King Lear, by Lisa Sewell

For the father who wakes
and wakes himself, eyes full of himself

and for the one, who when the sun descends
slips into the stormy

smite flat the rotundity o’ the world.

Done in with conspiracy and murder
in his sleep (his eye-tooth finally unfixed
and tucked into a cheek for safekeeping)

he dreams of a three-armed garment
unable to wonder or comprehend
how he has come to this blurred ridge and broken—

I try to fix in my mind, his shining eyes
the terrors he shut his lips against

and his early morning utterly lucid accusation:
“I never would have believed,” he said to me
“that you would be among them.”


About this Poem

‘King Lear’ is part of a sequence of poems that explore the intersection of reading and the construction of identity. Many of the different relationships in King Lear have resonated for me at different points in my life and by the time I wrote this poem, I had already written two other poems with this title. During the last days of his life, my father, mad with what the hospice nurse called ‘sundowner syndrome,’ made me understand the play again in a completely unexpected and heartbreaking way.

Lisa Sewell

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An Arundel Tomb, by Philip Larkin

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His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.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.