I recently read “High Windows” by Philip Larkin, https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009R67L46/. Then, yesterday evening I discussed Larkin’s poetry with my old friend, Jeff.
Where I to be asked by someone unfamiliar with poetry, for a list of poets with whom they might start, Larkin would undoubtedly be amongst my recommendations. His verse is packed with meaning whilst not being overly difficult to grasp, making it an ideal starting place for the person with little, or no knowledge of poetry.
To state the above, is not to imply that Larkin’s verse is devoid of inner meanings – it is replete with them. However, his poetry can, I believe be appreciated by those who would be put off poetry for life where they to be introduced to Eliot’s “Wasteland” as their first taste of poetry. Whilst “The Wasteland” is a literary masterpiece, it is not an easy poem to grasp, and that is putting it mildly!
Turning specifically to “High Windows”, this short collection contains what is, in all probability the poet’s most famous poem, “This Be The Verse”, which begins “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”.
The above poem is not, in my view one of Larkin’s best poems, although I can, of course understand why it appeals to school children, who do, quite naturally, find something slightly subversive in “This be The Verse”.
A poem such as “The Old Fools” is much worthier of serious consideration. In it Larkin describes a group of elderly people, many of whom have (or are in the process of succumbing to dementia. Larkin’s description lacks sentimentality, and he acknowledges that all of us will become, in the end “old fools”.
Larkin can be cynical (or truthful depending on one’s point of view). In his poem, “Going, Going” he decries the destruction of the environment:
“For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn’t going to last,
That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts—
First slum of Europe: a role
It won’t be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.”
Cynical? or truthful? you pays your money and you makes your choice.
In fact, “Going, Going” contains both elements of cynicism and truthfullness. But it is also a passionate defense of the environment, not from a left-wing perspective (for Larkin was a Conservative). Rather it is a poem decrying the impact of the masses on the natural world. and the commercial interests who are, in Larkin’s view, only too happy to build more shopping centres, factories, houses Etc.
I recommend “High Windows”.