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Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin (August 9, 1922December 2, 1985) was an English poet, novelist and jazz critic.

Larkin was born to Sydney and Eva Larkin in Coventry, a provincial city in the English Midlands. He was educated at King Henry VIII School in Coventry and St. John's College, Oxford. Soon after graduating from Oxford he applied for, and won, the position of Librarian at Wellington, in Shropshire, in late 1943. In 1946, Larkin became Assistant Librarian at the University College, Leicester; in March 1955, he became Librarian at the University of Hull. He remained in this position for most of the rest of his life. Besides poems he published two novels, Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947), and several essays.

His early work shows the influence of Yeats, but his later poetic identity was influenced mainly by Thomas Hardy. He is well-known for his use of slang and coarse language in his poetry, partly balanced by a similarly antique word choice. With fine use of enjambement and rhyme, his poetry is highly structured, but never rigid. Death was a recurring theme and subject of his poetry, Aubade being the best example of this.

The Less Deceived, published in 1955, marked Larkin as an up-and-coming poet. He was for a time associated with The Movement.

1964's The Whitsun Weddings confirmed his reputation. The title poem is a masterful depiction of the sights from a train one Whitsun; though this description does the poem little justice. In 1972 he wrote the oft-quoted "Going, Going", a poem which reveals his increasing streak of romantic fatalism in his view of England in his later years - prophesising a complete destruction of the countryside and of a certain idealised idea of national togetherness and identity, it ends with the doom-laden statement "I just think it will happen, soon". High Windows , his last book, was released in 1974; for some critics it represents a falling-off from his previous two books into acrid self-parody (at its worst in a bitter poem like "Homage to a Government"); yet it contains a number of his most-loved poems, including the title-poem, "This Be The Verse" and "The Explosion".

Larkin was an major contributor to the revalution of the poetry of Thomas Hardy, which had been unjustly ignored in comparison to his work as a novelist. Hardy received the longest selection in Larkin's idiosyncratic and controversial anthology, The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse (1973). Larkin was by contrast a notable critic of modernism in contemporary art and literature; his skepticism is at its most nuanced and illuminating in Required Writing, a collection of his book-reviews and essays; it is at its most enflamed and polemical in his introduction to his collected jazz reviews, All What Jazz.

He never married, preferring to share his life with a number of women – Monica Jones, Maeve Brennan and Betty Mackereth. Monica Jones was a fellow lecturer, Maeve Brennan was a library assistant who was also a strict Roman Catholic, and Betty Mackereth was his secretary.

On the death of John Betjeman, Larkin was offered the post of Poet Laureate, but declined, feeling that his poetic muse had permanently deserted him. However, he remains one of Britain's most popular poets; two of his poems, This Be The Verse and An Arundel Tomb, featuring in the "Nation's Top 100 Poems" as voted for by television viewers. Larkin's posthumous reputation has taken a hit with the publication of Andrew Motion's Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life and an edition of his letters (which revealed in detail his obsessions with pornography, his racism, his increasingly extreme shift to the right-wing, and his habitual venom and spleen). Such revelations do not alter the quality and sheer memorability of his best verse.


Well-known poems



  • The North Ship
  • XX Poems
  • The Fantasy Poets No. 21
  • The Less Deceived (1955)
  • The Whitsun Weddings (1964)
  • High Windows (1974)
  • Collected Poems 1938-83



  • All That Jazz: A Record Diary 1961-71
  • Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-82


  • The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse (ed.) (1973)

External links

  • (The Philip Larkin Society)

Last updated: 11-10-2004 19:56:11