Philip Larkin Larkin, Philip (Vol. 3)

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Larkin, Philip (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Larkin, Philip 1922–

A British poet and novelist, Larkin is most highly regarded for his understated and frequently melancholy poetry of commonplace events. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Philip Larkin is typical of a younger group of self-snubbers and self-loathers (who, nevertheless, have never thought to put down their wretched mirrors). He is forever promising to be a wit and then appealing to the reader to pity him instead. It is another turn on that petty bitterness about life that Betjeman too sometimes exhibits—not a world's sorrow and loss of meaning, but the sullenness of a man who finds squalor in his own spirit and fears to liberate himself from it.

M. L. Rosenthal, in his The Modern Poets: A Critical Introduction (copyright © 1960 by M. L. Rosenthal; reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press, Inc.), Oxford University Press, 1960, p. 222.

Philip Larkin … has produced some of the most genuinely post-Eliot poetry that we have yet had in this country. At his best Larkin comes near to Eliot's kind of seriousness, but in his earlier poems the offhand manner and flat Movement diction usually work against this seriousness in a fatal way: Larkin seems to adopt a wryer version of Eliot's old man persona and to be happy only when he can collapse the intellect into knockabout so as to undermine the poetry entirely and save himself from emotional self-exposure. Many whole poems are variations on some simple self-deprecating theme…. Sometimes the poems just hint coyly at unnamed horror….

It has … been said that the feeling in Larkin's poems is thin. This is often true, and particularly in the earlier idea-poems where it comes out as a persistent kind of self-pity. Some of the more impersonal poems, on the other hand, are quite different and contain very impressive lines and passages…. And when Larkin has the courage to write really honestly and without self-deception the result is often powerful and moving…. At these times Larkin finds a very individual poetic idiom which brings together Eliot's intellectual tension and reflectiveness, Auden's sharp sense of contemporary things and scenery, and a very direct emotional strength based in ordinary speech and asserting itself firmly beneath the elegance of the finished style.

Colin Falck, "Dreams and Responsibilities," in Review, No. 2, June/July, 1962, pp. 3-18.

G. S. Fraser says that Larkin exemplifies "everything that is good in this 'new movement' and none of its faults." Most of the reviewers of The Less Deceived have tagged him as the best of its poets. A few have said he is the best poet of his generation. This is all high praise. It is undoubtedly true that Larkin is a distinguished poet. The range of his subject matter, however, is narrow. Faded photographs, wrong choices, expectations that came to little—this is the sort of thing that engages him. And the wry observation is his usual way of viewing them, although on rare occasions, as in "Toads," he can be rather funny. He has neither Hardy's grim glee nor Housman's ironic hopelessness. He lacks not merely gaudiness but exuberance and open excitement.

William Van O'Connor, "Philip Larkin: The Quiet Poem," in his The New University Wits and the End of Modernism (© 1963 by Southern Illinois University Press; reprinted by permission of Southern Illinois University Press), Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1963, pp. 16-29.

[The Whitsun Weddings] is Philip Larkin's first book for nearly ten years. It contains only thirty-two poems—three more than The Less Deceived , which represented the previous decade's worth of his work. Clearly, no one is going to accuse him of writing too much or of publishing verse he is unsure of. Indeed, I imagine no one is going to accuse him of anything. His last book was received none too brilliantly; it is only since then that his reputation has slowly, almost silently, gathered momentum. Any moment now someone is bound to pin on him that heaviest of gold...

(The entire section is 2,227 words.)