What poetic techniques and devices does Philip Larkin use in "This Be the Verse"?

The poetic techniques and devices Philip Larkin uses in "This Be the Verse" include alliteration, assonance, imagery, simile, and apostrophe.

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"This Be the Verse" is a short, trenchant poem which makes its point with great rhetorical force. One of Larkin's favorite techniques to create memorable phrases is alliteration. The m sounds in line 2, the f sounds in line 3, the phrase "soppy-stern" in line 7, and, most of all, the words "man hands on misery to man" are strong and forceful. The effect is sometimes reinforced with assonance, as in the last of these examples, and in the famous first line:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

The poem is metrically regular and simply rhymed, and the diction is also very straightforward. There is little imagery, but what there is, the poet employs to great effect. In the second stanza, the over-civilized Victorian image of the parents "in old-style hats and coats" is balanced by the animal image in the last line, with the couple tearing at each other like wolves or bears.

The single simile in the final stanza is similarly terse and telling. The misery "deepens like a coastal shelf," suggesting a process that is natural and inexorable. Finally, the use of direct apostrophe to the reader makes the message of the poem immediate and personal. This is not only an abstract dilemma for others, or a general comment on the human condition, but something you have to face in your own life.

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