The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Dockery and Son” is a poem not really about either Dockery or his son; it is about the speaker, who is a typical persona of Philip Larkin. Larkin’s stock persona is someone unsuccessful in love, someone whom life has passed by. It is frequently a mistake to confuse the persona with the poet, but with Larkin one usually senses there is no great gulf between the two.

The poem begins with a conversation between the Dean and the speaker, who is revisiting his college. Typically, only the Dean is directly quoted, not the speaker of the poem. The Dean happens to mention Dockery, who is younger than the speaker and whose son is now a student at this same college. The quoted conversation fades as the speaker remembers how he once had to explain his “ ‘version’ of ‘these incidents last night,’ ”—had to explain, as a student, disruptive behavior to the very man with whom he is now reminiscing. Time has passed; the speaker finds his old room, but the door is locked. He departs unnoticed on a train.

On the train, he starts to think about Dockery. He estimates that Dockery must have had a son when he was about the age of twenty. Then he tries to remember exactly who Dockery was. When he is about to reach a conclusion which threatens to be a commonplace—“Well it just shows/ How muchHow little”—he falls asleep. Even contemplating how time has passed unheeded, a life slept through, causes him to sleep through more time.

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(The entire section is 476 words.)