Philip Larkin

The Building

Higher than the handsomest hotel The lucent comb shows up for miles, but see, All round it close-ribbed streets rise and fall Like a great sigh out of the last century. The porters are scruffy; what keep drawing up At the entrance are not taxis; and in the hall As well as creepers hangs a frightening smell. There are paperbacks, and tea at so much a cup, Like an airport lounge, but those who tamely sit On rows of steel chairs turning the ripped mags Haven't come far. More like a local bus. These outdoor clothes and half-filled shopping-bags And faces restless and resigned, although Every few minutes comes a kind of nurse To fetch someone away: the rest refit Cups back to saucers, cough, or glance below Seats for dropped gloves or cards. Humans, caught On ground curiously neutral, homes and names Suddenly in abeyance; some are young, Some old, but most at that vague age that claims The end of choice, the last of hope; and all Here to confess that something has gone wrong. It must be error of a serious sort, For see how many floors it needs, how tall It's grown by now, and how much money goes In trying to correct it. See the time, Half-past eleven on a working day, And these picked out of it; see, as they c1imb To their appointed levels, how their eyes Go to each other, guessing; on the way Someone's wheeled past, in washed-to-rags ward clothes: They see him, too. They're quiet. To realise This new thing held in common makes them quiet, For past these doors are rooms, and rooms past those, And more rooms yet, each one further off And harder to return from; and who knows Which he will see, and when? For the moment, wait, Look down at the yard. Outside seems old enough: Red brick, lagged pipes, and someone walking by it Out to the car park, free. Then, past the gate, Traffic; a locked church; short terraced streets Where kids chalk games, and girls with hair-dos fetch Their separates from the cleaners - O world, Your loves, your chances, are beyond the stretch Of any hand from here! And so, unreal A touching dream to which we all are lulled But wake from separately. In it, conceits And self-protecting ignorance congeal To carry life, collapsing only when Called to these corridors (for now once more The nurse beckons -). Each gets up and goes At last. Some will be out by lunch, or four; Others, not knowing it, have come to join The unseen congregations whose white rows Lie set apart above - women, men; Old, young; crude facets of the only coin This place accepts. All know they are going to die. Not yet, perhaps not here, but in the end, And somewhere like this. That is what it means, This clean-sliced cliff; a struggle to transcend The thought of dying, for unless its powers Outbuild cathedrals nothing contravenes The coming dark, though crowds each evening try With wasteful, weak, propitiatory flowers.

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