Ah, Philip Larkin. Being shown Larkin in college was revelatory for me. I wrote my final paper on his poetry. Looking at it now I can see both what appealed to me then, but I can also see how amazing his writing is, what depths can be discovered. I think that I found him to be a bridge between the formal poetry of the past and the themes that would come to dominate poetry in the late 50's and 60's in free verse.
Larkin was a bitter and cynical man and his poems reflect a very post-war, British sensibility of austerity and change (in my American eyes). And while his poems reflect that cynicism, it is interesting to me that he was still able to produce this body of work--that nihilism and pessimism did not stop him from the need to write. Like Dorothy Parker, he flirted with suicide, wrote of it as a desirable thing, and yet staggered on creating.
This is probably his most famous poem.
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.
And a much earlier one
'Since the majority of me'
Since the majority of me
Rejectts the majority of you,
Debating ends forthwith, and we
Divide. And sure of what to do
We disinfect new blocks of days
For our majorities to rent
With unshared friends and unwalked ways.
But silence too is eloquent:
A silence of minorities
That, unopposed at last, return
Each night with cancelled promises
That want renewed. They never learn
December 6, 1950