Talking In Bed

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.

Outside, the wind's incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why

At this unique distance from isolation
It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.


This poem links to ‘An Arundel Tomb’. Though it can be interpreted in biographic terms, the idea of two people ‘talking in bed’ is universal.

As with a number of Larkin’s poems it begins with something that should be an assertion, about talking in beds being easy, though it is immediately weakened by the modal “should”, implying that it isn’t at all. The next line begins with “Lying”. Larkin often punned on this word, as we’ve seen in ‘An Arundel Tomb’, suggesting untruth as well as the mere supine. There’s a nice ambiguity in the next few lines too; “goes back so far” reminds us of both lying on the back, and the history of the “emblem”.

When we’re most intimate, Larkin says, “talking in bed” should be an “emblem of being honest,” and here again, we have a similar idea to ‘An Arundel Tomb’, though in that poem, we had “blazon” rather than “emblem”.

Within the next stanza, the “yet” signifies the reality of the “emblem”. “More and more time passes silently” could be the literal silent passage of time, or that it grows harder and harder to “talk in bed.” There is irony in the title, for despite the “talking” the poem features no dialogue that we see in other Larkin poems, and is more a poem of silence.

The description of the weather outside perhaps reminds us of awkward small talk – how people will use the weather when they are struggling to find words to say. There is something ominous in the description, with the wind’s “incomplete unrest” and the “dark towns heap up on the horizon.” In how the clouds “build and disperse”, there is perhaps a reflection of those inside the room: perhaps their courage is building to suggest a break up or such a serious conversation, but then it disperses like the clouds. “On the horizon” perhaps suggests the future is “dark” for the “two people” – who aren’t even a couple, which would suggest togetherness.

The poem continues, building up a sense of isolation through “None of this cares for us” and “this unique distance from isolation”. Despite being physically together, the two people are separated in their silence.

The silence, Larkin explains in the final stanza, is through two causes:

It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

There is almost a rhyming triplet in this final stanza, yet it doesn’t quite word with the repletion, augmenting the hesitancy and uncertainty of the poem. “Not untrue” and “not unkind”, despite the negations (which this poem is filled with), don’t mean the same as “true” and “kind”. It’s much like how “not bad” isn’t the same as “good”; rather, it is closer to “bad” than “good”. Not only is it difficult to be kind and true as time passes, it’s also difficult to be neutral towards each other.

Short, but moving, this poem links well to others about love that isn’t quite right, such as ‘An Arundel Tomb’, ‘Love Songs in Age’ and ‘Faith Healing’.

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