The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Building” is a poem of nine seven-line stanzas plus a single final line. It is written in Philip Larkin’s characteristic rough iambic pentameter, with an equally characteristic subtle rhyme scheme. All the lines are not exactly ten syllables each; nevertheless, the pattern of stress is that of the iamb: a two-part (disyllabic), stressed-unstressed foot.

The poem is a description of a place that is never definitively named, although it is clearly a hospital or other health-care facility. The first stanza describes the building in contrast to what is around and outside it. The last lines of the first stanza, along with the entire second and third stanzas, describe the building’s interior, including the inhabitants. The fourth and fifth stanzas describe what the building is like from the inside, from the point of view of the people waiting there: how being there is an interruption of their daily lives and what they are afraid will happen to them.

Stanza 6 returns to the exterior of the building, this time looking out from the inside. The outside world seems very far off; it goes on and on, out of sight. Further, in stanza 7, the world is addressed as a separate thing and is even said to be “beyond the stretch/ Of any hand from here.” For a brief three-line sentence, the speaker of the poem is present and includes himself in the condition of the people in the building: The “loves” and “chances” of the world are only a...

(The entire section is 483 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Larkin’s subtle rhyme scheme contributes significantly to the overall impact of the poem. While the stanzas run seven lines, the poem uses an eight-rhyme pattern: abcbdcad. This has two effects. First, because the rhyme carries over from one stanza to the next, the reader, too, is carried forward through the description by an imperceptible force; it is an experience akin to that which is being described. Second, through the middle stanzas of the poem this has the effect of disturbing the unity of each stanza. For example, the rhyme scheme begins at the second line of the third stanza, the third line of the fourth stanza, and so on, so that the reader is made to feel an unease and a lack of resolution, until the final stanza and the single final line.

This effect is further accomplished by a technique called enjambment, in which the sense of one line is carried over into the next. This occurs frequently within stanzas; more important, it occurs from one stanza to the next in every stanza except the first. The midsentence pause creates a momentary sense of meaninglessness. When that pause carries over across stanzas the sense of disorientation generated by the poem is more intense.

With the last eight lines of the poem, the beginning of the rhyme pattern and the beginning of the stanza coincide, as they did in the first stanza, and the pattern is allowed to complete itself with the final single line. This coincidence, the completion...

(The entire section is 495 words.)