MCMXLIII

by Charlotte Higgins

Larkin was thumbing through the papers, by the library
when he found it
buried half-way down a list of the deceased: S. Keyes.
The student-poet
that stuck-up bloke from Queens’
the one who hadn’t let him in to that anthology.
They used to watch each other cross the room at parties,
all while they both pretended they weren’t looking
and that they hadn’t read each other’s poems.

There was that time – a year ago, it would have been –
when Keyes, the brown-nose, reading history
still showed up to the Annual Lecture of the English Society.
Larkin got there late
squeezed in to the last space on the wooden benches, right beside Keyes
and watch him scribble in the margins of his notes – a poem, an elegy.
Keyes caught him looking, smirked.
Larkin, who had read it all, grunted as they stood to leave: ‘it’s good’.
Keyes was still smiling when they left the room.

Now Keyes is gone before he’s twenty-one.
Larkin had always pictured Keyes sat in a study
some Oxford courtyard in the quiet sun
as the sun-dial arrow pointed end of day.
Professor. Well-renowned, fat, middle-aged –
he never thought they’d get on, even then,
but always, he imagined Keyes as – there –
to be critiqued, and quarreled with, and scorned,
and everything he’d ever written, read.
And – secretly – kept up with,
but – not – dead, and gone before they graduate –
not far away in some bleak desert, dying.
Larkin shakes his head,
and clenches his jaw against crying,
and grasps at the desk for a pen.
‘Never such talent’ – he writes in the margins –
‘Never such innocence again.’