It is often casually said of Larkin’s poetry that it expresses common experience, that it has its origin in the commonplace, or even—I have seen this in newspapers—that the famous catchphrases that have been drawn from it (“What will survive of us is love,” “Books are a load of crap,” “Life is first boredom, then fear,” “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”) express a common point of view. But what strikes us most about Larkin is not the commonness but the singularity of the point of view.

It is true perhaps that the last of these quotes may command common assent. Parents do fill children with the faults they had—or so we may often feel. But the whole poem (often parodied and for many years commonly known by heart without having been consciously committed to memory) derives its notoriety from the fact that it goes much further than common consent can bear: die young, it commands, and stay childless. We wouldn’t go as far as that. Just as we wouldn’t go so far as to say that life really is first boredom, then fear. As for “Books are a load of crap,” this is what a certain character in a poem (“A Study of Reading Habits”) concludes when he finds himself unwillingly identifying with the failures in the fiction he reads. It was never remotely intended as expressing a common truth, while the beautiful “What will survive of us is love” is not a view to which Larkin assents, but an untruth identified as such—something which our almost-instinct is tempted to find almost true.

And just as the lines that have stuck in people’s heads tend not to be truths but untruths, so the “common” experiences out of which the poems grow seem on closer examination to be highly specialized. How many people do you really think allow their earnings to pile up, while reproaching themselves with a mysterious inability to spend more on themselves? Yet this is the point of departure for the poem “Money”:

Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
“Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.”

This attitude is surprising coming from Larkin’s provincial middle-class background, where timidity about spending money (particularly “eating into capital”) might be common, but where few (at least in my experience) would imagine that the kind of sex they wanted could be had simply by paying for it.* I know that there is an aggressive intention behind the flatness of the rhythms and the banality of the sex/cheques rhyme. Larkin’s poems do sometimes start off aggressively ugly and then pull a beautiful stunt, as this one is going to do. But it seems crass of the poet to suggest (if he is talking about himself) that if he’d only spent more on, as it were, fast cars, he would have had fabulous blondes crawling all over them. And he could have. But somehow he didn’t.

So he looks around him and sees that money has something to do with life, namely that just as you can’t save up your youth for your old age, so, however you organize your savings, they won’t have any value by the time you retire. Then comes the beautiful stunt:

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

The scene comes at you out of nowhere, conjured by words that are poised halfway between the general and the particular. (The idea of money singing was perhaps borrowed from Auden’s poem “They.”) What sort of ornate churches—are they Gothic Revival ornate? The madness sounds baroque, but that would shift the scene abroad, whereas the slums and the canal seem English. Just enough is given to make the scene gripping, and indeed saddening. Convinced by the last stanza, one tries in retrospect to give some credence to its predecessors. Yes, you think, it must be sad to be a miser with yourself, sad to have missed out on the bubbly, the fast cars, and the floozies. Instead of running a library, you could have been prancing around in the pit stop at Monte Carlo, or cutting a dash on the slopes of Aspen.

Except that the whole reasoning is preposterous, and the whole setup, apart from the sadness, a wild misrepresentation. The money was never there, unspent, in such vast quantities as would achieve some great materialist fantasy. And as for sex, Larkin’s act was to repeat that he never got it, but the likely truth is that he got as much as he could put up with. His problem seems to have been that he didn’t want a sexual partner near enough to be a bother. But he arranged a solution to that problem in the form of a sexual partner at a distance, a nonsexual partner close by, and a magazine collection to bridge the gap. Women ministered to him. He had no reason to feel neglected.


But Larkin was sly and perverse, and the poems that issue from this perversity are full of sly tricks. “I Remember, I Remember,” one of the earliest classically Larkinesque poems (completed in January 1954), describes being on a train which stops in Coventry. The I of the poem exclaims to a friend: “I was born here.” Then he finds, looking out, that he cannot even remember which side of the station is which. He has forgotten all about Coventry. His friend asks whether this is where he “has his roots.” But the Larkin figure is thinking of all the things that never happened in his childhood, the anecdotes or significant episodes that would be the stock in trade of other people’s memoirs or novels. And when the friend says to him, “You look as if you wished the place in Hell,” he replies that he supposes it’s not the place’s fault, concluding with the celebrated line, “Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.”

Taken as an aesthetic gesture, one of the famous gestures of the Fifties, Larkin’s poem seems to say: I detest dishonesty in writing; I detest self-mythologizing; if nothing of note happened in my childhood, I’m the kind of guy who’s prepared to say so, rather than dress up non-events as events. Taken as lyric, the poem asserts its own right. It stands alone, as any lyric stands alone, to convince us, or not, on its own terms. And I for one can easily be convinced that this is what one may, in a certain mood, feel about one’s childhood: the childhood other people describe, I never had.

But when one sets the poem against the biography, it becomes, to an intriguing degree, an act of concealment. In the poem, the city of Coventry is drained of historical significance. The poet does not choose to go into the most obvious explanation for his inability to recognize the place, namely that it was under reconstruction, having been flattened in 1940 during the Blitz. Yet Coventry is clearly intended to be the actual, observed city: the men with number plates who sprint down the platform in the first stanzas are returning from having delivered cars (a typically specific, local Larkin detail, like the many little details in his novel Jill from which you can work out, if your memory is long enough, exactly where you are in Oxford). Yet the actual Coventry is deprived of its actual past.

And we might add that, if we are talking about the actual Coventry and the actual Larkin, he could have told a most striking story, that his father, the city’s treasurer, had been an admirer of Hitler, to the extent of having attended the Nuremberg rallies (this is what Larkin later told the historian John Kenyon). At home, he could have said, his father kept “a statue of Hitler on the mantelpiece, which at the touch of a button leapt into a Nazi salute,” and that he kept Nazi regalia in his office up to the outbreak of war.

Then he could have mimicked his father’s attitude in 1939, as expressed in the letter reproduced as the front endpaper of the Selected Letters: “The British govt. have started this war… Hitler has done all he could for peace… Well, all I hope is that we get smashed to Hades… Our army is useless. A.R.P? Ha ha! This is the end of civilisation…after all, man has to be superseded sooner or later…we’re only a stage in the earth’s development…a very unimportant stage, too….”

According to Andrew Motion’s 1993 biography, Sydney Larkin did not change his tune during the war. Instead, when Coventry was blitzed in 1940, he congratulated himself on his foresight in having ordered one thousand cardboard coffins the previous year, and continued to praise “efficient German administration” while disparaging Churchill.

Auden said somewhere that if you grew up as he did in Birmingham it was absurd to talk about having your roots in Birmingham. The friend in Larkin’s poem shares this sense of absurdity:

“Was that,” my friend smiled, “where you ‘have your roots’?”

The answer the poem gives is that if you grow up in Coventry (not that it is necessarily Coventry’s fault), you can expect nothing to “happen” to you.


But plenty “happened” to Larkin. For two days after the bombing of Coventry, he waited in Oxford without word of his family, then set out with a friend, Noel Hughes, to find out what had happened to both of their homes. Larkin drew on this experience for one of the most important passages in Jill, describing how his friend hears the news of the Huddlesford raid, which is said to be like the Coventry raid. John Kemp asks immediately what was damaged:

“Residential areas…. I expect they went for the station and factories and the centre of the city….” He looked doubtfully at John. “Do you live anywhere near the station?”

“No, not at all.”

John got up, leaving his food, and went trembling out into the sun. They said a thousand people were killed outright in a raid like that, not counting the wounded and those that died afterwards. It was not possible for his parents to have escaped.

John becomes certain that his parents are dead:

It was obvious, he deserved to be punished in this way. Since leaving them, he had pushed them to the back of his mind, had sometimes felt ashamed of them, had not bothered to write to them regularly, he had done things they would have been sorry at.

He blames himself for his parents’ death. He believes they have been killed “because he treated them lightly.” So he goes back to his home filled with dread and praying they will be all right, and praying for enough strength to stand it if the worst has happened. But he finds his home intact and a note pinned to the door saying his parents have gone away. He peers into the house:

It was strange, like looking into a doll’s house, and putting his hands against the window frames he felt as protective as a child does feel towards a doll’s house and its tiny rooms.

But when he finally leaves the town by train the destruction of the city he had known so well has a new effect on him:

It no longer seemed meaningless: struggling awake again, rubbing his eyes with chilled hands, he thought it represented the end of his use for the place. It meant no more to him now, and so it was destroyed: it seemed symbolic, a kind of annulling of his childhood. The thought excited him. It was as if he had been told: all the past is cancelled: all the suffering connected with that town, all your childhood, is wiped out. Now there is a fresh start for you: you are no longer governed by what has gone before.

The train ran on, through fields lying under the frost and darkness.

And then again, it was like being told: see how little anything matters. All that anyone has is the life that keeps him going, and see how easily that can be patted out. See how appallingly little life is.

The experience of John Kemp differs from that of Larkin himself in two respects: Larkin went back to Coventry in the company of his friend Noel Hughes, but there was no note on the door, and it wasn’t till he returned to Oxford that he was reassured that his family had survived. Hughes later described the desolate experience of Larkin hanging around in the hope of finding someone who knew where his parents were:

For at least the seven years that I had known him, Philip lived at the same house, but at only one other house had he felt able to call for news of his missing parents. That done, he had shot his bolt…. Later, as I got to know, and to know more about, Philip’s father…I could imagine how Philip could have lived for years in a neighbourhood and yet be reared in almost total isolation from it.

What nobody seems to have quite described is the full impact on Larkin of the father, who, in a manner of speaking, calls down a curse on the city, which curse is fulfilled, although his parents and their house are spared. The elegant censorship at work in “I Remember, I Remember” (which might as well have been entitled “I Suppress, I Suppress”) shows up as the subject of “Forget What Did”:

Stopping the diary
Was a stun to memory,
Was a blank starting,

One no longer cicatrized
By such words, such actions
As bleakened waking.

I wanted them over,
Hurried to burial
And looked back on

Like the wars and winters
Missing behind the windows
Of an opaque childhood.

This torn-up childhood, this so-called “forgotten boredom”—this never leaves Larkin alone. It will be with him in his work to the last years of his life. Yet paradoxically the urge to destroy his past (in his psyche) coexisted with the archivist’s urge to preserve it. Motion found shoeboxes full of carefully stored incoming letters, together with “memorabilia of all sorts—his parents’ jam recipes, for instance,” and a comprehensive set of papers (minus the diaries, which had been shredded).

Larkin’s will, found by Queen’s Counsel to be contradictory on the question of the destruction or preservation of his papers, was declared “repugnant.” Larkin’s mind was repugnant in the same legal sense. The late poem “Love Again,” which shocks with its intimate description of sexual jealousy, ends on an urge to “say why it never worked for me”—presumably why love never worked for him:

Something to do with violence
A long way back, and wrong rewards,
And arrogant eternity.

“The Winter Palace,” a poem written a year earlier in November 1978, expresses a desire to forget not just his childhood but everything else—literally:

Most people know more as they get older:
I give all that the cold shoulder
I spent my second quarter-century
Losing what I had learnt at university
And refusing to take in what had happened since.
Now I know none of the names in the public prints,
And am starting to give offence by forgetting faces
And swearing I’ve never been in certain places.
It will be worth it, if in the end I manage
To blank out whatever it is that is doing the damage.
Then there will be nothing I know.
My mind will fold into itself, like fields, like snow.

Defiant, self-obliterative rage—something to do with violence and wrong rewards, long ago—something that goes on doing the damage, that can’t be blanked out except by an act of self-annihilation: we stand very little chance of discovering what this was all about. One might guess though that the role of the father comes into it in no small measure.

A strange thing about Larkin is that, though he had the perfect father for a son to defy, he never seems to have rebelled against him. On the basis of what we read in the letters, Larkin’s attitude toward Germany seems to have been a watered-down version of his father’s. If the son rebelled, it was not against his father so much as against the war itself and the orthodoxy surrounding it. He was about as un-gung-ho as you can get, writing in 1940, soon after the Coventry raid:

My bloody uncle is convinced that the invasion will start tomorrow…. Shouldn’t be at all surprised. Germany will win this war like a dose of salts, and if that gets me into gaol, a bloody good job too. Balls to the war.

And in 1941:

I feel the war must be over this year if Hitler does his job in his accustomed way. My only fear is he’ll do it messily—gas etc. And that I will be called up to be mown down, while the real army arranges itself behind me.

And in 1942, to a friend who wanted to become a conscientious objector, he wrote:

I should like to say how much I admire your fight against the bleeding army. I don’t think I should have the courage myself, but I might, and anyway I admire your actions very greatly. It seems logical to me that the men who can see the right must hold clear from the mass of writhing filth that threatens to engulf us all. The ethics of the thing are difficult: but I think one must stand by one’s innermost feelings. If you can get out of their grip, gently, without tearing yourself in the process, but gently, I think you should, and guard any new life that may have chosen you as a sprouting-ground. If there is any new life in the world today, it is in Germany. True, it’s a vicious and blood-brutal kind of affair—the new shoots are rather like bayonets. It won’t suit me.

Note the tense. He is still expecting Germany to win. And he goes on:

By “new” life I don’t mean better life, but a change, a new direction. Germany has revolted back too far, into the other extremes. But I think they have many valuable new habits. Otherwise how could D.H.L. be called Fascist?

By January 1943, Larkin has changed his mind about Germany, and believes “externally” that Britain must win the war:

But I don’t think it will do any good. And I have no driving power to bring it about. Men must abide by their feelings—I can’t help it if everyone were like me we s’d all be hung.

So the war has become a spiritual issue, over which he has nothing to contribute. He had half admired Hitler, saying of his speeches in 1941:

I looked into them and felt the familiar sinking heart when I saw how right and yet how wrong everything had been. The disentanglement of this epoch will be a beautiful job for someone.

But he would undoubtedly have fought if told to do so. What he says of the army shows an unremarkable young man’s natural apprehension:

I want to pretend it isn’t there: that there’s no war on. When I do get into it, it will be a hell of a struggle of readjustment. I dare say I shall get over it in about 5 months. But they’ll be a dose of hell.

I wonder if Suicide is very easy? (Patient dragged away howling by airmen—in the Orator sense.)


I have a strong presentiment I shall get killed in this war—not that I am resigned to it, far from it.


We have all the hell of a way to go, both as artists and as human beings. And I sometimes don’t think the army will help, except in the purely negative way of steering you clear of the war complex.

After which he curses the war in his usual way.

On New Year’s Day 1942, according to Motion, Larkin learned that he had failed his army medical, that his eyes had been graded four, and that he would not be called up. But the letter to Norman Iles dated January 8 says: “My position is—I am Grade IV. What this implies I don’t know, & can’t find out, but I think it releases me from most of the carnage even if it doesn’t let me stay at Oxford.” If the army’s letter was as specific as Motion says, then the subsequent alleged uncertainty might indicate shame at admitting he had been rejected. Larkin later made an attempt at doing war work, applying to Bletchley, and again being turned down. He later said he found the whole thing “very odd” although one suspects that in the case of Bletchley it might just have crossed his mind that, having a father who was pro-Hitler, he might not have been the kind of person they wanted, from a security point of view.

Perhaps this speculation strays too far ahead of the facts. The facts are that Larkin suffered two rejections, and that for the rest of the course of the war—a war which was of a character that tended to include civilians, offering a number of ways of coming to feel part of the war effort—he kept up that pose of studied indifference. My belief is that he was wounded by rejection. Those who were actually wounded, wounded with shrapnel, years later might find pieces of the shrapnel working their way to the surface. Larkin seems to have been wounded by un-shrapnel, and in later life little pieces of un-shrapnel began to emerge, in his poems, squibs, letters, and reviews. Decades after the all-clear had sounded, Larkin’s patriotism crawled gingerly out from under the kitchen table. Decades after Lawrentian truth-to-feeling and indifference to the war, Larkin began to notice that the empire was being wound down and that troops were being brought home:

Places they guarded, or kept orderly,
Must guard themselves, or keep themselves orderly.

Larkin makes as little sense as an imperialist as he did as a pale Nazi-symp. He did not want Aden as a base; he just thought it shameful that Aden should be abandoned for lack of money:

Next year we shall be living in a country
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money.
The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same.
Our children will not know it’s a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money.

The later gloss he gave on this—“I don’t mind troops being brought home if we’d decided this way the best thing all round, but to bring them home because we couldn’t afford to keep them there seemed a dreadful humiliation”—blithely ignores the fact that the Labour government of the time, and the Labour movement as a whole, did indeed think that the winding up of imperial commitments was the “best thing all round.”

The victim of un-shrapnel, the patriot after the event, was able to tax Auden with having “abandoned his audience together with their common dialect and concerns” by departing for America shortly before the war. “For a different sort of poet this might have been less important,” he concedes. “For Auden it seems to have been irreparable,” because Auden’s “key subject and emotion” were “Europe and the fear of war.”

Larkin’s essay “What’s Become of Wystan?,” which values only the first decade of Auden’s work, is the enduring written expression of an argument which used to be commonplace. One doubts, however, that Auden could have earned Larkin’s approval if he had remained in Britain, or even enlisted (supposing that had been possible). Because there was always the opposite argument to resort to:

A “war” poet is not one who chooses to commemorate or celebrate a war but one who reacts against having a war thrust upon him: he is chained, that is, to a historical event, and an abnormal one at that. However well he does it, however much we agree that the war happened and ought to be written about, there is still a tendency for us to withhold our highest praise on the grounds that a poet’s choice of subject should seem an action, not a reaction. “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” we feel, would have been markedly inferior if Hopkins had been a survivor from the passenger list. Again, the first-rank poet should ignore the squalid accident of war: his vision should be powerful enough to disregard it. Admittedly, war might come too close for this vision to be maintained. But it is still essentially irrelevant.

This comes apropos of Wilfred Owen, when Larkin reviews what he believes will be the definitive edition of his poems, the Day-Lewis one. But while Larkin refuses quite properly to give Owen poetic stature simply on the grounds of his war record, and while he wishes to hold on to the idea of the irrelevance of war, he is nevertheless preparing to offer Owen an extraordinary compliment—that he is “the only twentieth-century poet who can be read after Hardy without a sense of bathos.”

This high praise, this distinguished service order, Owen was allowed to wear for a good dozen years, between 1963 and 1974, when Jon Stallworthy published his biography of Owen. At that point Larkin, taking his cue from some evidence in Stallworthy, did a little detective work and came to the conclusion that Owen had, in the last years of his life, been associating “with (I take it) not only practising but proselytising homosexuals: it seems to me that if he didn’t like that sort of thing he could easily have given them the brush off.” Larkin was shaken by this discovery, and his review shows that he was beginning to revise his opinion of Owen in a downward direction, on the grounds that he had had a “private involvement” in the war.

Which would be convenient, because that would leave the twentieth century bare of any poetic talent at all that could be read after Hardy without a sense of bathos. Or none until you reach you know who.

Such laying waste of the poetic landscape, such a critical scorched-earth policy—this is not the product of a passing mood. This is of a piece with the rest of Larkin. Everything that is good is either dying or doomed. Nothing but bathos in poetry after Hardy. Nothing but cacophony in jazz after Charlie Parker. Jazz began to die “when the Negro stopped wanting to entertain the white man,” or when it acquired the tinge of the Black Power movement. Negroes were moving to hate the white man with their jazz:

The post-war Negro was better educated, more politically conscious and culturally aware than his predecessors, and in consequence the Negro jazz musician was more musically sophisticated. He knew his theory, his harmony, his composition: he had probably been to the Juilliard School of Music.

And so on. If the Negro progressed, jazz had to die. And there was no telling what would rob Larkin of his musical pleasures. He tells us that the advent of the long-playing record “deepened his isolation”; not surprising then that when the American Negro looked beyond the confines of his bondage, Larkin felt that he had lost his potency.

And he finds nothing to take the place of jazz. There is no sense of moving on, only a furious nostalgia for something irrevocably destroyed. The decline of poetry left him, in some moods, indifferent. He wasn’t, he said, particularly interested in other people’s poetry. But the decline of jazz was taken as a personal insult.

The decline of Britain was absolute, as the Jubilee poem for the Queen makes clear:

In times when nothing stood
but worsened, or grew strange,
there was one constant good:
she did not change.

Larkin would have made a good poet laureate: he rose to the public role of poet on certain occasions, producing, in addition to this about the Queen, poems for a university library and a bridge. But he was not a good political poet. He was not even reliable Conservative Party material, and he sort of knew this. He has the distinction of being the only poet who censored his own work under pressure from the Department of the Environment, or, more accurately, under pressure from Lady Dartmouth, who chaired a committee which produced a report called How Do You Want to Live? Larkin, on request, wrote “Going, Going” as a preface to the report:

I thought it would last my time—
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb.

Lady Dartmouth objected to the word “louts,” and so Larkin changed the line (he later undid all his changes, when he reprinted the poem in High Windows) to “Where sports from the village could climb.” A later passage had to be cut:

On the Business Page, a score
Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)!

None of this would do for Lady Dartmouth, for of course it appeared to attack both capitalism and the government. “Going, Going” is a poem of feeling rather than thought, and it evokes feelings we might indeed all share. I would be happier with it, though, if its thoughts were clearer:

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.

Surely at the time Larkin was writing the actual guildhalls and carved choirs were safer than they had ever been. John Betjeman would not have played so free with history. He was too interested in specifics:

The Church’s restoration
In eighteen-eighty-three
Has left for contemplation
Not what there used to be.
How well the ancient woodwork
Looks round the Rect’ry hall,
Memorial of the good work
Of him who plann’d it all.

Larkin’s poem is about a feeling that the country is going to the dogs—“I just think it will happen, soon”: whether or not it’s going to happen, he seems to insist, I feel it’s going to happen.

This feeling of transience, this is the great Larkin feeling. And thinking about Larkin and reading him again, I have often turned to an essay of Freud’s, no more than four pages, which is called “On Transience.” Freud describes a trip to the mountains with a friend and an unnamed poet, whose identity has not been revealed:

The poet admired the beauty of the scene around us but felt no joy in it. He was disturbed by the thought that all this beauty was fated to extinction, that it would vanish when winter came, like all human beauty and all the beauty and splendour that men have created or may create. All that he would otherwise have loved and admired seemed to him to be shorn of its worth by the transience which was its doom.

Freud tries to argue with his friends that, while the beauty they admire is indeed transient, the thought of its transience should not interfere with their joy in it. And that this applies not only to beautiful objects such as flowers or a human form, but that also

A time may indeed come when the pictures and statues which we admire to-day will crumble to dust, or a race of men may follow us who no longer understand the works of our poets and thinkers, or a geological epoch may even arrive when all animate life upon the earth ceases; but since the value of all this beauty and perfection is determined only by its significance for our own emotional lives, it has no need to survive us and is therefore independent of absolute duration.

Freud has no success in convincing his friends of this argument, and his failure to do so leads him to ask himself whether there might not be some powerful emotional factor disturbing their judgment. And he comes to think (this was written about the time of his work on mourning and melancholia) that

What spoiled their enjoyment of beauty must have been a revolt in their minds against mourning. The idea that all this beauty was transient was giving these two sensitive minds a foretaste of mourning over its decease; and, since the mind instinctively recoils from anything that is painful, they felt their enjoyment of beauty interfered with by thoughts of its transience.

This reminds one of the lines in “The Trees,” where Larkin says of them, “Their greenness is a kind of grief.” His emotions seem to work in a different time frame from ours in this poem, because it is the sight of the new buds which says to him: “Last year is dead.” Most people, I think, would have noticed that in the autumn.

Freud’s essay talks about the cycle of love and loss and mourning, and the mystery of how mourning comes spontaneously to an end, leaving us with the capacity to love afresh, without thereby devaluing what we once loved. And under love he is including love of country, pride in its values, its works of art, the achievement of its civilization. If, say, I loved a certain kind of music, but in the course of time that infatuation came to an end, and I couldn’t listen to it anymore, then time would pass and I would discover other music that I could enjoy. This is better than spending the rest of my life grieving like a loyal dog over the corpse of my beloved music. And better, too, than saying to any new music that came along: no, I have been betrayed once; I shall never allow myself to be taken in again.

Larkin is justly famous for his poems about old age and death. But he also wrote a poem deploring his prime of life (it is called “Maturity”) and one called “On Being Twenty-six” which begins:

I feared these present years,
The middle twenties,
When deftness disappears…

He was always anticipating transience, afraid to let himself in for a loss that would really matter. And he was always looking back in rage, on what he claimed to have forgotten, and wondering what it was that kept leaking this poison into his life, trying to blank out whatever it was that was doing the damage. But it was the looking ahead that was doing the damage. That was Larkin’s problem.

This Issue

April 12, 2001