What were Philip Larkin's views of the poetry of Wilfred Owen? Did Owen's poetry influence Larkin's in any way?
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Philip Larkin wrote often – and often very appreciatively – about the poetry of Wilfred Owen. Most of his writings about Owen are collected in his volume of essays titled Required Writing. Although Larkin was not completely uncritical of Owen’s work, many of his comments were admiring.
At one point, for instance, Larkin wrote of Owen as a person:
From being indifferent to the war, and to the troops fighting it, he became deeply concerned. From being an unimpressive and derivative poet, he became an original and unforgettable one. From lacking ‘any touch of tenderness’ he became the spokesman of a deep and unaffected compassion. From being an unlikeable youth he became a likeable and admirable man.
Elsewhere Larkin wrote that Owen’s verse was not concerned simply with World War I but with “all war,”
not particular suffering but all suffering, not particular waste but all waste. If his verse did not cease to be valid in 1918, it is because these things continued, and the necessity for compassion with them.
Elsewhere, however, Larkin called Owen’s writings “historically predictable” and he also blamed Owen, to a small degree, for the pacifism that left the British unprepared for World War II.
Various poems by Larkin seem to reflect the influence of Owen. Consider, for example, the poem titled “Myxomatosis,” which deals with a severe disease that afflicts rabbits:
Caught in the center of a soundless field
While hot inexplicable hours go by
What trap is this? Where were its teeth concealed?
You seem to ask.
I make a sharp reply,
Then clean my stick. I'm glad I can't explain
Just in what jaws you were to suppurate:
You may have thought things would come right again
If you could only keep quite still and wait.
Here one sees, as in so many poems by Owen, a sudden confrontation with the prospect of painful death, a sense of the very senselessness of death, a sense of creatures as victims of circumstances over which they have no control, a sense of pity for those victims, yet also an avoidance of sentimentality. Larkin clearly owes much more to a poet such as Larkin than to a poet such as T. S. Eliot, and so it is not surprising that he comments on Larkin so often in his prose.
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