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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.

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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 side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide
To happiness, endlessly.
There is an attitude of longing and regret for having lived in a different era, and the image of the "long slide" likewise reinforces the disconnect that the persona experiences in looking at these carefree men and women slipping into the ways of their time. In a way, it is an idealization of youth.
However, the poem then goes deeper as the persona reaches beyond the scene before him and into his own past, wondering whether the older generation might have ruminated on his generation's freedom as well—the way he is doing so with these kids at the moment. He then goes on to enumerate the emergent aspects of the time of his youth, "forty years back":
No God any more, or sweating in the dark
About hell and that, or having to hide
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide
Like free bloody birds.
The persona is probably speaking of the 1920s, an equally ripe time in terms of revolutionizing the world socially, politically, culturally, and economically. Fondly called "the roaring 20s," this was an era of liberation from rigid thought and existing social structures as well. As the country reshaped itself in the midst of the devastating effects of war, tightly held belief systems were suddenly being dismantled in 1920s Britain.
This is a crucial point in the poem in that a reader is taken down the "long slide" further into the past, only to be abruptly stopped by a lack of words. In its place, the metaphor of "high windows" appears. High windows depict largeness of space with their placement above standard height. They participate...

(The entire section contains 1563 words.)

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