An April Sunday brings the snow
Making the blossom on the plum trees green,
Not white. An hour or two, and it will go.
Strange that I spend that hour moving between
Cupboard and cupboard, shifting the store
Of jam you made of fruit from these same trees:
Five loads – a hundred pounds or more –
More than enough for all next summer’s teas.
Which now you will not sit and eat.
Behind the glass, underneath the cellophane,
remains your final summer – sweet
And meaningless, and not to come again.
Philip Larkin [April, 1948]
I was ranting to my friend yesterday about the fact that is was snowing in April, and he in turn read me this lovely poem which I thought I’d share here.
I think what I admire most about this poem is it simple language. None of the images are particularly show-y or over the top, yet Larkin is still able to deliver to the reader his feelings about the event. A mixture of shock and sorrow, like how one might feel when it snows just two days after flowers start to shoot up from the ground (or at least that’s how I felt). I think the stanza that really accomplishes this is the final one, with lines like, “you will not sit and eat” and “meaningless, and not to come again.” The repetition of “not,” a simple negation of the words that follow, is effective in pointing out the absence of these things; Larkin is pointing out that these things did once occur, but never will. It echoes the “not” from the first stanza in the lines, “Making the blossom on the plum tree green, / Not white.” A poet can devote entire lines describing one solid image for the reader, but Larkin instead chooses to simply negate these images/ideas we know and propel the poem forward to it’s end.
Writers and researchers into Philip Larkin’s life claim that the poem is about the death of his father in April. The final stanza creates that sense of finality with the phrase “not to come again,” but also seems to be pointing out that the absence of “you” makes the once meaningful act of canning fruits in the summer empty for the speaker. It’s not just his father who is dead; it’s all the things that made him unique.
I feel as though the living usually react in the opposite way after a loved one dies. They start collecting all the things that made that person special in an attempt to preserve that memory of them. In addition to making me feel less sad about the snow on the ground this week, this poem also made me reconsider again the ways that individuals grieve, especially after our discussion last week during workshop about funerals. I’m wondering what people think about this poem in particular and Larkin’s reaction…but also what you think about the poem’s use of language. Do you think it’s simplicity is really working? Or is it not simple at all?