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Sunday, 7 February 2010

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.
-Philip Larkin
Despite the surprising coarse language in the first line, this poem can be considered as one of his last and therefore more mature poems having been first published in Larkin’s final collection, “High Windows”, (1974).
The poem is written in a bouncy, almost childlike, tetrameter (four accented beats per line). The poet achieves this by a simple abab rhyming scheme and uncomplicated single-word perfect rhyming words, mostly of one syllable.
This contrasts with the seriousness of the subject matter and the poem has more depth than first sight might reveal. There is little in the poem’s three stanzas that is throwaway or without due consideration. For example, the fact that your parents “fuck you up” can be taken as a pun and operates with two meanings; they cause your generation initially and your degeneration eventually.
While the first two verses have a comical element to them the final one becomes more poetic with a serious admonition at the end.
Personally I think Larkin is only talking about himself despite the last two lines. He may have meant the poem as an epitaph.
After all, he took his title from Robert Louis Stephenson’s “Requiem”.

8 comments:

Mimi Lenox said...

"Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf."

Gives reason not to blame either generation. Cyclical. We do the best we can with what we've been given.

bazza said...

I think Larkin is blaming and excusing his parents at the same time.
Breaking that cyclical effect is what many people are in counselling or therapy for!

Alicia M B Ballard said...

... and life goes on - no enlightenment in sight

As an aside... utterly confused. Are you in BC at the moment?
Olympic site tour?

bazza said...

Alicia, I live in London, England and work opposite the 2012 Olympic site which is under construction. But I do know Vancover ( and really like it!).

Bob said...

I hope he was being tongue in cheek....if not he was in a depressed state!

bazza said...

Bob: I certainly think he is talking about his own experience and projecting his thought and advice onto the rest of humanity.
I think it is an important poem posing as whimsy!

joanne said...

it's interesting... assuming for a moment it's true for some people... "man hands on misery to man"... it makes me wonder what is it about man that he seems willing and even at times eager to take the hand-off of the torch from the previous generation?... as a child we are all subject to circumstances and influences of adults... as adults ourselves, we all have our own choices to make... or are we to assume we are predestined from the beginning because of those circumstances?

bazza said...

Joanne: I have seen numerous examples, first-hand, where people have been openly critical of a parent and then, in later life, turned into a more extreme version of that parent.
My point is that I think it is unconsciously done rather than the result of a decision or choice.
Even the 'handing on' of misery (or whatever) is not a life-style decision!