The Englishness of Philip Arthur Larkin’s poetry is decidedly provincial; his England does not revolve around London, and in fact, there is a marked suspicion of the capital and the cosmopolitan urbanity it represents. From his diction to the frequency with which his speakers are seated in cars or trains traveling through the countryside, his poems reflect the provincialism of his life. Larkin was born August 9, 1922, in Coventry, where his father served as city treasurer throughout his childhood. He described his childhood as a bore and not worth mentioning, suggesting that no biography of him need begin before he turned twenty-one. Although he was not a particularly good student at the King Henry VII School in Coventry, he matriculated at St. John’s College, Oxford, in 1940, hoping to get in a year of school before he was called into the military. As it eventually turned out, he failed his army physical and stayed in college, graduating with first-class honors in 1943. His time at Oxford had a profound effect on the youthful Larkin; in the introduction to Jill, he suggests that the war radically diminished the students’ grand view of themselves, and this sense of reduced importance stuck with him in his poetry. Perhaps even more crucial to his development, though, were his friendships with budding writers Bruce Montgomery (Edmund Crispin) and Kingsley Amis. The Amis-Larkin friendship seems to have influenced both men, and their early writings share many attitudes and themes.
While at the university, Larkin published poems in the undergraduate magazines and in the anthology Poetry in Wartime (1942). (He had had one poem published in the Listener in 1940.) Fortune Press took notice and asked him to submit a collection; he did, and The North Ship was published in 1945. The poetry in that collection is heavily influenced by Yeats’s work, to which he was introduced by the poet Vernon Watkins, who read and lectured at the...
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