Losing the pillar of religion in the 1950s, poets were not only less closely connected with tradition, but also had to face the threat that uch of the poetic language would disappear. It was in this context that Philip Larkin (1922–85) depicted the lives of the modern middle class, sing ordinary words in his poems.
This essay comprises two parts. The first summarizes research made into his life and the second studies 12 poems selected from Philip Larkin:
Collected Poems, ed. Anthony Thwaite (London: The Marvell Press, 1988).
Three features of his life are particularly noteworthy. His father, Sydney, was a strict, domineering figure at home and was forthright in his admiration of Nazi Germany, which doubtless influenced his young son's way of thinking. In the 1930s, many British citizens admired the efficiency of the Nazi regime, but Larkin's father was unique in that he spoke quite openly about it. Secondly, as a schoolboy Larkin entertained a very idealistic conception of the artistic life, an idea shared by his close friend J. B. Sutton. Sutton believed that he did not need either women or children, since he had to sacrifice himself for art. Thirdly, while working as a librarian, Larkin kept relationships with more than one woman sometimes simultaneously, although outwardly he appeared to be a lonely bachelor throughout Philip Larkin 47 his life.
In many of his poems, one recognizes two distinct voices. In "Deep Analysis," for example, a woman's voice accuses the poet's persona of being noncommittal.
"An April Sunday brings the snow" is an elegy of his father who left loads of plum jam. With his inner voice, the poet calls to his deceased father and asks him to come and enjoy them, despite his father's evident absence, a dialectic reminiscent of George Herbert's "Love (III)."
In "Wants" the man's voice in the opening stanza seeks solitude, but the female voice in the second stanza replies that one should live a life as everyone does.
In the first stanza of "Best Society" the poet is attracted to people with whom to socialize, whereas he rejects them in the following stanza, calling to mind the scene in which Eve asks Adam for permission to be alone in Milton's Paradise Lost, IX, 249.
"Toads" can be considered a man's reply to a woman who has expressed doubts about the poet maintaining the status quo. In the closing lines he prefers drudgery to living in accordance with inner desire even if this means that he comes to resemble a toad.
"The Importance of Elsewhere" contrasts life in Ireland and England, preferring the otherness of the former.
In "The Whitsun Weddings" the poet witnesses scenes of newly wedded couples celebrated by relatives and friends while he is on a railway journey. Although he regards marriage as a series of failures humans have experienced, he is induced to deny such a skeptic view and thinks that a new life might somehow begin.
"The Large Cool Store" inspires the poet to think about the laborers' life by day and night. It is puzzling to him why women like tinsel under 48 wear which is cheaply mass-produced and made of synthetic materials.
"The Explosion" deals with an accident that took place deep underground, a narrative of coal miners who were trapped below. The "eggs unbroken" of the last line is symbolic of the compassion in the community, new life and the hope of the next generation, recalling the scene in the third stanza.
Whereas in Paradise Lost, X, 979–89 Milton's Eve suggests in seriousness that she and Adam should die without issue, one cannot tell whether Larkin is serious or not in his solution to human misery in the last line of "This Be The Verse," which says ". . . don't have kids yourself." It is a poem on the sins handed down from one generation to the next.
"Cut Grass" tells of a short life and evasive youth harvested by the scythe of death, creating a mysteriously beautiful natural atmosphere.
"Love Again" presents the problem of the struggle between life and art. The author feels he is painfully awkward at building good elationships with women, imagining that his girlfriend must be cheating him and meeting a different man in his room.
Describing everyday scenes in his works, Larkin seeks a state beyond reality, and longs for some undisturbed world at the center of it all; oblivion, silence, self-abnegation, and death. In presenting this theme, he often makes use of two voices, exchanging one voice for another, to question what humans are and what he himself is.