BY PHILP LARKIN
‘Mr Bleaney’ by Phillip Larkin is essentially a poem about a circumstantial situation that is given as dramatic monologue, and rather like a drama, tells a story that is full of lucid mystery. There are two distinct scenes in the poem, in the first, which occupies the first three stanzas, of this seven-stanza poem. The reader is presented with a landlady showing a perspective lodger a room that has been vacated by her previous tenant, the mysterious Mr Bleaney. Mysterious in that he seems to be an ethereal entity, and is never presented to the reader, except as a metaphor for what has gone before. Appearing in the first half of the poem in a recollected past, the landlady’s past. The first half of the poem is slow and deliberate and helps to create a macabre feel to the poem. A change of pace occurs in the second half of the poem though not immediately apparent. It does seem to be despairingly urgent, as Mr Bleaney subtly moves from a recollected past to an observed present, through his mediation with the new tenant.
Larkin has used the landlady and to some extent Mr Bleaney, as the focus for the humour in the poem but it is the landlady who comes across as the comic if somewhat pitiful character. The ironic humour is used as the lighter side of the poem to contrast its dark overtones and highlights the contrasting duality that is inherent throughout.
It becomes apparent as the drama unfolds that Mr Bleaney had been a simple but predictable man. As the landlady shows her client the dingy room in the first stanza, one gets a sense that the landlady regret’s the loss of her last tenant. It was his utterly predictable routine that she had come to depend on, and forces beyond her control had taken this away from her. In the tonal quality of the landlady’s speech one can almost hear the resignation in her voice and it almost sounds as if she’s tutting.
‘This was Mr Bleaney’s room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him.’
The reader is not told the reason for his departure, but it is inferred that ‘they’ moved him away, who ‘they’ are we are not told, the use of the word ‘Bodies’ would seem to suggest undertakers but in fact it could have been his employers. We are left to make our own decisions as to the fate of Mr Bleaney. Larkin’s use of the word ‘Bodies’ perhaps places emphasis on the landlady’s regret but it is in fact a colloquial term for manufacturers of Car bodies in the Midlands. A term, which has now sadly died out, along with what was once a thriving industry in the Midlands in the 1950s and 1960s the reader is given further clues to confirm the era in which the poem is set, (the Mid-1950s, which is when the poem was written). Such as ‘The jabbering set he egged her on to buy.’ Is in fact a crystal radio set, which were very popular items in post-war Britain, other clues may be gleaned by the social behaviour of Mr Bleaney, his going away in the summer holidays to stay with the ‘Frinton folk’ and visiting his sister’s at Christmas, practices that are no longer as popular as once they were. The setting of the Midlands is also confirmed later in the poem, during the lodger’s recall of Mr Bleaney’s habits.
–‘And Christmas at his sisters house in Stoke’-
But perhaps the most effective use of the word ‘Bodies’ is to give the opening scene a cold eerie feel that sets the ambience for the whole poem. This eerie feeling gradually builds into a dark brooding atmosphere that pervades throughout the whole poem, and as it develops becomes tinged with ironic pessimism. The poet’s choice of words contribute greatly to the impression ‘The frigid wind’ suggesting a cold ice laden wind but it also suggests how fragile life is and the situation the lodger finds himself in. The ‘fusty bed,’ with the associated smell it evokes, even the name ‘Bleaney’ suggests a ‘bleakness,’ phrases like ‘grinned and shivered, without...