PhilipLarkin

Today is the birthday of the great poet Philip Larkin, who famously said “I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, if I have any. After all, most people are unhappy, don’t you think?”

Apart from being wonderfully lugubrious, Larkin wrote some amazing poetry, and here is a favourite – I studied it at Grammar School in the 1970s and I can still remember loving it and trying to write about it, but re-reading it now I don’t think I got half of it!

If, My Darling
– Philip Larkin

If my darling were once to decide
Not to stop at my eyes,
But to jump, like Alice, with floating skirt into my head,

She would find no table and chairs,
No mahogany claw-footed sideboards,
No undisturbed embers;

The tantalus would not be filled, nor the fender-seat cosy,
Nor the shelves stuffed with small-printed books for the Sabbath,
Nor the butler bibulous, the housemaids lazy:
She would find herself looped with the creep of varying light,
Monkey-brown, fish-grey, a string of infected circles
Loitering like bullies, about to coagulate;

Delusions that shrink to the size of a woman’s glove,
Then sicken inclusively outwards. She would also remark
The unwholesome floor, as it might be the skin of a grave,

From which ascends an adhesive sense of betrayal,
A Grecian statue kicked in the privates, money,
A swill-tub of finer feelings. But most of all

She’d be stopping her ears against the incessant recital
Intoned by reality, larded with technical terms,
Each one double-yolked with meaning and meaning’s rebuttal:

For the skirl of that bulletin unpicks the world like a knot,
And to hear how the past is past and the future neuter
Might knock my darling off her unpriceable pivot.

Re-reading Larkin in more recent years, I’ve appreciated his talent as a poet more – the wonderful sweeping imagery and sense of movement in “The Whitsun Weddings”, for example, are quite stunning.

Happy birthday, Philip!

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