When “An Arundel Tomb” was first published in The Whitsun Weddings in 1964, a number of reviewers singled the poem out for comment. Christopher Ricks, in The New York Review of Books, described Larkin as “the best poet England now has,” and said of the collection “people will be grateful for its best poems for a long time.” Ricks listed “An Arundel Tomb” as one of the six best poems. Praise came also from Joseph L. Feather-stone, in New Republic, who used the last two lines of the poem to illustrate his point that “[Larkin] is especially good at gathering up the substance of a seemingly slow-paced poem and concentrating it into enormously powerful last lines, lines that echo after they are read.” For Louis L. Martz, in The Yale Review, “An Arundel Tomb” was a “perfect poem,” and like Featherstone he also chose to comment on the last two lines:
That open utterance of the long-repressed sentiment emerges with an effect of ironic hesitation. Our modern inference from the sculptured hands is only our own simplification of the imagery: for that other age had a broader meaning in its sepulture that we can never apprehend. What remains is our own attitude, based upon the ‘almost-instinct’ of what we wish come true.
In the years that have elapsed since its publication, “An Arundel Tomb” has come to occupy an important place in Larkin’s work. Almost all book-length treatments of Larkin’s poetry accord ample space to an analysis of it. Bruce Martin, in Philip Larkin, uses the poem as an example of “the preeminence of love in Larkin’s scheme of values.” Andrew Motion, in his biography of the poet, calls it “one of his most moving evocations of the struggle between time and human tenderness.” Roger Bowen, in Death, Failure, and Survival in the Poetry of Philip Larkin, argues that “An Arundel Tomb” marks an important transition in the poet’s work, in terms of his exploration of the “meaning of death.” In his later poems, Larkin begins to express “a view of death in...
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