On Philip Larkin Author(s): JAMES ATLAS Reviewed work(s): Source: The American Poetry Review, Vol. 6, No.

4 (July/August 1977), pp. 18-19 Published by: American Poetry Review Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27775647 . Accessed: 26/04/2012 06:38
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it alto rather than abandoning gether. in the stores. coming as he does from a working-class background. the sombre back always against drop of claustrophobic villages and bleak winter afternoons. expressed prefer ence for the early Yeats. a direct result of his life in England the having made real subject of his work. men tion of High Windows was consis among the dia tently appearing England. I suspect. offers only a brief. with an effect so sub dued that the poems. reading through them. once political. one was written by the Eng the Times) and the other by Rich an Irish poet (in the ard Murphy. at least in part. Yeatsian exercises. crying out against their im that such order. His metaphors crude: "All the unhurried day / Your mind lay open like a drawer of knives". With unobtainable in a few weeks it had gone into a second printing." Yeats. by tradition. are exemplary: rose and fell about fied dreams them. Lar kin's first poems were imitative. and Harold critics. American poets were. child hood. and Spender has enlarged upon this writ theme by setting American ers in direct opposition to their coun more conservative English our In Ameri his view. Do memories plague their ears Kke flies?"). verged were often prose. Larkin's first Kingsley book of poems. Oxford self. ance seems disallowed in this un remitting landscape where Spring is "gratuitous" and fulfillment is a "desolate attic. alienated sensibility that characterizes of the many works of his generation. its use is largely polemical. giv en this evidence of at least occa sional reciprocity. I was thousand twenty copies. But it is not enough to simply notice this. contemporary British po etry is hardly read over here. aside from their sheer tech casion for polemic.. A Girl in Sylvia Plath in England. every ten years). Straus & Giroux. ued through the era of Henry James to exert some imaginative hold. even acrimonious: XXI I dreamed Where James Atlas That And To And of an out-thrust arm of land gulls blew over a wave On One Philip Larkin and histori ries. was the poems' informing pres ence. like space heaters and high tea. told with a repetitive insistence that even poign excludes enthusiasm. Phil a I think. which of Twentieth Century an oc edited before him and made Some sentences of A Girl in closing and her Winter. new book sold a $6. generation England. Whose fell along miles of sand. and his first novel lowed a year later. lately. Like all such rubrics. while theirs is muted laconic. such destiny. In 1947. and critics in the weekly press were talking about how one could enter a room of non-literary people and find that everyone had read it. just and found it before Christmas. his diction awkward and barren of music. Larkin has been concerned with the local. provides ip Larkin. Despite his own in the intro modest disclaimers duction he wrote for a later edi tion (an irritating habit. too. case. and his por trait of her relations with an up per class English family achieved a fine sense of the languor and re moteness that reflect the latter's insularity. despite their on rhetorical brilliance. England is. and dismiss them. a helpful reader has written in at the bottom of each page a few of interpretation: words death (this appears several times). its language and the feel of its experience no less alien than ours is to them. about his "hero's background". but his inclina appeared tions in that period were toward fol fiction. Larkin's thousand copies. with the of Ted Hughes (and exception some will say the late David Jones). a foreign country. letters column of the Times Liter rude accusations ary Supplement know that Americans nothing to scan about metre. and rain platform. his intro recent edition lrThis volume in paper els have tions. black flowers were dead. terparts. marked the beginning of Larkin's pre-occupation with the depressed character of contemporary life. His appeared by Faber also just in new Where the novels had shown a in both genuine independence. a British institution. use of convention. town of Huddles the industrial ford to which he returns after a it German air raid has demolished is portrayed with all the detached pathos of Engels describing Man chester.2 the rough-hewn. that. particu larly the novels of John Wain and Amis. the chronicle of life's worn surfaces. but the idea has gained general currency through critics like A. re in a style of deliberate corded In my library copy. the will. The in critical axiom prevalent of any comparison contemporary and American poetry is English that ours is now the richer. All the same. It is not simply the fact of Lar kin's restrained and decorous him that makes inaccessible style to us. High Windows. It is the tradition of Hardy rather than Yeats. and all that made for protest. gracelessness. to 'old-fash the only alternative ioned' poetry. The dour landscape his no him inhabit identifies parents less ambiguously than the schol un ar's robe he wears. when he was writing Jill. the wind climbed up the caves tear at a dark-faced garden in. broke round a house we slept A drawn blind and a bed. circumspect. he could look upon the grace and sadness of a world toward which he would eventually become re signed. Larkin dem a remarkable mastery onstrated of English speech. over the sturdy rhetoric of his later work. had what one could almost call a note of benevolent observation that was lost when Larkin's voice became more pointed and sardon ic later on. was highly evoca tive. Against this knowledge. cradling a wife or child.1 in 1945. ex isted. Why is it then. well-mannered more troduction to (and gives space than to Yeats). Alvarez an audi for obtaining sponsible ence for Lowell. life? and love grows old. over there when it came out. And Larkin's great popularity is. was plished enough to suggest that he could have gone on with this form. to such generous In contrast one still finds in the appraisals. duction to The North Ship in its is equally coy). encounters dilemmas of subtle does seem to be. pos gee working the sort of detachment sessed that his earlier protagonist had known from within.95).. The North Ship. can poets' literary prodigality and experiments with form have an effort to represented always from a domina free themselves contin tion that. his novel war-time about Oxford. Here. Jill is probably of limited in terest to those unfamiliar with are characters Oxford. and the same argu ment could be made for Larkin. a German refu in a library. Larkin published a sec Winter. he de tected in them "not one aban ex doned self but several?the was for whom Auden schoolboy. when Katherine unwanted lover have just fallen "Unsatis asleep. the undergradu ate. after all. but in the end glad prejudice peculiar to the rigidand hierarchical class structure of In England. His prose style ismasterful. his latest collec sold some tion. influenced more by Auden and his circle than by any of their own compatriots. style and in their themes. mov dia ing easily between colloquial of and the revelation his logue characters' inward consciousness. could be fairly said that Larkin is. Hardy Page 18 The American Poetry Review . It was as if. and the immediately post as he says. Stephen Spender. the Ro mantic poems of his Celtic period. in youth. Jill re-issued two nov edi has recently been & Faber. Alvarez in and. the confined lives of the poor in a Northern city. There is a haunting. Larkin's his to the traditional adherence de accom vices of the novel. Berryman. notably a have Bloom. evocative in quality to many of the poems The North Ship that I wish Lar kin had strengthened through the necessary insights of maturity..JAMES James Atlas's Giroux biography in the fall. ond (and last) novel. and managed to enliven what would otherwise have been a rather commonplace narrative by depicting with great vividness the landscape of Oxford in theWar years. his depiction of the relentless urban landscape. In this early novel. one can only agree with Larkin's tepid estimate. privileged undergrad uates who their make always presence known there. while his protagonist. where promi nent writers annually record their favorite books of the year. more daring and diverse. that Folded fullof thedark silk ofdreams. cal novels that are always popu in it was lar. could at last sleep. in ally. characteristic Larkin. ATLAS of Delmore Schwartz will be published by Farrar. Relations: his book Love-Hate and American Sensibili English was of course re ties. It York Review New of Books). In some ways a brilliant and precocious book (he began itwhen he was only twenty one). the heart. The next decade's work (and a book as if Larkin has published on schedule. for a time. These are the poems' themes. His narrator. Larkin in The Less Deceived turned to the poetic counterpart of Natural ism. but the very foreignness of his subject. Straus and nical these poems competence. Larkin's the callow. seem to toward gravitate general innova unprincipled prosodie tions. autobiographies." placability. Driving One man restlessly waiting a train While round the streets the wind runs wild. And of the two that did ap reviews prominent pear." As if in reac tion to the generosity of feeling at work in his earlier poems. lish critic Christopher Ricks (in across a darkening autumn. In both these novels. When published America (Farrar. col in The Less lected Deceived. it has to be re and membered that both Eliot in Pound initiated their careers a and later. each Beating seems A shell of sleep shuttered house. From the first. un 2Another has Book Yeats been canonization sign of Larkin's his editorship of The Oxford Verse. and. Oxford's mistakable emblem of the schol arship student's origins. XXII One man Dawn a deserted walking coming. are unable verse in and English properly. In the Sun day London Times. Evaluating them twenty years later.

And knots of rail Bright Past standing Pullmans. $7. Box 255 POETS ON. and one can see why. reveal Larkin other poems seem to prefigure the weary tones adopted ?npleasant. (deadline April 1st. think Larkin's will be found want ing. Travelling Stood ready to be loosed with all the power That And A being slowed changed again. and is nowhere. we either have it. somewhere becoming rain. We Taking pills or wearing I know this is paradise a diaphragm old has dreamed Everyone lives? of all their Acts Legendary JOHN OWER Conceived in the modernist tradition. the deep shows Nothing. Ruth Stone. DC 20015 Clip thisad for $1 discount on any tape. In current $5. compares. more allows the image to restrained. in the title poem. $3. Robert Susan Ralph Jackman The reading. $3. there is a long tradition in our century of writers expressing their hatred of the commonplace bourgeoisie. The subject of the poem. Conn 06235 on a semi-annual LOVING poetry magazine. blackened moss Came close. Snodgrass. language bland. teens Fingerfuck Images that huge screen's fill their vacant eyes. is the theme of Issue #3 (deadline Novem is the theme of Issue #4 ber 1st. yet. and then with a sense of quasi-mystical assent: / thought sun.50 cloth POETRY and it's available P. forty years or sweating This is not to implythatLarkin And thought. now I can drive back Nowhere else in this volume does the such power. Slum and steelmill reddening the hot pits where our Past drive-ins. After Auden's death.50 cloth.wit. Deborah Cramer and Alex Smith Second Richard A t The University ucJLcut's Fourteenth lace Stevens Program of Connecti Annual Wal on April 6 from his own in the Calaluce and Prize.00 yearly.95 than paper $7. lamenting the ugli ness of industrial England in ill tempered. It was with the publication. Larkin's greatest the fusion of a rhap plishment. Pound and Eliot exempli fied a vigorous refusal of all that was ordinary.tpim. in a similar / stand. detailed Ship ture of his novels.or well get itfor y oui BLACK BOX /Box 4174 Wash. Eberhart. of English elo poets. though. With Larkin.' the most promising is The "This is a remarkable Republic. $7.D. in this mili would be compelling and secular tantly democratic one can for account How else age. of birds. And high windows: sun-comprehending beyond it. brakes took hold. Here mood: Who's Home is Snodgrass.95 paper The University of Georgia Press Athens 30602 Page 19 July/August 1977 . wedding parties enter ing a train where the narrator sits alone. There is a certain daring to Lar of idiom.) S. Rochelle Owens. done nothing to deserve his reputation. avoids by convention. Somehow. the reaction ary attitudes of Yeats. I think espe cially of the closing stanzas from the title poem of his last collec tion: has / wonder Anyone looked if back. blue air.O. hampered the self-consciousness that has al ways been Larkin's most obvious flaw. John Ower's poetry fuses and paradox with amythic awareness of reality to reflect irony.E. Lyn Lifshin. the kin's employment re brutal vocabulary and casual one if and frains. half-facetious rhymes. He writes: When And I see a couple of kids guess he's fucking her and she's Larkin's is. his best poems are no fewer than most poets can hope to produce. That'll be the life.50 If it's The The Journey Begins VERN RUTSALA every day. His poetry ranges over a wide spectrum ofAmerican life. his present achieved eminence. his unsubtle use of obscenity to a parallel passage I in a poem by W. JAYANTA MAHAPATRA in"our world Review. Prince of Lies seen bliss. spoiling the rural land Estates scape with grim Housing the until it threatens to become "first slum of Europe. Lar kin's tradition. dark Wilbur read poems and awarded prizes to student winners of the poetry contest: First Prize.A.50 cloth as the tightened there swelled sense Sent of falling. quence). Ch. typi cal of the British temperament. he sees monotony. Heisenberg Variations"?New book of poems"-?Virginia Quarterly Review. the place where we live. This is." Mingled inwith this regret is an obsession with his own aging that. if one may say so. is treated with a great deal more charity and less cynicism Windows: than is Larkin's habit inHigh his contempt pered by humility that the result is a poem of uncommon wisdom about how hope depends on a kind of innocence lost to the speaker forever. and just when his reputation is more secure than ever. and A Rain "Few contemporary poems these"?Vernon Young. Nevertheless. in High Windows. over ten years ago. from the ti tle poem alone. unlike ambivalent Yeats's contempla in one an tion of "The young other's arms. Tagliabue. The effect of the meas and ordered ured pentameters stanzas is to move us relentlessly from pastoral repose to the intru the boisterous break newlyweds ing in upon the poet's melancholy solitude. and these alone justify his current stature. $7.. like an arrow-shower out of sight. Hudson of Rites impress me more cloth.S. Contemporary Poetry frail and what it held coincidence. Lar moeurs? kin's pose is that of the tight lipped elder. their impulse was to transcend rather than imitate the conditions that oppressed them. b AI write for our catalog: TAPE The Heisenberg JOHN BRICUTH Variations "Of the year's many 'first volumes. can give. at me. past shack the skies. having forfeited its capaci ty to shock by the hostile indiffer ence of its tone. No God any more. simply cannot support his What About hell and that. fi cept to wonder at the English delity to those who chronicle their past wreck and car lot. finally. that and is endless. (even aggressive colloquialism that most colloquial Wordsworth. with all its accre tions through time of nuance and echo." prompts him to be vindictive about their ignorance of history. the middle class. one feels that to do more he no longer aspires than represent the dispirited pos ture of resignation that has fallen over England. and it was walls of this In all these poems. in he appears. High to have been temporar Windows. is crucial in the second major collection of poems by a well-known poet. of London spread packed out in the like squares as we raced is so tem sion of social life in the formof Its postal districts of wheat There across we were aimed. These two stanzas suggest to me one of the crucial differences between Ameri can and British poetry now. some un kindly critics were saying that we to invent "a new have would a figure whose authority Auden". Wyndham Lewis. ily mastered by his limitations.) ENDINGS requested. nearly done. Unleavened by his vi pity or even by nostalgia. the complexities and tensions of human experience. His own joyless passage becomes an example of excluded ness against which he struggles at first reluctantly. and the prizes have been generously by the sponsored Hartford Insurance Group. Snodgrass. sodic intensity reminiscent of the in The North Yeatsian poems tex the with rich. Of course. cultivated while less Snodgrass. Lisel Mueller. Everywhere the vulgar rituals of desuetude. to my accom mind.on life sentimental commentaries that are. a sort of lurid gain intensity by placing it among others that pos sess an equal force. sion of contemporary is England of a nation evolving blindly toward the future. ex the success ofHigh Windows. Subscriptions issue new poems by Piercy. of The just that Larkin Whitsun Weddings. He And his lotwill all go down the long slide Like free bloody immediately Rather The And than words comes the thought glass.or having to hide you think of the priest.

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