Philip Larkin - A Voice of Pain for This Century
On August 9, 1922, the poet Philip Larkin was born in the town of Coventry in England (Thwaite, Letters xvii). After graduating St. John’s College in Oxford in 1943 with a First Class degree, he worked at both the University College of Leicester and Queen’s College at Belfast before finally settling down at the University of Hull as Librarian in 1955 (Thwaite, Letters xviii). That same year, with the publication of his collection The Less Decieved, he "began to be recognized" (Thwaite, "Introduction" xv). His popularity continued to grow thereafter, and over the next twenty years amongst many awards and honorary doctorates he published two more highly acclaimed books of poetry, The Whitsun Weddings in 1964 and High Windows in 1974 (Thwaite, "Introduction" xvi). In 1984 he was offered the ultimate title of Poet Laureate, which he declined in part because of "shyness" and in part because of the "conviction that his poetry had deserted him" (Motion 510). With the words "I am going to the inevitable," he died a year later on Monday, December 2, 1985 (Motion 521).
During his stay at Oxford, Larkin was a member of a group called "the Movement, its revolt being against rhetorical excess or cosmic portentousness" (Ellmann and O’Clair 579). He held disdain for the intricate poetic approach of Eliot and Pound in which "first of all you have to be terribly educated, you have to read everything to know these things, and secondly you’ve got somehow to work them in to show that you are working them in" (Ellmann and O’Clair 579). Larkin instead pursued "a more even-tempered, conversational idiom, more accurate than magniloquent" (Ellmann and O’Clair 579). But this "even-temperament" did not prevent his writing from vividly depicting emotional swathes of fear, humor, pessimism, anger and despair. As his writing progressed, the revelation of his anguish became more and more explicit while his emptiness, brought on by the struggle to understand life, continued to deepen.
Larkin began writing poetry at an early age, with heavy influence from Keats, Auden, and, ultimately, Yeats (1974 (Thwaite, "Introduction" xviii-xix). In 1946, at the age of twenty-three, he began to "carry his own voice" and write poems that would thereafter "strike his characteristic note" (Thwaite, "Introduction" xv). The 1946 poem "And the Wave Sings Because It Is Moving" is an early example of the simple diction and brooding contemplation that came to characterize all of Larkin’s great works. The poem parallels humanity with the "together, apart, together" movement of waves, personifying the mortal need to "wish ourselves together, / Yet sue for solitude upon our meetings" (l. 3,6-7). The human heart itself is a wave, carrying "Laments, tears, wreaths" and "rocks" in a deluge of anxiety and sorrow (l. 14). "Silver-tongued like a share," the heart-wave "ploughs up failure, / Carries the night and day" and "fetches / Profit from...