I’m given to understand that US Dangerous Minds readers are much less likely to have read Philip Larkin than our British readers, in which case I may have the great, great pleasure of introducing at least some of you to arguably the most indelible English poet since W. H. Auden.
Jazz enthusiast, librarian, right-winger… labels and clichés cling to Larkin’s persona and legacy with peculiar tenacity. Certainly he was in many ways a conservative writer (Larkin expressed particular hatred for “the three Ps”—Ezra Pound, Charlie Parker, and Picasso, whom he blamed for “ruining” their respective art forms). Yet, as it dawned on me when I sought and found the following splendid recordings of some of his greatest poems, read by the author himself, had Larkin and (say) Bob Dylan both kept an artistic swearbox to hand, Larkin’s would be the fuller—courtesy of the instantaneously memorable, oddly iconic (as much so, in its own way, as “Howl”) “This be the Verse”…
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.
Following this there’s the magnificently black “Aubade,” then the more elaborate, demanding but equally brilliant “The Whitsun Weddings” (possibly two of the best poems in the English language). Finally, there’s a gentle, amusing documentary portrait (Love and Death in Hull) of the personal life of this much read, much loved and much maligned writer.
“This be the Verse”
“The Whitsun Weddings”