Philip Larkin

English writer, jazz critic and librarian

Philip Arthur Larkin, CH, CBE, FRSL (9 August 19222 December 1985) was an English poet, novelist and librarian.

I never think of poetry or the poetry scene, only separate poems written by individuals.

Quotes edit

  • Poetry is an affair of sanity, of seeing things as they are, to recreate the familiar, eternalizing the poet's own perception in unique and original verbal form.
    • Required Writing-Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982 Farrar Strauss 1984
  • What was the rock my gliding childhood struck, / And what bright unreal path has led me here?
    • Lines from an early poem, letter to J.B. Sutton, 16 April 1941
  • Life and literature is a question of what one thrills to, and further than that no man shall ever go without putting his foot in a turd.
    • Letter to J.B.Sutton, 21 December 1942
  • If we seriously contemplate life it appears an agony too great to be supported, but for the most part our minds gloss such things over & until the ice finally lets us through we skate about merrily enough. Most people, I'm convinced, don't think about life at all. They grab what they think they want and the subsequent consequences keep them busy in an endless chain till they're carried out feet first.
    • Letter to J.B.Sutton 30 October 1949
  • I think … someone might do a little research on some of the inherent qualities of sex – its cruelty, its bullyingness, for instance. It seems to me that bending someone else to your will is the very stuff of sex, by force or neglect if you are male, by spitefulness or nagging or scenes if you are female. And what's more, both sides would sooner have it that way than not at all. I wouldn't. And I suspect that means not that I can enjoy sex in my own quiet way but that I can't enjoy it at all. It's like rugby football: either you like kicking & being kicked, or your soul cringes away from the whole affair. There's no way of quietly enjoying rugby football.
  • You know I don’t care at all for politics, intelligently. I found that at school when we argued all we did was repeat the stuff we had, respectively, learnt from the Worker, the Herald, Peace News, the Right Book Club (that was me, incidentally: I knew these dictators, Marching Spain, I can remember them now) and as they all contradicted each other all we did was get annoyed. I came to the conclusion that an enormous amount of research was needed to form an opinion on anything, & therefore I abandoned politics altogether as a topic of conversation. It’s true that the writers I grew up to admire were either non-political or Left-wing, & that I couldn’t find any Right-wing writer worthy of respect, but of course most of the ones I admired were awful fools or somewhat fakey, so I don’t know if my prejudice for the Left takes its origin there or not. But if you annoy me by speaking your mind in the other interest, it’s not because I feel sacred things are being mocked but because I can’t reply, not (as usual) knowing enough. … By the way, of course I’m terribly conventional, by necessity! Anyone afraid to say boo to a goose is conventional.
  • - to start at a new place is always to feel incompetent & unwanted.
    • Letter to Winifred Arnott, 7 October 1953
  • You can look out of your life like a train & see what you're heading for, but you can't stop the train.
    • Letter to Monica Jones, 22 October 1967
  • I never think of poetry or the poetry scene, only separate poems written by individuals.
    • Interview in The Review, published by Ian Hamilton (1972)
  • The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
    —The good not done, the love not given, time
    Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
    An only life can take so long to climb
    Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
    But at the total emptiness for ever,
    The sure extinction that we travel to
    And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
    Not to be anywhere,
    And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

    • "Aubade", Times Literary Supplement, 23 December 1977
  • The first day after a death, the new absence
    Is always the same; we should be careful

    Of each other, we should be kind
    While there is still time.

    • "The Mower," Humberside (Hull Literary Club magazine) (Autumn 1979) [12 June 1979]
  • Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.
    • Interview with Miriam Gross, "A voice for our time" in The Observer (16 December 1979); republished in Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces, 1955-1982 (1983)

The Less Deceived (1955) edit

  • But, o, photography! as no art is,
    Faithful and disappointing! That records
    Dull days as dull, and hold-it smiles as frauds,
    And will not censor blemishes,
    Like washing-lines, and Hall's-Distemper boards
    • Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album
  • And I, whose childhood
    Is a forgotten boredom,
    Feel like a child
    Who comes on a scene
    Of adult reconciling,
    And can understand nothing
    But the unusual laughter,
    And starts to be happy.
    • Coming
  • Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
    Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
    A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
    No waters breed or break.
    • Next, Please
  • But superstition, like belief, must die...
    • Church Going

The Whitsun Weddings (1964) edit

Get stewed:
Books are a load of crap.

The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

  • Our almost-instinct almost true:
    What will survive of us is love.
    • "An Arundel Tomb" (20 February 1956)
  • The glare of that much-mentioned brilliance, love,
       Broke out, to show
    Its bright incipience sailing above,
    Still promising to solve, and satisfy,
    And set unchangeably in order. So
       To pile them back, to cry,
    Was hard, without lamely admitting how
    It had not done so then, and could not now.
    • "Love Songs in Age" (1 January 1957)
  • Get stewed:
    Books are a load of crap.
    • "A Study of Reading Habits" (20 August 1960)
  • Never such innocence,
    Never before or since,
    As changed itself to past
    Without a word — the men
    Leaving the gardens tidy,
    The thousands of marriages,
    Lasting a little while longer:
    Never such innocence again.
    • "MCMXIV"
  • Life is first boredom, then fear.
    Whether or not we use it, it goes,
    And leaves what something hidden from us chose,
    And age, and then the only end of age.
    • "Dockery and Son"

This Be The Verse (1974) edit

  • They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
       They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
       And add some extra, just for you.
  • But they were fucked up in their turn
       By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
       And half at one another's throats.
  • Man hands on misery to man.
       It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
       And don't have any kids yourself.
    • "This Be The Verse," High Windows (1974) [April ? 1971]

About Larkin edit

  • Reprinted reviews are not, as a rule, easily acceptable, but this book of jazz criticism by a distinguished poet is a different case. For a start, the writing is as crisp as you might expect and the pieces, within their small compass, are beautifully shaped.
  • He believes the classic age was the 1920s and 1930s, an unfashionable view although I happen to share it. His great hero is Sidney Bechet, the soprano saxophonist, but his admiration in this area is widespread and he even allows white players other than Bix into his pantheon, another heresy.
  • His general thesis, a return to the human values of early jazz, is acceptable enough, but the waspish relish with which he attacks everything outside his own tastes is hysterical and in the end alienating, even to those of us who more or less agree with him.

External links edit

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