Tuesday, 24 October 2017

High Windows by Philip Larkin reviewed by Denni Rusking

Kingsley Amis: "Philip Larkin is a poet who can move a large audience — to laughter and to tears — without betraying the highest artistic standards." 

High Windows was the last collection of poetry that Philip Larkin had published while he was alive. The most famous poem in the collection is This Be The Verse which begins "They fuck you up your mum and Dad, they may not mean to but they do." In a book on his favourite poets, Alan Bennett makes the point that although it's a shame Larkin's parents fucked their son up, at least they gave him something to write about. You can watch Bennett's 1990 Poetry in Motion documentary on Larkin here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rr0CJ98lIJs

I love Larkin and I love this Springtime poem called The Trees written in 1967 - the year Larkin turned down an OBE. When I first became aware of the poem I was young and green but it still pleases me all these years later. Larkin writes poetry for people like me who didn't know they liked poetry. When Larkin went on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs he was asked how he had come up with one of his poems and he replied: "sheer genius"
The Trees
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

High Windows
When I see a couple of kids
And guess he’s fucking her and she’s   
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,   
I know this is paradise

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives—   
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if   
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,   
And thought, That’ll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark

About hell and that, or having to hide   
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide   
Like free bloody birds. And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:   
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows

Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

Daniel Torday: "Larkin was able to ignore any audience but himself.... That crass, stubborn, and yet unavoidably lovable curmudgeon who tends to poke his head out at the most inopportune times." 

Text by Denni Rusking 2017
High Windows is published by Faber & Faber

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