Literary Connections: making the right connections with literature
Philip Larkin by Andrew Motion
Andrew Motion's

High Windows

Philip Larkin (1922 - 1985)

Larkin - the hermit of Hull

Larkin - librarian but not laureate (his own choice, that: he was offered the post a year before his death) - can seem preoccupied with how 'man hands on misery to man' (This Be The Verse). He even appears to describe himself, in Posterity, as 'one of those old-type natural fouled-up guys' and is reputed to have said: 'Deprivation is for me what daffodils were to Wordsworth.'

A similar tone can be heard in Vers de société in High Windows. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, this French term means 'witty, typically ironic, light verse, written with polish and ease of expression to amuse a sophisticated audience' - not (as one student tried to explain) someone excluded from society, though in a way that does catch something of what the narrator of the poem feels:

And sitting by a lamp more often brings
Not peace, but other things.
Beyond the light stand failure and remorse
Whispering Dear Warlock-Williams: Why, of course -

But beware of simplification and of being deceived by such an ironic voice: I think you'll find there's more to the old guy than that. Consider Sad Steps from High Windows, for example. Having read a batch of examination answers in which only one in twenty-two seemed to be aware of the reference to Philp Sidney, I've added this handy page on moon poems.

The Larkin voice?
Larkin, although he achieved considerable popularity, appears to have looked with a jaundiced eye on fame and followers. Perhaps he would have been surprised to know that Peter Forbes, on the British Council Contemporary Writers site, refers to Carol Ann Duffy having an "elegiac, personal voice, one that - after transposing the politics and gender and a few other things - was very like that of Larkin". See the Duffy page on this site to learn more.
Larkin on the web

Pretending to Be Me: Philip Larkin, a Portrait
Pretending to Be Me
Books - and audiobooks
  • High Windows - the current set text for AQA AS Level English Literature Specification A (LTA3).
  • High Windows is also available as a Penguin/Faber Audiobook read by Alan Bennett, which should be worth listening to.
  • The Whitsun Weddings is probably Larkin's best-known collection.
  • Andrew Motion: Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life - this biography by the current Poet Laureate caused some controvery because of its revelations about Larkin's private life and opinions. Probably not helpful if fed undiluted to students for LTA3 (context is not assessed)!
  • Stephen Regan (editor): Philip Larkin (New Casebooks Series) - the publishers say: "The essays in this volume abandon the tired cliches of an older critical consensus and offer a lively, provocative response to such issues as sexual politics, national identity and post-colonialism in the work of a writer widely regarded as the best Poet Laureate Britain never had."
  • Tom Courtenay's compilation, Pretending to Be Me: Philip Larkin, a Portrait is one of those times, said Sue Arnold in The Guardian, "when the right audio beats a book hands down".