Collected Poems

by Philip Larkin

Paperback, 1993





Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1993), Edition: Reprint, 358 pages


One of the best-known and best-loved poets of the English-speaking world, Philip Larkin had only a small number of poems published during his lifetime. "Collected Poems" brings together not only all his books--"The North Ship," "The Less Deceived," "The Whitsun Weddings," and "High Windows-"--But also his uncollected poems from 1940 to 1984. This new edition reflects Larkin's own ordering for his poems and is the first collection to present the body of his work with the organization he preferred. Preserving everything he published in his lifetime, the new "Collected Poems" is an indispensable contribution to the legacy of an icon of twentieth-century poetry.

Media reviews

New Yorker
Larkin had the gift of reuniting poetry at its most artful with ordinary speech at its most unstudied – at its least literary. Though a scholar to the roots, he was not being perverse when he posed as a simple man. He thought that art should be self-sufficient. He was disturbed by the way
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literary studies had crowded out literature. But none of this means that he was simplistic. Though superficially a reactionary crusader against modernism, a sort of latter-day, one-man Council of Trent, he knew exactly when to leave something unexplained.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member fieldnotes
Because the section of Larkin's "Early Poems" makes the final third of this collection a rather unrewarding slog, "Collected Poems" sat on my "currently reading" shelf for nearly a year. Then I decided that I didn't need to read every one of the poems that Larkin himself downplayed and shuffled
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from the spotlight in order to consider this book "read." I read it, from page 3 to page 221 and now and then, in disappointed little moments, I read bits of the final hundred pages.

Before I try describing Larkin's poetry and try understanding why I like him, let me devote a few sentences to people with less time. Read: "Solar;" "The Building;" "The Old Fools;" and "Aubade." These are longer poems, crafted around Larkin's favorite themes in some of his best language. They are sharp, entertaining, acidic and reduced. If you don't enjoy them, I don't think you should bother with Larkin's shorter, less thoughtful (and often mopier) pieces. After these, if you still have a taste, try reading "If, My Darling;" "At thirty-one, when some are rich;" "Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album" and "Dockery and Son." From there, I think it is all downhill--not far and not horribly; but downhill nonetheless.

Often, Larkin's poems proceed in relatively normal narrative English only to reach their justification in well-condensed phrases that seem to resonate with existential despair: "stumbling up the breathless stair/ To burst into fulfillment's desolate attic." "sat through days of thin continuous dreaming;" or, of Religion, "That vast moth-eaten musical brocade/ Created to pretend we never die."

He has a knack for reducing things, for articulating the non-participant's, curmudgeonly perspective, complete with well-deployed informal profanity. He atomizes adornment, ceremony and cheerfulness, holding them by the tips of his fingers, as if they reek. It entertains me that he describes three married couples as follows: "Adder-faced singularity/ Espouses a nailed-up childhood,/ Skin-disease pardons/ Soft horror of living,/ A gabble is forgiven/ By chronic solitude." It entertains me because it is typical of him to reduce people to their worst, and typical that he goes on to rob these unions of their romance by depicting them all "tarnish[ing] at quiet anchor."

In Larkin's poetry, context will always get you in the end. Senility beckons, death looms, promises are already breaking and every man outmaneuvers himself in an effort to avoid the fear of all that is failed and meaningless.Still, it's good fun. He's one of the most winning grouches I remember reading and was probably an superior drunk.
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LibraryThing member whitsunweddings
True story: I was once on a train that stopped at what I thought was Hull (but actually turned out to be Doncaster, because wow, I suck) and this very good looking young man got on and we gave each other the ~eye. Being the dithering ditherer that I am, I sent my friend the following text:
"V. fit
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young man on train. Potential opening gambit: "Hello, are you excited to be in the land of Philip Larkin?" I am sure this will lead to mucho canoodling."
To which my friend responded:
"But what if he doesn't like yr Larkin?"
My adour was instantly cooled by the (quite likely) prospect, not unlike Colin Firth jumping into a pond. I did not have a brief and tragic romance with the young man, nor did I even bother talking to him. I put on my headphones and listened to early Manic Street Preachers albums while gazing at the English countryside. Moodily.
This is what Philip Larkin does to you. He gets inside your head and COCKBLOCKS YOU FROM THE GRAVE. He makes you take his poems as usernames, and then tempts you to consider visiting Hull which, might I remind you, has been voted the shittest town in Britain on more than one occassion!
You should definitely read this collection... unless you want to have sex or be happy ever again, but who needs that?
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LibraryThing member dawnpen
Oh Philip Larkin. I read your aubades and I do like them or at least I did. But you are kind of a smartass, in this British way, as to ruin something about the poem by making it hard. At least that's what I remember. I might be too entrenched in the Black Mountains to appreciate the office humor of
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Larkin. Sorry fella. You get 3 stars.
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LibraryThing member gregtmills
Larkin's poetry is laser precise: he writes fine, delibrate phrases with strict rhythm, never indulging in broad ambiguity. He writes what he means, usually meditations on his being a misfit. He's grumpy, regretful, selfish, stubborn and prone to pursuits of the flesh. He's also completely owns up
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to all his faults and writes these trim, funny little confessionals, to the benefit of anyone who speaks English and reads poetry.
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LibraryThing member Jennifertapir
Re-reading these I still think he is one of the really great poets of the 20th century - although maybe only of a few poems rather than his whole compass of work.
LibraryThing member leslie.98
I really liked these poems, which I found to be deceptively simple.
LibraryThing member scottcholstad
I never really enjoyed or appreciated poetry -- especially that of the "masters" they continually shoved down your throat year after year throughout your educational experience. I mean, is there any official academic ban of a little damn diversity in poets and poetry being taught??? I recall asking
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a couple of professors why we never read or studied certain prominent poets and got the reply that they weren't worthy of it, weren't good enough to take seriously, etc. So while I have far too much education and too many degrees, the fact is as always, tradition academics devoid of open minds and creativity continually decide the appropriate "canon," simply by recycling the same sh*t every year. I grew to hate Dylan Thomas with a passion, felt like puking when reading Plath, took years for me to appreciate Yeats, etc. If they didn't cram it down your throat every year, I don't think I would have been a poetry-hating English major! Thankfully, one professor quietly pointed me to Larkin as a poet who might appeal to me, and he was right! While not every poem resonated with me, I found relief in Larkin and simply quality poetry that was generally overlooked or ignored in academia. Naturally, I read everything of his that I could. LOL! It wasn't too long, though, before I stumbled across the two poets who would both shape my own life and my own writing: Ferlinghetti and Bukowski, both of whom I had the pleasure of later meeting and getting to know and I will always treasure the various autographed books and other things they each gave me, but I've often wondered if I would have even found them, let alone come to appreciate them so much, if it weren't for Larkin in the first place. I continue to remain grateful to him and his poetry for helping me to turn away from my hatred of poetry by realizing that there were many legitimate alternatives from the same old dusty boring "masters" forever taught in the schools and who gives a damn what some Ivory Tower academic says about what is or is not acceptable quality -- it's purely subjective, and the fact is, both Ferlinghetti and Bukowski have been far more popular and successful than any other American poets, with the sole possible exception of Ginsberg. If you haven't read Larkin, do so and I think you may find yourself surprised at what you read, ideally in a positive way. Obviously recommended.
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LibraryThing member elahrairah
Reading through Larkin's Collected Works it seems clear that he struggled with poetry - that there was poetry inside him is undoubted - in its creation, in what he wanted it to be and what he was lauded for. There are two basic types of Larkin poetry: 1. the wry, internalised observations of the
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world; and 2. more formal poetry about nature and abstracted visions of women. The first are the poems that everyone knows, that play around with form or abandon it altogether, and show an almost unique voice. The second are all the rest, that are generally pretty boring, if worthy. Without the first he would only ever have been a minor poet. But it feels like the second type are the ones he wanted to do, as his Collected Works is full of them. Perhaps the first only came out in times of 'f*ck this poetry lark' stress? I don;t know, but there are some amazing works here in amongst the lesser pieces.
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