Collected Poems

Author: Philip Larkin

Type: Fiction, poetry

Published: 1988

I read it: September 2010

larkin poems

All streets in time are visited.

Such is written by Larkin in “Ambulance,” which could be a prophecy that yes, one day his poems were bound to be read, bound to be bound. Apparently only a few were published in his lifetime, which is sad because it’s easy to imagine Larkin spending his waning years sitting in dark rooms with hardly a friend in sight. Not all his poems are dark and dim, but the majority convey a sadness that floats just this side of bitter. It never grates, and somehow he manages to find a multitude of subjects to act as metaphors of the slow slide into death, as he does in “Tops.” It’s refreshing to read the poets who could take a noun so surely in hand and create a poem that stands for everything about that noun (“Water,” “The Mower”) or to run with something a bit larger, as in “Homage to a Government,” the amazing “Church Going,” or “Love Songs in Age.”

There are times when you settle into Larkin’s cynical clockwork tone, but turn the page and you may come to the dizzying “High Windows” which pulls with a speed few can manage within quatrains, to a halt that barely holds you in place. Or you may find the knowing wink in “Party Politics” or the humor in “Sunny Prestatyn.” The collection is separated into four major chronological sub-collections, the writing of each a neat decade apart. This allows the reader to watch Larkin’s evolution as he goes from mostly untitled, overly rhyming pieces across the years to a bounce between long or short, eight stanzas or one. A few of the more corner-sharp pieces may prove dangerous come the dark of January, but there are ways to be jerked to life within some of these lines. A small corner of the newspaper dedicated to economic writing like this could do a wonder.

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