Larkin’s Early Poems

I’ve finished the first two sections in Larkin’s Collected Poems, “The North Ship” and “The Less Deceived” published in 1945 and 1955 and so far haven’t found many poems that reach out and grab me. There were a couple in “The Less Deceived” that were interesting, but apparently the rights to those poems belong to a different publisher and they’re quite adamant about not using them “throughout the world,” so I’ll not include one here.

That said, the poems published in 1945 seem reminiscent of Hardy’s poetry, though not as appealing to me. A few of them actually seem rather Romantic, in a dark, Poe sort of way. And that’s not a good thing as far as I’m concerned. I guess it might appeal to others, though, considering the number of Google searches I get for dark poetry.

My favorite from the early collection is shorter than most and more direct:


Kick up the fire, and let the flames break loose
To drive the shadows back;
Prolong the talk on this or that excuse,
Till the night comes to rest
While some high bell is beating two o’clock.
Yet when the guest
Has stepped in to the windy street, and gone,
Who can confront
The instantaneous grief of being alone?
Or watch the sad increase
Across the mind of this prolific plant,
Dumb idleness.

I guess I’ve lived alone long enough to identify with these feelings. Even though I thrive on being alone, it seems impossible not to feel lonely at times. I’d hate to not have at least one person I can call “friend” at all times in my life.

There’s a good reason why almost every campsite I’ve ever visited in the wilderness has a long-established fire-pit. Sitting next to a campfire and talking the night away is one of the best reasons to go backpacking as far as I’m concerned. Even when you’re dead tired from hiking most of the day, it’s hard to walk away from the campfire and hit the sleeping bag. There’s something primeval about sitting next to a fire talking, keeping the darkness away.

I can’t identify quite as much with the “dumb idleness” except for a few notable illnesses where I’ve been incapacitated because of surgery, but the few times I have experienced it have certainly been “sad,” if not downright depressing.

5 thoughts on “Larkin’s Early Poems”

  1. Yes. As I noted, the only times that really bothered me was when I was having medical problems, Ron.

  2. Dark poems, indeed! Your comparisons to Poe and Hardy resonate. It’s probably no accident that several of Philip Larkin’s poems were added to my ‘Poetry’ Word Document alongside Thomas Hardy. Larkin seems especially relevant on a cheerless, wet, wintry day like today.

    Before you give up on Larkin, I’d recommend some of his more popular verses like ‘Aubade’, ‘Church Going’ and ‘Wild Oats’ which, like many of his poems, have ironic titles. Others such as ‘Story’, ‘When First We Faced…’ and ‘Why Did I Dream of You Last Night’ (admittedly Poe-like) will take a melancholic mood down to the next level–he’s definitely not the Feel-Good Poet of the Year. Dark poems, like dark beer, may be an acquired appetite, but seem especially appropriate in a dark time.

  3. Oh, I’m a long ways from giving up on Larkin, Robyn.

    I’ve just started Collected Poems, but the further I get the more I like the poems, even if their overal mood seems more pessimistic than I tend to be. Heck that was even true of Hardy, but he’s the first poet I ever really loved

    I don’t think even optimists are exempt from pessimism and sarcasm. At least I certainly never was.

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