Friday, 9 September 2011

Lost Innocence

In last Sunday's Sunday Telegraph Paul Theroux wrote this:
In time — the feeling ate at me like a sickness — I realised that it was not the Twin Towers, and part of the Pentagon, and the downed plane in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, that had been destroyed, but something much bigger, our national confidence, and that the “lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country” (the words are Nabokov’s), the country that I had known as triumphant since childhood, was overwhelmed, and rattled in a way I had never seen before; our innocence was toast.
That rather flip "toast" suggests the writer didn't really believe what he was writing, but liked the sound (or perhaps the thought) of it nonetheless. A much better version of a similar idea was written by Philip Larkin.

MCMXIV

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day--

And the countryside not caring:
The place names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word--the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

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