The Importance of ElsewherePosted: March 16, 2013
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.