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Analysis of Philip Larkin's Modesty

By alexcinca May 26, 2014 394 Words
Modesties Analysis – Alejandro López Cinca

Words as plain as hen-birds' wings 
Do not lie, 
Do not over-broider things - 
Are too shy. 

Thoughts that shuffle round like pence 
Through each reign, 
Wear down to their simplest sense 
Yet remain. 

Weeds are not supposed to grow 
But by degrees 
Some achieve a flower, although 
No one sees. 

This is apparently a humble poem. The content and the form are both about the same thing regarding simplicity or, as the title denotes, modesty. It does not express very complex ideas even though they can be considered as important ones. The lines vary in length giving the poem a bounce, like some kind of internal discussion where the speaker argues with himself drawing a rhythm or pattern that, even inorganic in principle, with assonance rhyming and more or less fixed number of syllables, it is constructed in a way that finally matches the static tone of a modest prayer, where the speaker emphasises the main ideas providing them as some kind of chorus. The poem partially exposes the manifesto of this generation of poets, with their rejection to romanticism or excess in general in poetry, trying to achieve a more real and closer poetry not full of symbolism conveyed by obscure words and expressions and intricate emotions. In this way, the poem in the first stanza states how these plain or more simple words and ideas are truer, they ‘do not lie’, they ‘are too shy’ to do so, and, therefore, in this sense more genuine maybe, not covered with the mud of complexity, speaking openly the mind of the poet. The second stanza expands this concept of truth. No matter how far you shuffle your own thoughts or for how long, wearing them away, ‘wearing them down’, eventually they ‘remain’, in your mind, or, even better, they are purified by getting to a level of ultimate simplicity. The final stanza uses the metaphor of weeds becoming flowers, something quite improbable in principle, but that linked to the process described in the previous stanza gets to convey an idea of change in quality. Simplicity, modesty ‘by degree’ turns into beauty, and here we face the aesthetic level of truth. A final state that can be witnessed, but just as a result, not as a process. No-one sees how the flower becomes a flower, yet it is there.

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