Larkin’s “Breadfruit”

There are nearly fifty pages of Larkin’s unpublished poems in his Collected Poems, including his much cited “Aubade,” which may be my favorite poem from this section. However, considering the number of excellent articles on this poem, in particular this one at New Criterion, I decided to mention one I liked nearly as much and probably comes closer to my own view of the world:


Boys dream of native girls who bring breadfruit,
Whatever they are,
As bribes to teach them how to execute
Sixteen sexual positions on the sand;
This makes them join (the boys) the tennis club,
Jive at the Mecca, use deodorants, and
On Saturdays squire ex-schoolgirls to the pub
By private car.

Such uncorrected visions end in church
Or registrar:
A mortgaged semi- with a silver birch;
Nippers; the widowed mum; having to scheme
With money; illness; age. So absolute
Maturity falls, when old men sit and dream
Of naked native girls who bring breadfruit
Whatever they are.

I’m not sure whether this reminds me more of Yeat’s“The Wild Old Wicked Man”which ends

That some stream of lightning
From the old man in the skies
Can burn out that suffering
No right-taught man denies.
But a coarse old man am I,
I choose the second-best,
I forget it all awhile
Upon a woman’s breast.’
(Daybreak and a candle-end.)

or Shakespeare’s more famous Seven Ages of Man, but I like it either way.

Yeah, I know it’s a stereotype, but it’s my stereotype, and even if it’s not true it helps to explain why my all time favorite TV shows are Benny Hill, Married with Children and The 70’s Show.

The poem does a nice job of contrasting the dream of endless sex with the real cost of that dream, the same cost Al Bundy had to pay every time he came home from selling women’s shoes. Do you think it was pure coincidence that someone who loved hooters so much had to spend his whole day groveling at the feet of women?

I just hope I can maintain my lust (for life) when maturity finally befalls me.

I’ll have to admit that I much prefer Larkin when he leavens his work with a little humor, something he doesn’t always manage. Of course, I also like a few of his bleak poems about country workers that remind me a lot of Hardy’s poems.