Larkin’s one of those poets who divides opinion. I wonder how much of it is because of that famous line about “your mum and dad”..? The way he doesn’t shy away from ‘the vernacular’..? The thing that strikes me most about him though – so ably illustrated in Amis’ selection – is how he can alternate between brilliance and doggerel. And in the case of this volume, this alternation can be seem poem after poem: brilliant – average – brilliant – doggerel – average etc.
When you read across the range of his work – as a collection like this forces you to do – the star-turns stand out more readily. I can see now why “Whitsun Weddings” and “An Arundel Tomb” are such favourites in schools. And “MCMXIV” is super too.
The nagging thing that gets in the way is also the thing that makes Larkin who his is: a resentment at his lot in life; his disgruntlement; the morose anticipation of death. You feel he’d concoct a reason to swear at you if he met you in the pub. And yet here and there you find a few lines that are lyrical and positive – almost as if they had been written by someone else.
I’m glad I made my way through this book; a slow saunter through the ruminations of a grumpy old sod.