Quick Notes on Philip Larkin

These are mostly notes and observations I am writing for myself as I prepare for the Contemporary Poetry section of my comps. I will try to do this with each poet I read. Maybe the notes will be useful to others, too. Again, they are notes and observations. They are not thesis-driven arguments.


Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985) was an English poet, and one of England’s most favorite poets. He’s also canonized. In his time, he released four collections of poetry: The North Ship, The Less Deceived, The Whitsun Weddings, and High Windows. He works well with iambs and anapests, and is best with his biting, sarcastic wit. He follows the Modernist poets and even the second wave of Modernist poets in the 1930s, who returned to the romantic a bit and wrote more accessible poetry. Larkin, however, goes even further. His poems are essentially surface poems. Allusions, if any, are rare. Not that allusions make for good or even Modernist poetry, but that is an example of how his surface poems turn from the two waves of Modernism. His poetry can be fully understood with one reading. There is nothing to look up (aside from an occasional word), nothing to ponder, not much tension in the language. In fact, his poems feel like they are a hobby of his, which a critic pointed out and seems right to me. I’m not really sure who the audience is for sure, but it feels like he is just writing to entertain himself of a few friends. If it weren’t for some words and contemporary references, I would think he was Edwardian poet or a Romantic poet. He’s a poet out of time, and I don’t gather how his poetry is so admired. It’s almost like he’s England’s version of Robert Frost, but without the depth and integrity. With all that said, “Aubade” might one of the best English-written poems about death.


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