Sad Steps with Startled Attitude

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In Philip Larkin’s Sad Steps, the poetic voice reflects upon the conflict between two different perspectives on the moon and its symbolic meaning. The poem centers around the moon and the divergence between the speaker’s own perspective on its meaning versus the established connotations given to the moon in the poetic realm. The poem focuses on a recurring theme of Philip Larkin’s poetry, youth and the cycle of life. Larkin, who is most possibly the poetic voice, compares his own human proportion and his inevitable death against the moon’s majesty and agelessness. Through the use of ironic metaphors, contrasting diction, and a conflicted and cynical tone, Larkin makes a poignant reflection on the moon as a symbol of romantic deception.

Through the use of contrasting diction, between light and dark, sharp and soft, colloquial and poetic, the clash between a myriad of emotion that the moon incites in the speaker is illustrated. The poem open in a very shocking and colloquial manner. The use of the phrase “Groping back to bed after a piss” (1) creates a gritty tone, that alludes to the youth. This explicitness and vulgarity is rare for a poem and thus, removes the reader from the usual poetic, romanticized mind set. However, as the poem advances, the total opposite of this vulgarity occurs, and highly lyrical and romantic language is used. Descriptions such as “preposterous” (10) and “lozange” (11) and “medallion” (11), all allude to poetic and over the top language mostly used by orthodox poets. This divergence in diction creates the conflicting tone, that mirrors the internal fight Larkin has between believing in eternal youth versus cynically accepting that life is meaningless and imminently tragic. Furthermore, other contradicto...

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...th this cynical truth.

In conclusion, Philip Larkin creates a conflict between his “Sad Steps” and “startled” (2) attitude. The poem bases itself in a myriad of conflicting emotions that parallel Larkin’s own internal realization that there is no magical connection between the moon and himself. He disregards the romantic viewpoint of the moon and gives it a gritty and cynical spin that represents his own perspective on youth and the life cycle. He has an epiphany that no matter what all the poets and artists say, the moon is ageless and majestic while the human species in cursed with the imminence of its death. Through the ironic metaphors, contrasting diction and the unusual tone, the poetic persona realizes that the beauty of youth is all and ephemeral deception, just like the illusionary connection between man and the moon that all artist love to fantasize about.

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