Last Updated on July 9, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 783
"High Windows" is a poem from Philip Larkin's final poetry collection, published in 1974, which carries the same title. He is one of Britain's most celebrated poets of the twentieth century.
Written in 1967, this poem explores the onset of the era of sexual liberation from the point of view of a persona past his youth. In the poem, he makes his personal observations figure in this rather new climate of free love. Though the sexual revolution broke out in the US in the 1960s, it wasn't until the 1970s to 80s that Britain followed suit.
Comprised of five quatrains, Philip Larkin fills each one with a clever combination of full rhymes and half-rhymes to gain an unpredictable musicality. Examples of the half-rhymes present are "kids/pills," "back/dark," and "glass/endless." Veering away from the exclusive use of full rhymes makes for an apt use of poetic device to echo the theme of freedom from rigidity. Moreover, Larkin makes use of a casual, rather straightforward tone to reflect the era's almost irreverent, candid way of handling a subject matter previously deemed taboo. His language is conversational and sincere.
The poem begins strong. Using the "I" to convey truths extracted from surface-level observations, the reader is offered an image of young men and women and how the observer, advanced in age, imagines them in all the freedom afforded them by the social climate of the 70s. He makes use of a powerful word in lieu of "lovemaking," as well as the image of contraceptives as symbols of sexual power and agency in the era.
Going to the second stanza, the speaker then declares how this sexual freedom, to old people, is "paradise"—an image that is loaded in that it speaks generally of bliss, but also that state of humanity where there is the absence of sin, pointing to the way the stigma of sex has been removed and therefore no longer exists as explicitly sinful. It provides a sharp contrast to an understandably different time for people who have aged—the persona included—and thus did not enjoy the same erotic liberation during their youth. Larkin provides a visual depiction of this contrast:
Bonds and gestures pushed to one sideLike an outdated combine harvester,And everyone young going down the long slideTo happiness, endlessly.
No God any more, or sweating in the darkAbout hell and that, or having to hideWhat you think of the priest. HeAnd his lot will all go down the long slideLike free bloody birds.
(The entire section contains 1563 words.)
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