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Friday, October 14, 2011

An Arundel Tomb

(The Tomb of the Earl and Countess of Arundel)

The tomb pictured above and referred to in the poem below is now located in Chichester Cathedral.

A sign stands beside the tomb, giving the history of the stone effigies:

“The figures represent Richard Fitzalan III, 13th Earl of Arundel (ca. 1307-1376) and his second wife Eleanor of Lancaster [1318-1372], who by his will of 1375 were to be buried together ‘without pomp’ in the chapter house of Lewes Priory.

“The armour and dress suggest a date near 1375; the knight’s attitude is typical of that time but the lady’s crossed legs, giving the effect of a turn towards her husband, are rare. The joined hands have been thought due to ‘restoration’ by Edward Richardson (1812-69), but recent research has shown this feature to be original. If so, this monument must be one of the earliest showing this concession to affection where the husband was a knight rather than a civilian.”

Philip Larkin wrote the poem after he first saw the tomb, with “the stone effigies of the Earl and Countess of the Arundel family shown lying hand in hand in a way that I had never seen in English church ornamental sculpture anywhere else and which I found extremely affecting.” The poem was published in 1964 as part of his collection
The Whitsun Weddings.


Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits¹ vaguely shown
As jointed armor, 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 gauntlet², 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His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.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 sculptor’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
Their air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
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 their attitude remains:

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

~ Philip Larkin (1922-1985), English poet, novelist, and jazz critic

¹ habits – clothes
² his left-hand gauntlet – “I got the hands wrong,” Larkin said in a 1981 interview. “It’s a right-hand gauntlet really.”

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