An Empty Frame
at least I thought I did
It felt like memory
It had that familiar pain
and there was a comfort in it
There have been emptinesses
in the past as in the present
Perhaps I remembered one of them
I'm not sure
Perhaps that's best
3 July 1989
I watched the documentary Return to Larkinland a couple of days ago. I’d seen it before but I’d saved a copy and I felt like reminding myself why I appreciate his writing so much. Writers are like doctors—we tend to specialise. Larkin worked on a fairly small canvas and so you know what you’re going to get when you read something by him even if you can feel Hardy or Yates or Auden lurking somewhere in the background. In my case Larkin is the lurker even though few of my poems could be classed as Larkinesque. He’s not alone. Beckett’s there too and William Carlos Williams to a lesser extent.
The brain has always fascinated me, the processes of cogitation, imagination and recollection, and how they bleed together. It seems that neuroscientists have pinpointed where imagination hides in the brain and found it to be functionally distinct from related processes such as memory; for the longest time they were thought to be aspects of the same cognitive task. I’m sure they can work separately just as a left hand and a right hand can function independently but you need two hands to juggle and maybe each hand is working independently but the illusion of communion is compelling. Memories are full of holes and so our imagination fills in the blanks and we don’t even notice it’s happening until we take a moment to watch carefully what’s happening. Then the truth is revealed.
Do you ever remember being sad? We’ve all been sad and many times but when you think about sadness what’re you remembering? Not a specific moment of sadness. Even when you remember an event that saddened you my guess is that you aren’t remembering the specific feeling of sadness you experienced at the time. Your brain pastes in a generic feeling of sadness and you can’t tell the difference. I used to fret more about the inauthenticity of my memories but not so much these days; I’m used to the fuzziness.
Larkin’s poetry is infused with a sadness but whose sadness is it? His? Does it really matter? I’ve no idea what the thirty-year-old me was thinking when he wrote this poem. It’s become an empty frame now even to me. And how much does one emptiness vary from another? The one I’m feeling now will do just fine.