Where are we all headed?, asks Stephen (rhetorically)…
We are often advised to take heed of the old saw “life is a journey, not a destination.” I can see that this homily perhaps has some merit. Still, when I hear it repeated, I think: “Well, yes, but a destination does in fact await us.” And what might that destination be? Each of us ought to know the answer to that.
This is where Philip Larkin comes in handy. Jolly old Philip is always more than happy to fill in these sorts of blanks, and I confess that I usually agree with his answers.
. . . For the rooms grow farther, leaving
Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear
Of taken breath, and them crouching below
Extinction’s alp, the old fools, never perceiving
How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet:
The peak that stays in view wherever we go
For them is rising ground.
This bit of reality appears in the final stanza of “The Old Fools,” one of Larkin’s more harrowing efforts. (Harrowing, but true, of course.)
Perhaps a gayer facade will make this particular piece of news more palatable. Norman MacCaig had, in general, a more sanguine view of things than Larkin did — although, like Larkin, he never averted his eyes. He just makes things sound better.
Move along! the driver shouts.
Move along there!
All day I’ve been doing that.
All my life I’ve been doing that.
Somewhere about me I have
the traveller’s permit
given to me by my mother.
The bus halts. Some people get off.
I’ll never see them again.
Some people get on.
I move along
to make room for them.
The place I know I’m going to
approaches. I move along again,
towards the exit.
Ewen McCaig (editor), The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon 2009).
That’s much better: a municipal bus ride (in lieu of “extinction’s alp”) sounds very pleasant indeed. A. E. Housman’s lines fit right in: “Crossing alone the nighted ferry/With the one coin for fee.”