Non-Academic Poet

British Poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

Sometimes the greatest poets are not those favored by academics. Philip Larkin was not a prolific poet, yet what he wrote speaks volumes even to those who are not “academia nuts.” When I look back at 20th Century British poetry, I see him as one of the brightest literary lights of his time. Take for example the following:

Aubade

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

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;
But at the total emptiness 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.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

 

 

“This Be the Verse”

Is This Why the Poet Never Married?

I can’t believe that I’ve ignored Philip Larkin’s poetry for so long. I guess that’s what happens when you have too many damned books. This is one of my favorites by Larkin. It’s called:

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.

Apparently, the poet took these words to heart, as he never married or had children.

Serendipity: Philip Larkin’s Deafness

British Poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

Considering how much I like him, I wonder why I haven’t written about Philip Larkin before. Today, I read a piece in the Times Literary Supplement by his literary executor, Graeme Richardson, that contained some wonderful anecdotes, among which was the following.

Once Larkin was unable to have me to dinner in college, so we met for lunch instead, in a pub almost opposite Magdalen College called The Aldgate. A degree ceremony was taking place elsewhere in the city, and the bar where we had our beer and ham sandwiches was full of gownwearing graduates and their proud parents. One of these recent graduates (a “sweet girl graduate,” in fact), recognized Larkin and brought across her napkin for him to sign. Despite his reputation as a semi-recluse, and her obvious fear that he might growl and tell her to go away, he graciously did as she asked. As she withdrew clutching her trophy, I said something about her being pretty. “I know,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe what a disadvantage my deafness has been to me all my life. I shudder to think how many women have come up to me and said, ‘Take me, lover,’ only to have me reply, ‘Yes it is rather warm for the time of year, isn’t it.’”