[Philip Larkin - Collected Poems]

Philip Larkin poems

Just a few selections from the only poet I've found I read for pleasure, semi-regularly.

Sometimes tarred as a misanthropic and hateful old lech, it's worth remembering that a lot has changed since the decade (1920s) he was born into.

Thwaite's cream 2001 edition of Collected Poems linked from this page is the one I own, and more comprehensive than some others with the same title. It's a good idea to check what you're getting, because the situation confuses sites and sellers.


Autobiography At An Air-Station

Delay, well, travellers must expect 
Delay. For how long? No one seems to know. 
With all the luggage weighed, the tickets checked, 
It can't be long... We amble too and fro, 
Sit in steel chairs, buy cigarettes and sweets 
And tea, unfold the papers. Ought we to smile, 
Perhaps make friends? No: in the race for seats 
You're best alone. Friendship is not worth while. 

Six hours pass: if I'd gone by boat last night 
I'd be there now. Well, it's too late for that. 
The kiosk girl is yawning. I fell stale, 
Stupified, by inaction - and, as light 
Begins to ebb outside, by fear, I set 
So much on this Assumption. Now it's failed.

Best Society

When I was a child, I thought,
Casually, that solitude
Never needed to be sought.
Something everybody had,
Like nakedness, it lay at hand,
Not specially right or specially wrong,
A plentiful and obvious thing
Not at all hard to understand.

Then, after twenty, it became
At once more difficult to get
And more desired - though all the same
More undesirable; for what
You are alone has, to achieve
The rank of fact, to be expressed
In terms of others, or it's just
A compensating make-believe.

Much better stay in company!
To love you must have someone else,
Giving requires a legatee,
Good neighbours need whole parishfuls
Of folk to do it on - in short,
Our virtues are all social; if,
Deprived of solitude, you chafe,
It's clear you're not the virtuous sort.

Viciously, then, I lock my door.
The gas-fire breathes. The wind outside
Ushers in evening rain. Once more
Uncontradicting solitude
Supports me on its giant palm;
And like a sea-anemone
Or simple snail, there cautiously
Unfolds, emerges, what I am.

The Mower

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed.  It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably.  Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

Träumerei

In this dream that dogs me I am part
Of a silent crowd walking under a wall,
Leaving a football match, perhaps, or a pit,
All moving the same way.  After a while
A second wall closes on our right,
Pressing us tighter.  We are now shut in
Like pigs down a concrete passage.  When I lift
My head, I see the walls have killed the sun,
And light is cold.  Now a giant whitewashed D
Comes on the second wall, but much too high
For them to recognise:  I await the E,
Watch it approach and pass.  By now
We have ceased walking and travel
Like water through sewers, steeply, despite
The tread that goes on ringing like an anvil
Under the striding A.  I crook
My arm to shield my face, for we must pass
Beneath the huge, decapitated cross,
White on the wall, the T, and I cannot halt
The tread, the beat of it, it is my own heart,
The walls of my room rise, it is still night,
I have woken again before the word was spelt.

The Winter Palace

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.

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

This Is The First Thing

This is the first thing
I have understood:
Time is the echo of an axe
Within a wood.

To Put One Brick Upon Another

To put one brick upon another, 
Add a third and then a forth, 
Leaves no time to wonder whether 
What you do has any worth. 

But to sit with bricks around you 
While the winds of heaven bawl 
Weighing what you should or can do 
Leaves no doubt of it at all.

Vers De Société

My wife and I have asked a crowd of craps
To come and waste their time and ours: perhaps
You'd care to join us? In a pig's arse, friend.
Day comes to an end.
The gas fire breathes, the trees are darkly swayed.
And so Dear Warlock-Williams: I'm afraid--

Funny how hard it is to be alone.
I could spend half my evenings, if I wanted,
Holding a glass of washing sherry, canted
Over to catch the drivel of some bitch
Who's read nothing but Which;
Just think of all the spare time that has flown

Straight into nothingness by being filled
With forks and faces, rather than repaid
Under a lamp, hearing the noise of wind,
And looking out to see the moon thinned
To an air-sharpened blade.
A life, and yet how sternly it's instilled

All solitude is selfish. No one now
Believes the hermit with his gown and dish
Talking to God (who's gone too); the big wish
Is to have people nice to you, which means
Doing it back somehow.
Virtue is social. Are, then, these routines

Playing at goodness, like going to church?
Something that bores us, something we don't do well
(Asking that ass about his fool research)
But try to feel, because, however crudely,
It shows us what should be?
Too subtle, that. Too decent, too. Oh hell,

Only the young can be alone freely.
The time is shorter now for company,
And sitting by a lamp more often brings
Not peace, but other things.
Beyond the light stand failure and remorse
Whispering Dear Warlock-Williams: Why, of course--