‘In fact, may you be dull —
If that is what a skilled,
Catching of happiness is called.’
(Philip Larkin, 'Born Yesterday')
Is happiness something you ‘catch’ –
like a cold, or a ball lobbed suddenly in your direction,
or a moment trapped on film
by an opportunistic camera?
Is it a butterfly on the wing, to be pickled
in a killing-jar, pinned
in a scrap-book, and put on display?
He doesn’t say. Such a beautiful poem,
all the weight falling on the adjectives at the end.
What he describes in that sequence
(deliberative, tranquil, paced, each one adding
an essential detail to the story)
is a state essential to ordinary life.
What he wishes on the new-born child
is to be contented.
Sally Amis, manic depressive,
you died of alcohol, at the age of forty-six.
The blessing of your father’s friend,
full of love and hope,
was no earthly use to you
as you lived your sad, promiscuous, addicted life.
Can we conclude from this
that unhappiness is catching?