The Arundel Tomb

Chichester Cathedral is the ‘mother church’ of the diocese, and as a Sussex priest, I find myself there from time to time. I love wandering through the cathedral when I get a chance. It has so many superb features about it; but one of my favourites is ‘The Arundel Tomb’.

The Arundel Tomb - credit Tom Oates
The Arundel Tomb - credit Tom Oates

It is a fourteenth century table tomb on which lie the effigies of Richard Fitzalan Earl of Arundel, and his second wife Eleanor. One of the most charming features is the way that they are both holding hands, Richard’s hand having been removed from the gauntlet still held in his left hand.

Arundel Tomb hands - credit bmeabroad
Arundel Tomb hands - credit bmeabroad

There are quint ‘dogs’ at their feet – though Eleanor’s appears to have lost the tip off his nose, making it look slightly more like a piglet.

Arundel Tomb dogs - credit Photoverulam
Arundel Tomb 'dogs' - credit Photoverulam

Although my head knew something of some poetic link with the effigies on the tomb, it wasn’t until I heard Philip Larkin’s poem on the radio recently that it reached my heart.

An Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd –
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly, they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

From The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin 1922-1985 (Faber&Faber)

I found a clip with audio of Philip Larkin introducing and reading it; though the images attached in the accompanying video appear to have little to do with Chichester, Arundel or Sussex. Click the video, and hear the poet himself:

* * *
Update: Radio 4’s Adventures in Poetry series broadcast a programme on the Arundel Tomb recently.
* * *