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The Recurring Theme Of Death In The Poetry Of Philip Larkin

1397 words - 6 pages

The Recurring Theme of Death in the Poetry of Philip Larkin.

In reading the poetry of Philip Larkin for the first time, one is
struck by the characteristically glum atmosphere that pervades most of
his poems. The vast majority of his verse is devoted to what is
generally taken to be negative aspects of life, such as loneliness and
dejection, disappointments, loss, and the terrifying prospect of
impending death. Evidently, there are uplifting and humorous sides to
his work as well, but for certain reasons Larkin is invariably
identified with a downhearted, pessimistic temper and tone of voice,
conveying a constant sense of failure and of disappointment that
underlies all the more ...view middle of the document...

In 'Send No Money', this sense of having been cheated is voiced with
embittered bluntness. Someone is kept from getting the best out of his
life by a false promise of knowledge: while in his youth his mates
went to enjoy themselves, the persona kept himself apart, aspiring to
wisdom:

Tell me the truth, I said,
Teach me the way things go. (146)

But his sacrifice earned him nothing, and after the initial enthusiasm
is vanished it begins to dawn on him that he has been cheated:

Oh thank you, I said, Oh yes please,
And I sat down to wait
Half life is over now Sod all.
In this way I spent youth
Tracing the trite untransferable
Truss-advertisement, truth. (146)

Larkin thus gives the impression that the reality of life as it
presents itself to him falls blatantly short of what he expected. This
disillusionment is particularly prominent when it comes to an
assessment of what he has, or rather has not, achieved so far in life.
More than once Larkin indicates the feeling that his lifetime passes
unused. He talks about 'time/ Torn off unused' ('Aubade', 208) and
asks: 'Where has it gone, the lifetime?' ('The View', 195). The reader
gets the sense that Larkin's life was unfulfilled; his only outlet to
express this emotion is through words. The reader also senses that
Larkin felt that the only way to go now is to reach the end, or death,
since life did not grant him his wishes and dreams. In 'Send No
Money', the looming subject of death is not explicitly stated, but
alluded to through his subtle construction of mood and emotion.

There is an ultimate predicament covering not just individual aspects,
but the totality of Larkin's situation. His dilemma is that he is
discontent with life, and at the same time afraid of death. While
passages to substantiate his 'Horror of life' ('The Life with a Hole
in it', 202) can be found virtually everywhere in Larkin's work,
traces of his fear of death occur increasingly in his later volumes,
and quite naturally so, because his dilemma is growing ever more
severe as his lifetime gradually runs out. A remarkably unveiled
expression of Larkin's fear of death can be found in 'Aubade', one of
his very last poems:

Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die. (208)

The title itself conveys death. "Aubade" means 'ode to morning'
(death) in French. Larkin's mother, Eva, died on November 17,1977;
just over a month later "Aubade" was published. Larkin was 52 that
year and had already endured the deaths of his very dear friend Maeve
Brennan's mother; Patsy Murphy, a good friend from Larkin's Belfast
days; and Robert Lowell, a fellow poet and friend. To each of these
deaths, Larkin's response grew increasingly distant. When Eva died at
age 91, Larkin went through great pains to repress his grief and
maintain a stoic facade, focusing almost entirely on the...

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