Study Guide

High Windows

by Philip Larkin

High Windows Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“High Windows,” finished in 1967 and included as the title poem in Larkin’s last volume, shows modest departures in method and new symbolic indirections. Though the windows are no doubt symbols, literally they are sashes set high in a wall (perhaps in a tall building) so that one looking out “the sun-comprehending glass” from inside sees only “the deep blue air, that shows/ Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.” These apertures onto heaven, but not into eternity, are clouded over with a Larkinesque nihilism, an agnostic’s philosophical nothingness. The image of the windows occurs to the speaker “Rather than words,” suggesting the skeptic’s truth that what lies beyond cannot be stated. Thus the poem’s epiphany, its moment of revelation, reveals “Nothing”; the parallelism with “No God any more,” occurring earlier, heightens the figurative message. The hint in “high windows” of cathedral panes doubles the irony.

This poem seems an aging man’s piece but also surely reflects something of the youth-led and freedom-intent 1960’s—with “Bonds and gestures pushed to one side”—in its relatively licentious language and loosened style. Like “Church Going,” the poem is a reverie on the absence of viable religion, but the method of exploration here is associative, not quietly rational and syntactic: Seeing the young couple and imagining their sex life makes the speaker think about his lost youth and how he...

(The entire section is 447 words.)