Tuesday 9 August 2022

The Big One

The heatwave continues here in southern England, and spreading across much of the country, maybe even to Hull, to Coventry... How would the 'summer-born and summer-loving' Philip Larkin be enjoying it? 'Enjoying it'? It's Larkin we're talking about here, and he was too much his mother's son to simply enjoy it...

Mother, Summer, I

My mother, who hates thunder storms,
Holds up each summer day and shakes
It out suspiciously, lest swarms
Of grape-dark clouds are lurking there;
But when the August weather breaks
And rains begin, and brittle frost
Sharpens the bird-abandoned air,
Her worried summer look is lost,

And I her son, though summer-born
And summer-loving, none the less
Am easier when the leaves are gone.
Too often summer days appear
Emblems of perfect happiness
I can't confront: I must await
A time less bold, less rich, less clear:
An autumn more appropriate.

Today is the big one – the centenary of Larkin's birth. Already I've heard Larkin talking and reading his own poetry on Radio 3, and his biographer Andrew Motion being interviewed on Radio 4, and there's a string of Larkin-related documentaries lined up on BBC4 tonight – not to mention the various goings-on in Hull today and through much of the year. There will probably never be another poetical centenary celebrated so widely: Geoffrey Hill's, which falls in ten years' time, certainly won't be, though he is (IMHO) the only other candidate for greatness among postwar English poets. Larkin's reputation, and his popularity, have survived the publication of his letters and the shocking (to some) revelations in Motion's biography. One exam board recently dropped him from its GCSE syllabus, but that seems to have been nothing personal, just part of a general dumbing down. I can't help feeling that if some of those unfortunate revelations had come out in the past few years there would have been serious attempts to 'cancel' Larkin, but happily he has survived, and his work seems only to grow in stature with the passage of time; much of it has become classic. Perhaps, as Auden wrote, in In Memory of W.B. Yeats, 'Time that with this strange excuse/Pardons Kipling and his views,/And will pardon Paul Claudel,/Pardons him for writing well.' 
  I have written so often here on Larkin, and posted so many of his poems (try a search), that he has become a kind of tutelary deity of this blog. What can I add today? Only this perhaps – that if you haven't read his novel, A Girl in Winter, you really should. It is a revelation. 


  1. Pardons Auden for those (thank God atypical) crass lines.

  2. Hmm a bit harsh. But I believe Auden did excise those lines when he revised the poem.

  3. Not sure about crass, but I think time might not have pardoned Claudel as much as it forgot about him...