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Collected Poems by Philip Larkin

  • In one sentence: The apotheosis of contented British miserabilism: Housman, if honest about his appetites; Lawrence with a sense of humour; Auden plus even more jazz..
  • Number of reads: 2 since 2006.
  • Galef type: Data 3 - that highlight patterns in the world , &
    Style 3 - tickles your aesthetic sense in a way that obliquely makes you a more interesting, generative thinker.
  • To be read when: ill, heartbroken, young, old, cynical, hopeful.

Of the consuming fear of death, sexual frustration, impostor syndrome: Britain.

He was forever overawed by lack of control over his life; we are left with his superlative control of form. Motifs are well-known: the hostile wind heard from the cold attic; the diminishing of strength; the fall of desire - without a matching fall in the desire to desire; the conviction that age is not running out of time, but running out of self. These are not moans: he loves jazz and booze and other things that make death recede. He’s vulgar, and wields it, but never as a punchline; what startsGroping back to bed after a piss” will end with the universe:
The hardness and the brightness and plain
far-reaching singleness of that wide stare
Is a reminder of the strength and the pain
Of being young; that it can’t come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.
There’s too much in this volume. I mean that as criticism of its editor, not as expression of Larkin’s o’erflowing sublimity. But that too, actually: “Sad Steps”, “Aubade”, “For Sidney Bechet”, "No Road", and “Continuing to Live” are among my favourites.

By ’72 his bitterness and fear had overcome his kindness, and he dried up, leaving doggerel for mates and nasty biz like “The Old Fools” or “The Card Players”. And yet even after three years of this came “Aubade”. I avoided the juvenilia, perhaps even out of superstitious respect.