Dockery And Son

By Philip Larkin

Dockery was junior to you,

Wasn’t he?’ said the Dean. ‘His son’s here now.’   

Death-suited, visitant, I nod. ‘And do

You keep in touch with—’ Or remember how   

Black-gowned, unbreakfasted, and still half-tight   

We used to stand before that desk, to give   

‘Our version’ of ‘these incidents last night’?   

I try the door of where I used to live:

Locked. The lawn spreads dazzlingly wide.

A known bell chimes. I catch my train, ignored.   

Canal and clouds and colleges subside

Slowly from view. But Dockery, good Lord,   

Anyone up today must have been born

In ’43, when I was twenty-one.

If he was younger, did he get this son

At nineteen, twenty? Was he that withdrawn

High-collared public-schoolboy, sharing rooms

With Cartwright who was killed? Well, it just shows   

How much … How little … Yawning, I suppose

I fell asleep, waking at the fumes

And furnace-glares of Sheffield, where I changed,   

And ate an awful pie, and walked along   

The platform to its end to see the ranged   

Joining and parting lines reflect a strong

Unhindered moon. To have no son, no wife,   

No house or land still seemed quite natural.   

Only a numbness registered the shock   

Of finding out how much had gone of life,   

How widely from the others. Dockery, now:   

Only nineteen, he must have taken stock

Of what he wanted, and been capable

Of … No, that’s not the difference: rather, how

Convinced he was he should be added to!

Why did he think adding meant increase?

To me it was dilution. Where do these

Innate assumptions come from? Not from what   

We think truest, or most want to do:

Those warp tight-shut, like doors. They’re more a style   

Our lives bring with them: habit for a while,

Suddenly they harden into all we’ve got

And how we got it; looked back on, they rear   

Like sand-clouds, thick and close, embodying   

For Dockery a son, for me nothing,

Nothing with all a son’s harsh patronage.   

Life is first boredom, then fear.

Whether or not we use it, it goes,

And leaves what something hidden from us chose,   

And age, and then the only end of age.