On Being Twenty-Six

I feared these present years,
The middle twenties,
When deftness disappears,
And each event is
Freighted with a source-encrusting doubt,
And turned to drought.


I thought: this pristine drive
Is sure to flag
At twenty-four or -five;
And now the slag
Of burnt-out childhood proves that I was right.
What caught alight


Quickly consumed in me,
As I foresaw.
Talent, felicity—
These things withdraw,
And are succeeded by a dingier crop
That come to stop;


Or else, certainty gone,
Perhaps the rest,
Tarnishing, linger on
As second-best.
Fabric of fallen minarets is trash.
And in the ash


Of what has pleased and passed
Is now no more
Than struts of greed, a last
Charred smile, a clawed
Crustacean hatred, blackened pride—of such
I once made much.


And so, if I were sure
I have no chance
To catch again that pure
Unnoticed stance,
I would calcine the outworn properties,
Live on what is.


But it dies hard, that world;
Or, being dead,
Putrescently is pearled,
For I, misled,
Make on my mind the deepest wound of all:
Think to recall


At any moment, states
Long since dispersed;
That if chance dissipates
The best, the worst
May scatter equally upon a touch.
I kiss, I clutch,


Like a daft mother, putrid
Infancy,
That can and will forbid
All grist to me
Except devaluing dichotomies:
Nothing, and paradise.

by Philip Larkin

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