The Importance of Elsewhere

The Troubles – Larkin in Ireland.

Last night’s post on the BBC’s Red Nose Day (Comic Relief) reminded me of this Philip Larkin poem, The Importance of Elsewhere:

Lonely in Ireland, since it was not home,
Strangeness made sense. The salt rebuff of speech,
Insisting so on difference, made me welcome:
Once that was recognised, we were in touch

Their draughty streets, end-on to hills, the faint
Archaic smell of dockland, like a stable,
The herring-hawker’s cry, dwindling, went
To prove me separate, not unworkable.

Living in England has no such excuse:
These are my customs and establishments
It would be much more serious to refuse.
Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence.

It’s mainly about the liberating feelings of being abroad – the brief caesura of upholding standards and conventions and the like. The Irish accent’s harsh “salt rebuff” reminded Larkin of the country’s non-negotiable differences with English culture. And yet, underlying separation is the implicit current of familiarity, mutual understanding. Much like those white celebrities watching the stoicism of the mother in a children’s hospital, a situation as alien as it is real.


4 Comments on “The Importance of Elsewhere”

  1. Yet, you can never go home – Thomas Wolfe

    • Mark says:

      I had never thought about it like that before – but it’s true.

      • The two feelings are flip sides of the same coin. Travel changes us so that the unfamiliar becomes welcoming and familiar becomes strange. When we seek to perceive ourselves as competent players on any stage, for us home becomes elsewhere and elsewhere becomes home. The longings for either reversed in our heads.

  2. Carlos says:

    So true. I am not Irish or from the U.K but enjoyed your poem.

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