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Larkin wrote An Arundel Tomb in 1956 and published it only eight years later in
1964 along with his collection The Whitsun Weddings. Through various poetic techniques, Larkin engages the reader and makes
clear that time might affect material objects but does not necessarily affect love
itself, which might even last forever. 

of all, the following visible aspect of the poem is quite clear. An Arundel
Tomb consists of seven stanzas, each are six lines long. Not once does Larkin
stray away from this form which indicates its importance. (what importance) From start to end, the poem displays
a certain passage of time with each
stanza representing a progress in this time period. At its technical level the passing of
time is made clear by the rhyme scheme pattern of ABBCAC. (This rhyme scheme
applies 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 repeated
use of full stops is another striking element that reinforces the idea of this
slow time passing. The enjambment of the word ‘time’ itself in line 26 is
another clarifying example. At the level of the poem’s content
the passing of time is described by some rather obvious lines, being “Each summer thronged the
grass.” (l. 27) and some less obvious ones such as “soundless damage” (l. 21).
More about the latter later on this essay.

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The storytelling in this
poem also marks multiple displays of time. The ‘their’ in the first line refers
to FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel, and his second wife Eleanor of
Lancaster who are the two protagonists of the poem. In the first stanza the
speaker simply informs the reader about the death of the earl and the countess
and how they are already buried in a tomb to lay there forever. He mentions how
their habits, their clothes are stiffened in stone. The transitory element of
materials and life itself takes it form in the fourth stanza when the speaker
mentions how years after their death, future passengers would not be able to
read the scripture on their tomb because it had been written in Latin and the
language would die eventually. (l. 23-24). The enjambment of ‘To look’ creates
a distance between the organ ‘eye’ and its main purpose (to look and read)
which highlights this impossibility.

Other imagery elements
similar to the above could be found in the same stanza.  To return to the ‘soundless damage’, this is
the speaker’s vivid attempt to represent the erosion that has taken place. In
the one but last stanza the speaker speaks of the image of a smoke making its
way out of the tomb, the smoke representing a slowly, but surely fading away
personification of the couple (l. 34). This imagery of death also takes place
in the previous stanza, the image of the birds singing a song on a graveyard
filled with bones (l. 28-29). The portrayal of love takes shape in the very
first line of the poem: “Side to side” . This juxtaposition is almost the
epitome of a strong relationship. Once again ‘time’ gets a role in this section
of the poem. The ‘voyage’ (l. 20) makes the reader think that the couple
experienced a journey, travelling through the centuries and are still somewhat
present 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 somehow
they are all three connected to one another.

The idea that love lasts
forever might be something the speaker holds onto, knowing this is the
impression that will have the biggest impact on readers. 20th
century readers but also potential future, let us say, 25th century
readers. They, human beings, all hold on to the belief love lasts forever, even
after death. Even if time passes and changes certain things. The earl and his
countess would not recognize the world as it is today; Yet their love for each
other would not have changed. The speaker makes sure the notion of death does
not escape the reader using words such as “still”, “bone” and “stone”. Those
words suggest that the tomb and the skeletons of the couple have been there for
quite some time. Following examples show that the speaker carefully chose his
words. “History”, “transfigured”, “voyage” and “altered” display the connection
between death and the effect that the passing of time might have.

As for love, the speaker does a great effort in making sure that the
reader understand that love also has a central role in this poem. In the
twelfth line one can find the words “His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.” The
alliteration of the letter ‘H’ is quite obvious and prominent in this line. The
sound of this ‘H’ gives the reader a soft and calm feeling, which might be a
representation 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’. This
creates the immediate response from the reader to (unconsciously) be drawn by this
word. Taking a look at the actual tomb, one would see the hand of the Earl
being stretched out to the countess, holding her hand. This formal and visual
element (the actual tomb) creates an admiring feeling towards the love between
the two of them.

More formal elements similar to the above can be found throughout this
poem, highlighting the triumvirate of love, death and time.
Another form of alliteration can be found in the same stanza. The ‘S’ sounds (or
even the combination of the ‘sh’ sound) in line eleven sound rather harsh. This
harshness gets amplified by the word ‘shock’ which gives the reader a rather unpleasant


The assonance in line thirty-two, highlighting the ‘O’ sound in the
words ‘Now’ ‘Hollow’ and  ‘of’ creates a
feeling of an echo. This sound of an echo might reflect the long passage of
time and/or the notion of everlasting  love.

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