Unfinished Poem

Source: AsianTown.NET
I squeezed up the last stair to the room in the roof
And lay on the bed there with my jacket off.
Seeds of light were sown on the failure of evening.
The dew came down. I lay in the quiet, smoking.

That was a way to live—newspaper for sheets,
A candle and spirit stove, and a trouble of shouts
From below somewhere, a town smudgy with traffic!
That was a place to go, that emaciate attic!

For (as you will guess) it was death I had in mind,
Who covets our breath, who seeks and will always find;
To keep out of his thought was my whole care,
Yet down among the sunlit courts, yes, he was there,

Taking his rents; yes, I had only to look
To see the shape of his head and the shine of his book,
And the creep of the world under his sparrow-trap sky,
To know how little slips his immortal memory.

So it was stale time then, day in, day out,
Blue fug in the room, nothing to do but wait
The start of his feet on the stair, that sad sound
Climbing to cut me from his restless mind

With a sign that the air should stick in my nose like bread,
The light swell up and turn black—so I shammed dead,
Still as a stuck pig, hoping he’d keep concerned
With boys who were making the fig when his back was turned;

And the sun and the stove and the mice and the gnawed paper
Made up the days and nights when I missed supper,
Paring my nails, looking over the farbelow street
Of tramways and bells. But one night I heard the feet.

Step after step they mounted with confidence.
Time shrank. They paused at the top. There was no defence.
I sprawled to my knees. Now they came straight at my door.
This, then, the famous eclipse? The crack in the floor

Widening for one long plunge? In a sharp trice,
The world, lifted and wrung, dipped with remorse.
The fact of breathing tightened into a shroud.
Light cringed. The door swung inwards. Over the threshold

Nothing like death stepped, nothing like death paused,
Nothing like death has such hair, arms so raised.
Why are your feet bare? Was not death to come?
Why is he not here? What summer have you broken from?

~ Philip Larkin

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