Dasein, Red Elephant.

Lozenge of Love – Radiohead, Philip Larkin


I’ve recently been reading a lot of Philip Larkin for class. Today I came across Sad Steps, a short poem by Larkin that wonderfully exemplified the bittersweet, pessimistic-hopeful fatalism characteristic of all his work... reading through the poem, I realized that Radiohead had taken a phrase from the poem and made it into a song.

Sad Steps

by Philip Larkin

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part the thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon's cleanliness.

Four o'clock: wedge-shaped gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-pierced sky.
There's something laughable about this,

The way the moon dashes through the clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

High and preposterous and separate--
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can't come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.


The imagery in this poem is something I can see happening to me. Old, decrepit, unwanted… suffering from insomnia and urinary incontinence, stumbling out in the dark room and coming in drowsy but unable to sleep thereafter. Cold. Drowned in remembrance, moving backwards.

Like most of Larkin’s work, the tone of the poem moves from a flippant cynicism to a non-sentimental tenderness and semi-fatalistic conclusion. The prosaic opening (‘Groping back to bed after a piss’) begins by establishing a typical situational realism that Larkin uses to enter into contemplation.

The barrier between the contemporary poet and the natural world is apparent. Curtailed by alienation through the complexity of modern urban life, the poet cannot return to the Romantic personification of nature, nor see the external as part of their psycho-physical makeup. For Larkin, the beautiful night view ‘has something laughable’ and he parodies the Romantic elevation of nature.

“High and preposterous and separate--

Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!

O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

Lozenge of love, the name of a 1994 Radiohead B-side on the legendary Iron Lung EP. The lyrics of this song seem to continue the subconscious internal narrative of the poet:

I am gone, everybody's raging
And these fruits, they still taste of poison
I won't be around
When you really need me..

I can't sleep, why can't someone hold me
I need warmth, a restless body cracks some more
I won't have the strength
When you really need me..

While gazing at the moon which was described in the most realistic of terms ("The hardness and the brightness"), Larkin explores the strange primal allure of all pervasive nature. Instead of serving as a personification of human feeling, the moon becomes an impartial mirror, reflecting the reality of the poet’s life while reminding him of loss and inevitability.

This bleak conclusion is reminiscent of another lovely Radiohead tune:

Transport, motorways and tramlines,
starting and then stopping,
taking off and landing,
the emptiest of feelings,
disappointed people, clinging on to bottles,
and when it comes it's so, so, disappointing.

Let down and hanging around,
crushed like a bug in the ground.
Let down and hanging around.

Shell smashed, juices flowing
wings twitch, legs are going,
don't get sentimental, it always ends up drivel.
One day, I'm gonna grow wings,
a chemical reaction,
hysterical and useless
hysterical and

let down and hanging around,
crushed like a bug in the ground.
Let down and hanging around.

Let Down, OK Computer.

A thread on other literary texts referenced in Radiohead’s music. Link.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Radio Exile | Radiohead (New Jersey & Boston 8/12-8/13/08) pingbacked on 9 years, 9 months ago


  1. * Rachel says:

    Hi. Just surfing through BlogExplosion and I came across your site. Interesting post. In my own writing I think I relate better to the Romantics than to my contemporaries… I knew I was born in the wrong century :).

    | Reply Posted 12 years, 4 months ago
  2. * chapiglet says:

    wow i really like your blog. anything with radiohead i like!
    Just like Larkin, I think we aren’t that separated from nature…the sense of distance is as much psychological as it is a physical one.

    | Reply Posted 12 years, 4 months ago
  3. * Amanda Bruce says:

    Wow, thanks for posting this. Really interested me. 🙂 Love Radiohead, and love poetry.

    Thanks! 😀

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 2 months ago
  4. Whatever really inspired you to post “Lozenge of Love – Radiohead, Philip Larkin
    Dasein, Red Elephant.”? I actuallyseriously appreciated the blog
    post! Thanks a lot -Titus

    | Reply Posted 5 years, 5 months ago

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