The 40 Year-Old Virgin

    Success Story

To fail (transitive and intransitive)
I find to mean be missing, disappoint,
Or not succeed in the attainment of
(As in this case, f. to do what I want);
They trace it from the Latin to deceive

Yes. But it wasn’t that I played unfair:
Under fourteen, I sent in six words
My Chief Ambition to the Editor
With the signed promise about afterwards —
I undertake rigidly to forswear

The diet of this world, all rich game
And fat forbidding fruit, go by the board
Until
— But that until has never come,
And I am starving where I always did.
Time to fall to, I fancy: long past time.

The explanation goes like this, in daylight:
To be ambitious is to fall in love
With a particular life you haven’t got
And (since love picks your opposite) won’t achieve.
That’s clear as day. But come back late at night,

You’ll hear a curious counter-whispering:
Success, it says, you’ve scored a great success.
Your wish has flowered, you’ve dodged the dirty feeding,
Clean past it now at hardly any price —
Just some pretence about the other thing.

11 March 1954 The Grapevine, February 1957

Philip Larkin, August 9, 1922 — December 2, 1985

A poet more than thirty years old is simply an overgrown child.
    — Henry Louis Mencken (1880 — 1956)

    Annus Mirabilis

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) —
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

Up to then there’d only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) —
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

16 June 1967High Windows (1974)

Philip Larkin, August 9, 1922 — December 2, 1985

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