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Something about Larkin.,
By A Customer
This review is from: Collected Poems (Paperback)
Larkin frequently adopts the persona of the very ordinary man in the street to explore his themes. As a consequence, his poetic language is that of the public bar rather than the literary salon; it is derived from Anglo-Saxon, not Latin or Greek. He is not, for example, averse to using expletives such as "crap" or the "f-word" when moved to despair or fury. The adopted, (or is it Larkin himself?) down-to-earth voice has a colloquially dismissive tone to it, his cyclist in "Church Going", for example, refers to the altar being, "up at the holy end", as he wanders about the building, "bored and uninformed", observing the, "brass and stuff." Equally, in "Poetry of departures", he refers to an acquaintance who has abandoned the conventional life as having, "chucked up everything and just cleared off". This is a man with an educational deficit, who thinks, "books are a load of crap" ("A study of reading habits"), while at the same time, and somewhat slyly, making it clear that he is aware of the existence of words such as "pyx" and "rood lofts," even if he doesn't know the precise meaning of them. However, the reader is only temporarily fooled by this apparent simple-mindedness. Larkin's man in the street is quite capable of profound thought, as is made abundantly clear in the final stanzas. The poems move from a flippant start toward an unanticipated gravitas, where weighty matters are analysed and ex cathedra pronouncements uttered. Larkin's longer poems move, in a tightly controlled manner, toward that cerebral ending. In "Church Going" for example, the rather boorish cyclist, after fooling about at the lectern, begins musing on the uses to which churches might be put in the future. He concludes with a stanza, which attempts to define the possible reasons for the continuation of religious sentiment, or something akin to it. The language, for the most part, remains fairly simple, but includes the obscure word "blent" and the phrase, "robed as destinies," These, along with the triple repetition of "serious", have the effect of creating a weighty tone, entirely in keeping with the subject matter. We are drawn into Larkin's poems by the intriguing banality of the initial focus, along with that very ordinary voice. The endings, however, leave us thinking.