Philip Larkin’s “An Arundel Tomb” is a poem which conveys the sight of an observer who is currently present at the tomb using extensive amounts of visual imagery. The main theme of the poem revolves around timeless love however a slightly ironical tone has been used at times. The poem starts off with the literal depiction of two sculptors in a tomb and progresses towards the end of the poem having a strong, figurative impact of love and identity, on the reader.
The structure of the poem is consistent throughout the whole poem, i.e. six lines in each stanza, with a total of seven stanzas. Each line of the poem is almost equally long and the poem has a visible rhyme scheme. The second and the third line of each stanza have a rhyme, rather a half rhyme, as does the fourth and sixth line of each stanza. The rhyme scheme of the poem therefore tends to be abbcac
The first stanza of the poem gives a very visual outlook to the readers. It also suggests that the sculptors in the tomb existed since a very long time. “Their face blurred”, suggests that the sculptors had been eroded over a long period of time resulting in the loss of the carvings made on the sculptor faces. However this could also imply that their identities had been lost over the period of years. The poet has used the phrase “lie in stone”. This could suggest that the two sculptors were placed besides each other and that the stone symbolizes the ‘strong’ love they shared. However, the world lie also means to hide the truth. The poet could have also tried to convey to the readers that the stone was lying to the viewers about the apparent love shown on the sculptors. Another observation could be that the phrase “stiffened pleat” could indicate that the sculptors were hard and stiff, therefore could not help moving apart even if they did not love each other.
The poet further progresses to describe the sculptors using extensive visual imagery. The use of the word “pre-baroque” suggests the period of time before the baroque, which was an era of European art and music, therefore conveying to the reader the time period of the sculptors. “pre-baroque’ could also suggest that the architecture of the sculptors was extremely simple. The description of the sculptor gives a clear image of the sculptor to the readers and adds to the setting of the poem. The details of the actions of the sculptor are so intricate – “clasped empty in the other”. In the fifth line of the second stanza, the poet has used an oxymoron, “tender shock”, which could be a result of the viewers who are amazed by the simple, yet beautiful architecture of the sculptors; however, it could also imply Anachronism, which refers to the depiction of an event, place, etc before it ever existed. The sculptors are seen holding hands, which is considered as public affection, which at that point of time was not permitted “his hand withdrawn, holding hers”.
The third stanza speaks about the sculptor of these sculptors, who probably made these sculptors ahead of his time so that the viewers would admire it and probably will have to ponder over it rather than just viewing it and walking away. The viewers of that age might have wondered about the illustration of the sculptor, however, the viewers nowadays would consider it common. This observation, when deeply thought of, shows a transition in the thinking of the people. Another point made by the poet is that the sculptors were made in olden times, when Latin was the language used. “A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace Thrown off in helping to prolong The Latin names around the base”. This line suggests that in spite of people acknowledging the sculptor’s art, the identity of those sculptures was unknown. Even though the sculptor had mentioned their identity, it was in Latin, which is very uncommon in today’s world. Therefore, it implies that the hard work of the sculptor was not appreciated to the fullest.
The point that the poet has tried to depict in the fourth stanza is that the companionship and their love has been preserved for a “supine stationary voyage”. They are not physically moving, but the word of their love is being spread through time. However, this could also imply that their love is no longer present, but the people perceive their gesture of holding hands is love. Another observation is that the since these sculptures have been made till the current time, there have been a lot of change. At first, the people knew who these sculptures were, therefore could relate to the sculptures lives, however, now the “succeeding eyes begin to look, not read”.
The fifth stanza consists of a lot of visual imagery since it describes the endless passage of time, through different seasons and moments such as “Snow fell”, which indicates winter, “Light each summer” and the “litter of birdcalls” which indicates spring. The use of the constant s’ in the words “persisted”, “lengths” and “breadths” produces a very slow and a smooth sound of the alphabet s, which probably is used to add to the effect of portraying the different dimensions of time. The use of the words “altered people” suggests that the people who are visiting the tomb now are unaware of the life story of the sculptures and are probably misinterpreting it, which can lead to various different interpretations of the sculptures story. The poet has used enjambment, which refers to- not ending a stanza and continuing it to the next stanza. This literary feature probably implies the continuous period of time which the sculptures have been there for.
The sixth stanza continues from the fifth stanza with the phrase “washing their identities Now, helpless in the hollow of an unarmorial age”. This probably signifies that the sculptures are ‘seeing’ everything going on in front of them. They are also noticing the different stories spoken about them, many of which may not be true, but they are “helpless” since they are hard stone and cannot do anything about it. The use of the word “unarmorial” also suggests that these sculptures were too weak to convey their true meaning, like a soldier, who is weak and prone to harm without any armor. The visual imagery used such as “trough of smoke in slow suspended skeins” also adds to the feeling of deterioration of their true identity. The poet has also used alliteration (the use of the same consonant sound at the beginning of two or more words) in the phrase “smoke in slow suspended skeins”. The poet has probably used this to emphasize on the endless time the sculpture has been present and is being constantly eroded.
The last phrase of the sixth stanza “only an attitude remains” along with the seventh stanza, depicts that the poet is trying to convey a simple, yet thoughtful message. The intention of the poem is very well understood by reading the last stanza. The poet tries to convey that in spite of time disfiguring “them unto untruth”, their message of love will always be present. The poet tries to say that the identity and the looks of an eternally famous person are not significant, what is important, is the fact that the message they were standing for is clear and ever lasting.
The poem is a very well written poem, wherein the poet has included a few literary features, which add to the effect of the message. According to me, the message conveyed, i.e. love is everlasting and even if the emotions and gestures of expressing love change, the purity in the feeling of love forever remains the same.