Study Guide

At Grass

by Philip Larkin

At Grass Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Larkin sees in these horses an enviable equilibrium; they finally “stand at ease.” With evening comes a world of darkness, but the horses are in the “unmolesting meadows” where only the wind “distresses” them now. One cannot help but conclude that anonymity is something Larkin treasures; the spectacle of competition and risk—vital affairs of the world though these may be—is merely momentary glitter and show. Most living occurs in the quiet and nameless moments when stability and true caring flourish. The groom and his son care for the horses, whereas the “stop-watch” crowds at “starting gates” are interested in the vagaries of worldly fortune. The racetrack and other such arenas may have their appealing features, but once these are stripped away, a more stable reality emerges. As critic Alan Brownjohn noted in his book Philip Larkin (1975), “Life, for Larkin and, implicitly, for all of us, is something lived mundanely, with a gradually accumulating certainty that its golden prizes are sheer illusion.” Brownjohn also remarks that in Larkin’s poetry “the recognized rewards and goals in life are deceptions.”

Larkin sees something relieving, even joyful in the anonymous decline of the horses. Furthermore, there is something undignified about the past’s “starting-gates, the crowds and cries,” in contrast to the present’s “unmolesting meadows.” Measuring life in terms of performance violates the dignity of...

(The entire section is 500 words.)