It is not merely because it is his last collection that High Windows shoulders the burden of Larkin's artistic reputation: it is also his greatest collection. This volume is as maddeningly thin as it is beautiful, and despite containing Larkin's final published pieces, it serves as a splendid introduction to the poet. 'This Be The Verse', for instance, perhaps most typifies (and gratifies) the popular image of Larkin: a poem with doggerel beginnings, which emerges into the splendour of a transcendent final stanza ('Man hands on misery to man...'), only to drop once again into the doggerel voice for the final line ('And don't have any kids yourself'). One of the most honed aspects of Larkin's genius was his manipulation of different tones and registers, over which he shows a Prospero-like control in this collection. If, as has been suggested, Larkin was shooting prospective glances at his own posthumous reputation in High Windows, 'Posterity' suggests it was not without the same withering humour he displayed throughout his career, both as a poet and in his journalism. Now that the urgency of the Larkin debate has thoroughly died down (his 'political incorrectness' was for a while regarded with a seriousness comparable only to Heidegger's Nazism), it is a perfect time to read this poetry as poetry: as the epitome of Larkin's poetic insights, and as the greatest work of one of the last truly original English poets.
This slender book - a reviewer here says it is "thin", quite right in the physical sense - contains some of the finest English poetry written in the 20th century, perhaps any century, brief treatments of the big themes written in clear, evocative language accessible to all. Life (To The Sea) and death (The Explosion) are here, of course, as is the rapidly disappearing English countryside (Going, Going), and the haunting melancholy of a deserted provincial hotel (Friday Night in the Royal Station Hotel). Old age is conjured as a terrifying prelude to oblivion (The Old Fools), and a trip to the toilet in the middle of the night unexpectedly affords a breathtaking illumination by the light of the moon (Sad Steps). But renewal and rebirth are here too in the passing of time (The Trees); "Yet still the unresting castles thresh/In fullgrown thickness every May./Last year is dead, they seem to say,/Begin afresh, afresh, afresh." Beginning afresh is what poetry should be doing and Larkin never misses a beat in this superb collection that stands with the very best in its brilliance of execution and profundity of achievement.
I have a curious relationship with this collection. Quite often I find myself disagreeing with Larkin's views as much as I agree. However I cannot help but admire the majestic clarity of his verse. Nowhere is this illustrated better than in the title poem, which begins with Larkin at his most cynical and vulgar yet ends with a baffling but soaring evocation of emptiness.
High Windows is a collection of poetry by Philip Larkin, first published in 1974. It brings some of the poems Larkin is best known for, combining maudlin subjects with those of a more light-hearted and, indeed, humorous nature.
“Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me)”
His writing has an ease to it that makes it a great introduction for those unfamiliar with poetry or with a fear of comprehending it. The sentences flow, with varying rhyming structures, and manage to express the theme succinctly, but descriptively. He doesn’t waste words.
I had never read a full collection of Larkin’s poetry before. This was a treat of a charity shop find and a fantastic addition to my poetry shelf. I will turn to it again and again. He’s a poet of timeless appeal.