Aubade by Philip Larkin - The 4am Haymaker

When I was younger I had a fairly uneventful sleep pattern. It was simple: I would go to bed at night and right as a line, I would wake to morning light. It was as if what happened in between was none of my business.

I rarely knew what it was like to wake up prematurely in the quiet dark of 4am. But on those rare occasions that I did (and it was weirdly always within minutes of 4am), an unspeakable dread would overcome me and I would feel an inconsolable sadness that I could never speak about. I didn't know how to explain it to other people and it was too disturbing to elaborate. Until I discovered the poem below. He even got the hour right.

Thank god for poets, Philip Larkin, in particular, otherwise I'd still be rambling.

One more thing: I don't sleep through the night anymore so I haven't had that feeling in years. I'm not sure if I conditioned myself to sleep in fits to avoid it, but sometimes I think that in throwing out the bad I have thrown out some of the good. But that's a discussion for another day.

I'm going out for a walk now, and breathe the Friday night air.


I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.   
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.   
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.   
Till then I see what’s really always there:   
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,   
Making all thought impossible but how   
And where and when I shall myself die.   
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse   
—The good not done, the love not given, time   
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because   
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;   
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,   
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,   
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,   
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,   
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill   
That slows each impulse down to indecision.   
Most things may never happen: this one will,   
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without   
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave   
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.   
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,   
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,   
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring   
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

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