Philip Larkin's Images

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Stanza forms and images in Philip Larkin

The various fields of art, just as all ways of life, in the twentieth century were deeply impacted by the horrifying experiences of the two world wars and especially the second one. English poetry was not an exception either. "Among the poets of this time there is often a sense of tiredness, of things being worn out, and of helplessness in the face of world events which they had no power to change or influence, so that the strongest poems are often those which describe personal experiences rather than world events." (Thornley & Roberts 191-192)

Poets who share the same social and political events may share a relatively similar outlook on them. They may share the same experiences, yet they always see things filtered through their individual lenses dealing with themes such as love, religion, birth, life and death. Philip Larkin is one of the best-known figures developing this poetical attitude towards the events of the past century. He was an outstanding poet in the "tradition of quietness", and represents a form of poetry in which "there is a sense that reality is dull and unattractive but that living through a dream is equally impossible. Real happiness seems only to have happened in the past…" (Thornley & Roberts 195) The main aim of this essay is to explore how two of Larkin's dominant images, (passing) time and religion are deployed in his poems to express the complexity of his sensing the modern world and how the stanza forms serve this intention.

Philip Larkin's poems usually start from a chance of observation, a conversation or a concrete experience. These events serve as an origin for the poet to form a general, universal statement. "At Grass" is an example of the expression of Larkin's deeply-rooted pessimism depicting the images of passing time and loneliness in old age. Also, according to Blake Morrison, the poem is "more than an emotion about racehorses in old age". He claims this is "one of the most popular post-war poems…by allowing the horses to symbolise loss of power. Larkin manages to tap nostalgia for a past glory that was England." (Reagan) The poem contrasts the state of race-horses and his attitude towards them by depicting two periods – the memorable and glorious past and the dark, gloomy present. You can be young, strong and celebrated but one day you will surely decline and, as he believes, memories will vanish just like flies from the ears of the horses with a mere shaking of the head. You will be neglected and lonely. This is Larkin's philosophy conveyed in the text. The poem consists of five stanzas containing six lines each. The stanzas follow a fixed rhyme scheme having the first three lines rhyme with the last three lines (i.e. abc abc, def def etc.). The only exception is the third (or middle) stanza in which the rhyme pattern is ggh ggh. This stanza is followed by a rhetorical question: "Do memories plague their ears like flies?" To me, it seems to be a rather sudden shift from the impressive descriptive voice into the rhetorical style. As if Larkin is to throw the readers out from the position of a passive listener and enforce them to respond on his meditation. The pairs of alliterative words (e.g. shade and shelter, fable and faint) further improve the musical quality of the lines.

In human life, passing time always assumes death whether we realize it or not. Nonetheless, "Larkin never uses death as a lever to urge people to improve their lives. It is simply always there, a 'fact of life' to be taken into account, casting its shadow over everything." (Without Metaphysics) Once however, death is considered, it seems unavoidable to face a number of questions. What is beyond death? What is the role of religious faith in our life? And anyway, must faith necessarily involve religious formality? Religion and Christian faith are central issues for many of Larkin's poems. "Church Going" discusses the diminishing role of Christian...
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