ‘of’ creates afeeling of an echo. This sound of an echo might reflect the long passage oftime and/or the notion of everlasting love.