Maya Rock's Reviews > Collected Poems

Collected Poems by Philip Larkin
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Jul 17, 07

really liked it
Read in January, 1995

Philip Larkin is bleak. Maybe too bleak. While I liked his poems when they entered my life, at this point I have to say that although I still admire the rhythm of them, I kind of feel like Philip Larkin is the boy who never grew up. However I do very much like this poem which I used to have pinned up on my bulletin board:

Wild Oats

About twenty years ago
Two girls came in where I worked -
A bosomy English rose
And her friend in specs I could talk to.
Faces in those days sparked
The whole shooting-match off, and I doubt
If ever one had like hers:
But it was the friend I took out,

And in seven years after that
Wrote over four hundred letters,
Gave a ten-guinea ring
I got back in the end, and met
At numerous cathedral cities
Unknown to the clergy. I believe
I met beautiful twice. She was trying
Both times (so I thought) not to laugh.

Parting, after about five
Rehearsals, was an agreement
That I was too selfish, withdrawn
And easily bored to love.
Well, useful to get that learnt,
In my wallet are still two snaps,
Of bosomy rose with fur gloves on.
Unlucky charms, perhaps.

How great is that--I also really like the idea of thinking someone you admire is trying not to laugh at you. I agree, it is so hard to tell if that is in your head or not.

And you can't of course beat the opening lines of this one:

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

--Philip Larkin

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message 1: by Lorraine (last edited Sep 15, 2008 05:35PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lorraine Actually I don't think Philip Larkin is that bleak. Or if he was, he was bleak in a very positive kind of way. Seamus Heaney makes a very good point concerning Larkin: "There survives in him a repining for a more crystalline reality to which he might give allegiance. When that repining finds expression something opens and moments occur which deserve to be call visionary. Because he is suspicious of any easy consolation, he is sparing of such moments, yet when they come they stream into the discursive and exacting world of his poetry with such trustworthy force that they call for attention..."

The thing that comes to mind, of course, is High Windows, "[the:] sun-comprehending glass/ and beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows/ nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless." While I don't completely agree with Heaney (it's complicated, and probably best chucked into my research paper on larkin!), I think there is a certain sublimity reached here. I speak of Kant's notion of the sublime: moments like this in Larkin are pleasurable because they remind us that there is something much more than what we know, something not wholly graspable by our human minds. And the sublime (the word itself!) transcends any empirical knowledge of the world that we might have.

Maya Rock I think my opinion of these kinds of things change with my experiences; and I don't remember every Philip Larkin poem so I can't speak for all of them; but for me at this point with him there is not enough self-awareness and kind of a sense that "everyone else must be lying about the joys of life where I always see the truth." I've often felt he's always blaming everyone around him or society in general for his own unhappiness, and that's something I associate with my own childhood way of dealing with the world.

But that's just how I feel about him now which doesn't make it more right or wrong than the way I used to feel or the way you feel.

Lorraine Hmm sorry but I was responding to the argument that Larkin was too bleak. Whether he thinks he always knows the truth is a different matter. You can think you know the truth all the time and not be bleak about it. The two ideas are not necessarily linked, and I don't see how the bleakness relates to what you're saying right now.

Secondly, interestingly enough, I'm not sure you can say that about Larkin. I feel that Larkin was simply a skeptic by nature. He was skeptical about everything; he was a romantic (in certain ways he harks back to Hardy, as the critics rightly note). The combination of the two often leads to disappointment (see also: Next, Please). I feel that being wholly responsible for everything is an ideological function. While it is certain that we have a certain amount of agency to do what we want, society does exert its control over us. We are not responsible for all the things that screw up in our lives, I feel.

Thirdly, I completely disagree that there is not enough self-awareness in him. If you read Larkin's letters, he shows a self-reflexivity about his own grumpy self. Larkin, as an undergraduate at least, loved DH Lawrence and WH Auden. It is worth noting that Larkin felt that literature was a personal thing, not an impersonal thing (hence, to Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent", he might have replied "bum"). I suspect that if he included a whole lot of self-reflexivity in his poetry, he might have thought it aesthetically displeasing: clunky, not beautiful. It was Larkin who said he believed that beauty was beauty, and truth truth (they are not equivalent, as Keats claimed in his poem "Ode to a Grecian Urn", if you want the reference). And he aimed for beauty -- his letters seem to show the he believed that the search for a single 'truth' was more or less futile (indeed he would think so, being a skeptic!). To Larkin poetry was what "thrilled one" (he says this repeatedly, in frustration, in his letters), and is a distinctly personal matter. So it's not right to say he had no self-awareness, perhaps he just felt that self-awareness should not be a huge part of poetry at all -- you write what you feel basically.

Larkin wasn't stupid, after all, and he ran a huge staff at the University of Hull. But Larkin the man and Larkin the poet, as Motion says, are two different (if related) people. Larkin's social commentary was often very caustic... as you see here he's making a comment on the irresponsibility of kids just demanding what they want. I don't think he actually *blames* anyone, he just is very *critical* and *skeptical*. And that personal touch to his poems, combined with the often social commentary in his poetry, can give the impression that he is blaming everyone....

Maya Rock This is a well thought out argument but I was reacting on an emotional level so I'm not sure if anything you say is going to affect my reaction to his poetry.

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