Home / Books / Continent (1986) / The Gift of Stones (1988) / Arcadia (1992) / Signals of Distress (1994) / Quarantine (1997) / Being Dead (1999) / Larkin, An Arundel Tomb

John Banville has suggested that Being Dead contains a reference to Larkin's poem An Arundel Tomb, a contemplation of the effigies in stone of a medieval earl and countess: ‘One sees with a sharp tender shock/His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.’ To what extent do the mood of the poem, its awareness of the passage of time, and its closing revelation – ‘What will survive of us is love’ – chime with the mood and wisdom of Crace’s novel?


An Arundel Tomb
Philip Larkin

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd,
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other, and
One sees with a sharp tender shock
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long:
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see,
A sculpturer's sweet commissioned grace,
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes began
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths,
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains.

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost secret almost true:
What will survive of us is love.