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Philip Larkin: Love, Life, Death

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English 109

5 April 2017

Philip Larkin: Love, Life, Death

        Philip Larkin, a highly important poet in modern English can be a polarizing figure. Decorated and often views as the second Poet Laureate of his time, rarely did someone crate such a complex imagery, filled with emotions untold, but in way that is spoken as if someone were peacefully observing as things played out. The late Philip Larkin’s works span decades, and can still be seen as essential aspects of poetry. There has not been a poet who can speak of romanticism, discontent, failure, and death, among other themes, like Larkin did throughout his life. Many of Larkin’s work shines light on the inability to escape the actuality of the human condition. Life, love, and even death are topics that do not escape the grasp of Philip Larkin.  I would argue that Philip Larkin’s poetic style can be categorized by three words: dicition, skepticism, and discontent, all through his simple observations of the world. Larkin’s entire catalogue of works demonstrate this idea, but I will focus by using the supported poems of “Aubade” and “Toads.”

        The first of Larkin’s work that demonstrates his great use of the complexity of the English language and his view on aspects of life that are unavoidable is through the poem “Aubade.” The use of the word “Aubade” as the title of the poem on its own quite remarkable. Aubade, a word that means a song between lovers at dawn, sets the tone about the relationship that the poet has with death. The poem begins with the line, “I work all day and get drunk at night.” As a reader, one cannot help but think that this “man” is someone who works way too much at a job that does not seem to be very rewarding, to get some relief at night through alcohol, only to wake up at four in the morning only to repeat this cycle yet again. It is after the first line that Larkin takes a deep, deep plunge into the mind of this hopeless human being. The next two lines speak of night as “death,” in the wake of the nearing daylight. It is at this time that the “man” cannot help himself but think about death as a whole, in particular his own impending death. He mentions death to be a truth, the only truth that is always out there in the dark, quiet night. In the following line, Larkin carefully uses language to describe the “unresting death, a whole day nearer now.” This is to say that death does not stop, and now as the man thinks of the inevitable, he knows that it is now closer than it ever was. The first stanza finally ends with the man, admitting that this topic, is one he has thought of before, and therefore nothing new. This can be supported by Larkin’s choice in diction through the use of the word “arid.” Arid is word that means to lack interest, or excitement, and makes it a fitting phrase to end the stanza.

        Stanzas 2 continues to dwell on the topic of death. It is at this point that the man cannot think of anything but the “glare” of his own death. But not in “remorse” as the poem states, as in if he has left things on the table unfulfilled, but rather it is the thought of how finite and forever death is. This can be supported by the line “but at the total emptiness of for ever, the sure extinction that we travel to.” The man in the poem is disappointed that death, while unavoidable and void, for him is coming sooner rather than later. The next stanza continues to speak of the man’s fear of death. He refers to death as a “special way of being afraid,” as in it is something that always lingers and cannot be quelled until after it happens. Larkin does a fantastic job of referencing religion and its relationship with death in this stanza. He refers to religion as a “trick” used to “dispel” death. The next two lines continue to paint organized religion in a very unappealing manner, by calling it a “moth eaten musical brocade,” as in an old broken message, used to “pretend that we never die.” Finally, as the stanza wraps, the man keeps on thinking of things that will be lost when death finally approaches. He mentions things like touch, taste, sound, human thought, and love. It is this notion, this very idea, is what makes the man very uneasy about death.

        As we move through the next stanza, the man states that, death, always stays, in his case on “the edge of vision.” He sees it, even if it is just but a small unfocused blur, it is always there. It is as to say, that even if he cannot see it, he knows it always lingers nearby. This notion of death being around, and always nearby, makes the man question his every decision because of death ominous presence. The next line supports this idea further by stating that while most things in life will not happen, but “this one will.” It is at this point that Larkin uses diction in selecting the words “rages” and “furnace” comparatively to develop a vivid image to the reader of how uncontrollable the pain and the thought of the impending arrival of death brings to the man. It is at this point that alcohol is reintroduced, this time as a coping mechanism for dealing with inevitable death for the man. The man mentions how it is senseless to show “courage” because, that would only help to alleviate the thought of death among life. Larkin gets coy with the rhyming of “brave” and “grave.” It is as to make the reader believe that they mean the same thing, that regardless of one’s bravery, death is what will result. The line “death is no different whined than withstood” is to say that death does not discriminate, and at the end of the day, each will experience it none the less.  

        Finally, with the last stanza, “Aubade” begins with daylight finally making an appearance. It is in this stanza that Larkin compares death to a wardrobe by stating that it “stands as plain as a wardrobe,” that is to say, that even out of the dark abyss that we are known to compare death to, much like a wardrobe, it always lingers in from of us even in plain daylight. The man mentions that we have always known that death cannot be avoided or escaped, but yet, we cannot accept. The line “yet can’t accept. One side will have to go,” refer to the continuing fight between life and death. The man fully understands that this ongoing battle, this tug of war of sorts, must eventually end and one will have to go. In this case, death always prevails. As the end of the poem draws near, the man begins to speak of the world which is ready to wake by the glimmering light. Larkin is astute to personify an inanimate object like a telephone by stating that it is “crouching” ready to ring. This adds a level of liveliness to the world that exists around this man. Larkin’s use diction through the use of the words “uncaring” and “intricate” to describe the world fits his style of poetry. It creates this image in the mind of the reader of a world that exist without colors, a world that is gloomy and bland. The use of the word “rented” to refer to the world also reinforces the fact that death, as explained in the poem, is impending and that the everyday lives are on borrowed time. Even in this gloomy, clay colored world, the man knows that “work has to be done.” This is to say, that even in the knowledge that death lingers and cannot be avoided, the world must keep spinning. Finally, the poem ends with a simile, “Postmen, like doctors, go from house to house.” Larkin wanted to link those two profession in a manner that would exemplify an aspect of human life. It is like he’s saying that both of these types of jobs represent things, such as the human connection, that does not exist in death, much like what is lost when death arrives. It is also Larkin’s method of stating that life goes on. The poem of “Aubade” just goes on to show how Philip Larkin viewed the world; one that is full of the impending truth of death. Larkin, at glance, seems to show the discontent that exists among the humanity.



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