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.
"V. fit 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?
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.
'The trees are coming into leafg
Like something almost being said ...'
You said it Phil.
I feel like a liar whenever I mark down a good book of poetry as 'read'. You don't read it straight through, and you don't ever finish it. With poetry (and memorable fiction) you go back and reference the good bits infrequently. Larkin's joining that group, no question.
So what if the man is a shitheel? What he created will endure, beautiful and decayed as it is.