The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse --The good not done, the love not given, time Torn off unused--nor wretchedly because An only life can take so long to climb Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
Remember that dread, from the first stanza, that "flashes" and "horrifies"? Those flashes create the "glare" that begins stanza 2.
The speaker's knowledge of his pending death glares, making it impossible for him to see, to think of, anything else. But it isn't a sense of "remorse" that makes death so glaring.
It isn't a sense of regret for things left undone and time wasted (time "torn off unused" like a blank calendar page) that make the speaker's mind go blank except for the thought of death. And it doesn't blank "wretchedly" out of anger or disappointment at an "only life," a solitary life, spent trying, probably in vain, to "climb clear of [to leave behind] its wrong beginnings."
So, what's all this glaring and blanking about? Read on Shmoopers, read on.
But at the total emptiness of for ever, The sure extinction that we travel to And shall be lost in always. Not to be here, Not to be anywhere, And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
Now we see what's causing that mind-blanking glare. It's that pesky nothingness, the "total emptiness of for ever."
So, it isn't life's regrets or failures that haunt the speaker. It's the notion of nothingness that has his brain in knots.
The glare is caused by the certainty of death—the "sure extinction that we travel to."
Adding to our speaker's gloomy disposition is the fact that he sees this trip into the void of death as something that will happen "soon." No wonder this guy can't sleep.
Line 19 really jumps out in this stanza partly because it's super-short compared to the other lines. This wasn't an accident.
Larkin didn't forget how to count syllables and he didn't just get lazy.
The end of line 18 and line 19 are key. They let us know what the speaker really fears: "Not to be here, / Not to be anywhere." Larkin uses form to highlight these lines.
"Not to be here," comes at the end of line 18, so it's already going to stand out visually a little bit. But just to give it some added ummph, Larkin puts a full-stop, a period, in the middle of the line. That way, the second half of the line gets even more attention.
Line 19 really shakes things up. Instead of the usual 5 iambicfeet, this line has 2 dactylic feet. Say what?
Basically, Larkin changes the length and the rhythm of the line to really make it stand out in terms of how it looks and how it sounds. Hit up "Form and Meter" for a closer look.