At thirty-one when some are rich ... by Philip Larkin
At thirty-one when some are rich
And others dead,
I, being neither, have a job instead,
But come each evening back to a high room
Above deep gardenfuls of air, on which
Already has been laid an autumn bloom.
And here, instead of planning how
I can best thrive,
How best win fame and money while alive,
I sit down, supper over, and begin
One of the letters of a kind I now
Feel most of my spare time is going in:
I mean, letters to women—no,
Not of the sort
The papers tell us get read out in court,
Leading directly to or from the bed.
Love-letters only in a sense: they owe
Too much elsewhere to come under that head.
Too much kindness, for a start;
I know, none better,
The eyelessness of days without a letter;
Too much to habit ('Stop? But why on earth...?'):
Too much to an unwillingness to part
With people wise enough to see my worth.
I'm kind, but not kinetic—don't
Enlist a word
Simply because its deed has been deferred;
Ends in themselves, my letters plot no change;
They carry nothing dutiable; they won't
Aspire, astound, establish or estrange.
Why write them, then? Are they in fact
Amiable residue when each denies
The other's want? Or are they not so nice,
Stand-ins in each case simply for an act?
Mushrooms or virtue? or, toadstools or vice?
They taste the same. So summer ends,
And nights draw in.
Another evening wasted! I begin
Writing the envelope, and a bitter smoke
Of self-contempt, of boredom, too, ascends.
What use is an endearment and a joke?