"An Arundel Tomb" was written in 1956 by the British poet Philip Larkin. It was included as the final poem in his 1964 collection, The Whitsun Weddings, and is also one of his best known works. In the poem, the speaker is looking at stone effigies of a medieval earl and countess. Surprised to see that they are depicted holding hands, the speaker sets off a complex meditation about the nature of time, mortality, and love. The tomb of the title refers to a real monument found in the Chichester Cathedral, which Larkin visited with his longtime lover Monica Jones before writing the poem. The poem is also essentially an example of ekphrasis—writing that focuses on a visual object or work of art.
Side by side, ...
... under their feet.
Such plainness of ...
... holding her hand.
They would not ...
... around the base.
They would not ...
... read. Rigidly they
Persisted, linked, through ...
... at their identity.
Now, helpless in ...
The stone fidelity ...
... us is love.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Larkin's Letters — An article that reviews a publication of Larkin's correspondence with his mother.
Larkin and Music — Larkin—a jazz aficionado—chooses his favorite pieces of music.
A Reading by Larkin Himself — "An Arundel Tomb" read by its author.
More Poems and Larkin's Biography — Further resources on Larkin from the Poetry Foundation.
Larkin's Life and Work — A short radio documentary about Larkin produced by the BBC.
1Side by side, their faces blurred,
2The earl and countess lie in stone,
3Their proper habits vaguely shown
4As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
5And that faint hint of the absurd—
6The little dogs under their feet.
7Such plainness of the pre-baroque
8Hardly involves the eye, until
9It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
10Clasped empty in the other; and
11One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
12His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
13They would not think to lie so long.
14Such faithfulness in effigy
15Was just a detail friends would see:
16A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
17Thrown off in helping to prolong
18The Latin names around the base.
19They would not guess how early in
20Their supine stationary voyage
21The air would change to soundless damage,
22Turn the old tenantry away;
23How soon succeeding eyes begin
24To look, not read. Rigidly they
25Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
26Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
27Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
28Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
29Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
30The endless altered people came,
31Washing at their identity.
32Now, helpless in the hollow of
33An unarmorial age, a trough
34Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
35Above their scrap of history,
36Only an attitude remains:
37Time has transfigured them into
38Untruth. The stone fidelity
39They hardly meant has come to be
40Their final blazon, and to prove
41Our almost-instinct almost true:
42What will survive of us is love.