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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Philip Larkin: Collected Poems
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on 2 November 1998
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.
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on 18 September 2000
...Tritely characterised as a misanthrope and a curmudgeon the poems of his cannon are full of intense beauty and moments of potently alluring melancholy wholly at odds with the image. It is often claimed that Larkin wrote only 4 great poems - Here, Dockery and Son, Aubade, The Witsun Weddings - This collection underlines the absurdity of this view - In poems like Church Going, Arundel Tomb and Show Saturday we find a poet who resolves the seemingly mundane into conclusion whose optimism and joy are all the more intense for being reasoned to rather than asserted. His deeply British sense of identity and location are also expressed in wonderfully comic and self-deprecating pieces such as 'I remember I remember', 'vers de societe'. Finally on death and ageing he expresses everyman's fear with a clarity that is truly chilling in its finality.
I have been reading Larkin for 15 years, the depth and power of his writing continues to amaze and delight me.
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on 22 January 2016
PL's major triumph was that he brought clarity to a form George Orwell, in his 1943 essay Poetry and the Microphone, characterised as "something intelligible only to a minority, encouraging obscurity and 'cleverness'," a charge I would still level at poetry today, with a few honourable exceptions such as the brilliant Don Paterson. American poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), for example, has spawned a society of admirers that only rarely discusses its man's work in something only distantly resembling clear English. There are also plenty of niche journals where academics who may have chosen useful careers prefer instead to obfuscate and complicate anything in verse - look at the oceans of bilge spewed out about Shakespeare. However, PL writes about the basic things of our lives - transience, regret, death and the sheer awkwardness of existence - with vivid economy, fulfilling WH Auden's criterion of poetry being "memorable speech". He's also brilliant at evoking England - try 'Here' to get the full effect of that - and is not afraid to be unflinchingly honest where others may fear to tread - 'The Old Fools', for example, a furiously despairing blast at the dismal and terrifying process of getting old. So, was he any good? I'd say that he was the best English poet of the 20th century by a mile and this edition is one of its best books. Not bad then.
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on 22 December 2007
If you want an edition that doesn't contain more than forty poems from Larkin's maturity, then this is the one for you. If, however, you would like to be able to read what Blake Morrison called 'Larkin's last great poem' ('Love Again') or other examples that stand comparison with his best work, like 'Marriages', 'Letter to a Friend about Girls', 'Strangers', 'Autumn', 'Maturity', 'The Dance', 'Negative Indicative' etc etc, then avoid this edition at all costs. Try and get the original Collected Poems second hand, which has them all in. Otherwise you risk being socially embarrassed when someone starts talking to you about 'Gathering Wood' and you swear blind Larkin never wrote such a poem. Think of it!

P.S. It has been pointed out that this review has been posted on ALL the editions of Larkin's collected poems, which is pretty stupid and unhelpful. What is the point of listing editions separately and then posting a review aimed at one particular edition on them all? Anyway, this review is aimed at the 2003 edition, which is (I believe) the first to conatin the cuts. Anything before that date should be OK (UK & US editions). There are plenty available, I urge you to buy them and avoid missing out on some superb poems.
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on 4 April 2003
No edition of Larkin's poems could ever be a waste of paper, and anybody without them should buy at once: but please note that this is not the 1980s edition of the same name, and has been cut. It has the same title and editor, and looks like the same book - indeed its blurb is the same - but many of his juvenile poems are omitted and the arrangement is no longer chronological. Given that Larkin spent his adult life as a university librarian, it seems ironic that his Collected will be the source of endless confusion and misidentification in future catalogues. Faber have done him a pointless disservice by this new version, and another by not identifying it as such. But I can only bear to knock one star off the total.
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on 26 January 2010
I received my book yesterday and am very pleased.
I had previously only read Larkin on the internet and am delighted to have a collection of his poetry.

The issues that people have mentioned about differences between the various editions, are undoubtedly pertinent to those who are already Larkin aficionados.
However, to those of us who are new to Larkin, this book is a delight.
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on 23 February 2015
I have read this volume numerous times over the years, and keep returning to the wonderful collection of poetry. There have been more recent updated collections of Larkin’s comparatively meagre poetic output, and indeed more recent collections have been quite dismissive of Anthony Thwaite’s pioneering Collected Poems, but this is the one that I like best.
The volume starts with Larkin’s rather Yeatsian poems of the 1940s and early 1950s, before he found his unique voice that is now so familiar to many admirers, and started to write verse such as 1914, Whitsun Weddings, Mr Bleaney, Show Saturday and Aubade among many others, that simply take your breathe way with her poetic beauty. The latter third of the volume constitutes Larkin’s very early verse, including some juvenilia – within which there are quite a few gems, including Femmes Damnees, though compared to his later works, the style seems rather disjointed and mannered.
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on 4 June 2009
This book is brilliant, I spend my time reading his poems over and over again, and the favourites get better, whiles the ones I have not read before become great.
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on 12 August 2013
In spite of its low price, this is a luxury object, worthy of a conspicuous place on the top shelf of anybody's verse collection. The book is beautifully bound and printed, easy to hold in the hand on buses and trains and planes, and also in bed, preferably in the company of a literate and good-humoured beautiful woman. Larkin is a maestro of the slick and cutting put-down, but also compellingly humane. His language seems deceptively ordinary, but dig half a centimetre beneath its surface and you strike gold. He is one of the five very great English poets of the 20th century. This edition is a credit to its publishers and to its typographers. One hundred out of a hundred. Buy two or three copies in case you are foolish enough to give two away, and have the third one nicked by an evil party guest. Andrew Grimes
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on 29 November 2011
As many of the reviews here point out, this book omits some unpublished poems that were included in earlier editions, which seems puzzling.

Still, this is a wonderful book. It contains all four or Larkin's published books plus other one-offs published in magazines and newspapers.

If, like me, you are coming to this without knowling much about poetry or what 'good' and 'bad' poetry are like, there cannot be a better place to start than this book. You can skip the poems from Larkin's first book, The North Ship, since this was published in his early 20s when he had yet to find his true style and maturity. They are are actually a good illustration of bad poems - exaggerated, artificial emotion, a self-consciously dramatic 'poetic' style, and opaque meanings.

The other poems are brilliant. That nearly all Larkin's poems can fit into a book hardly 200 pages long shows what exceptional quality control he had. There's hardly a duff note here, once you move past the North Ship and into The Less Deceived. I am constantly moved at his skill in pin-pointing a fleeting feeling and putting it into crystal-clear poetry. The themes appeal to me to - love and nostaligia, resentment at obligations to others, wonder at the natural world, the seasons.

Overall, Larkin is arguably the most popular, best and most accessible British poet of the last 100 years. Start here, if you're new to this, and you'll find you stay here a long, long time.
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