Late Larkin

(Towards the end of his life, Philip Larkin wrote very little poetry. 'They don't come any more', he said.)


In a small way, I understand the man.

As he grew older, verses would not come;

His delicious palette had been stowed away.

The ideas were there, aplenty, for sure -

Let’s face it, we have ideas all the time -

And words, waiting coyly to be favoured;

But his poems required some ballast,

A network of exits and entrances,

Into tunnels, weaving beneath a maze.

He knew this…prerequisite, I suppose,

And without his usual materials,

These physical props of inspiration,

He might have turned out a mere scribbler’s work,

Crouching copies of a towering past.

Larkin 100

◄ Heaven's Gates

Guilty ►


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Stephen Gospage

Fri 12th Aug 2022 11:35

Thank you, Ray. He was a complicated person and obviously had a sense of life ebbing away, even in his forties. Perhaps writing poems became too much of a chore. We should be grateful that he was so prolific for so long.

And thanks to Brenda and Pete for liking.

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Thu 11th Aug 2022 22:22

His was a hard act to follow, even for him - some are lucky to be creative right to the end, so it is sad, but then perhaps he had lost his muse. You have hit some truths with your poem Stephen, a brave stab at a difficult subject and very thoughtful and honest.


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Stephen Gospage

Tue 9th Aug 2022 22:01

John B - thanks for the generous comment. It's sad that the last few years of Larkin's life were so barren, but he had just run out of steam, it seems. It's interesting that illness and infirmity did not stop Benjamin Britten composing great music in his final years. Something else must have been at work with Larkin.

John M - thanks for the fascinating comment. It is impossible to know where genius comes from or how great ideas manifest themselves. If they come from a another level, then artist, however imperfect they may be personally, can still produce great work. Wagner is arguably a different case, as his own prejudices are transparently in evidence in his operas, although musically these are works of genius. So one has to rationalise one's admiration of Wagner in some other way.

Thanks again to everyone- don't forget the BBC4 programmes, as Greg says, especially the episode of 'Monitor' with John Betjeman.

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John Marks

Tue 9th Aug 2022 17:57

Stephen, you've engaged with an important distinction here, often raised in discussion of the sublime music of Wagner, the anti-Semitic darling of the Nazis. I think the artist is merely the conduit through which art - painting, music, poetry et al - is created. The intention of the writer does not matter, it is the work of art that matters, and, if it's anything like good it'll pass the test of time.

“I'm terrified of the thought of time passing (or whatever is meant by that phrase) whether I 'do' anything or not. In a way I may believe, deep down, that doing nothing acts as a brake on 'time's - it doesn't of course. It merely adds the torment of having done nothing, when the time comes when it really doesn't matter if you've done anything or not.”

Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica

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Greg Freeman

Tue 9th Aug 2022 17:06

Just to mention that there are four programmes on Larkin on BBC4 tonight (Tues 9 August), starting at 10pm

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John Botterill

Tue 9th Aug 2022 16:03

Superb analysis of his work, Stephen. Like Carol, I enjoyed your tunneling metaphor, which seems to sum Larkin up, in a way.
Loved it, as a fan of his poetry, if not his politics

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Stephen Gospage

Tue 9th Aug 2022 15:31

Thank you for comments, Graham, Greg and Carol.

I can imagine that devotion to Mrs T might dim one's inspiration, Greg. From what I understand, he became depressed by his increasing deafness and the feeling of being 'old', although he was only around sixty. So your idea that he knew that death was close is very plausible. As you say, the Simon Armitage series looks very good.

Certainly a decent chap in his poetry, Graham. He managed, mostly, to keep his objectionable private views away from his verse. I tend to think he played up his sour, gloomy side, just as his "hermit of Hull" image didn't really square with his extensive (domestic) travel.

I am so pleased you enjoyed it, Carol. Who knows where these phrases come from?

And thanks to Nigel, Julie, Stephen, Holden and K Lynn for liking.

<Deleted User> (33719)

Mon 8th Aug 2022 23:51

Well written Stephen! I particularly liked ~
'A network of exits and entrances,
Into tunnels, weaving beneath a maze.'

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Greg Freeman

Mon 8th Aug 2022 22:57

Perhaps his racism, as revealed in his letters, and his devotion to Margaret Thatcher, killed his inspiration. And I say that as a great fan of Larkin the poet. Or perhaps - and this really is idle speculation - he felt death was getting too close, and that he could no longer write about it. His dread of it was too great. PS Do give a listen to Simon Armitage on Philip Larkin on BBC Radio 4 this week

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Graham Sherwood

Mon 8th Aug 2022 21:43

I have never read much Larkin. Indeed I am poorly read per se. however I have read quite a bit about the man. A decent chap turned sour perhaps?
A very keen observation Stephen. We’ll crafted we’ll done.

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